Judge sends Ney to prison for 30 months
WASHINGTON – Former Republican Rep. Bob Ney was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison Friday for trading political favors for golf trips, campaign donations and other gifts in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Ney, the first congressman convicted in the federal bribery investigation involving lawmakers, their aides and Bush administration officials, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and making false statements.
The six-term lawmaker from Heath, Ohio, who once chaired the powerful House Administration Committee, accepted golf and gambling trips, tickets to sporting events, free meals and campaign donations arranged by Abramoff and his associates.
“You violated a host of laws that you as a congressman are sworn to enforce and uphold,” said U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle, who recommended that Ney serve his time at a federal prison in Morgantown, W.Va., about an hour-and-a-half drive from his birthplace in Wheeling.
Ney will also serve two years probation and must pay a $6,000 fine. Huvelle recommended he enter a prison alcohol rehabilitation program for treatment of a drinking problem Ney has spoken of in recent months. Completing the program could knock about a year off his sentence.
Huvelle did not set a date for Ney to report to prison. He resigned from Congress in November, just before the elections.
The sentence was harsher than recommended by prosecutors, Huvelle said, because Ney had violated the trust placed on him as a public official. “Both your constituents and the public trusted you to represent them honestly,” she said.
Ney apologized to his family and constituents during a brief statement.
“I will continue to take full responsibility, accept the consequences and battle the demons of addiction that are within me,” he said.
Ney’s defense team filed letters from his doctor and a former staff member who described his drinking problems and said they accelerated when he came under scrutiny in the Abramoff lobbying scandal.
Dr. Renato F. Dela Cruz, the congressman’s physician, wrote that Ney’s behavior had been influenced by an increase in alcohol consumption that began in 2001. Cruz said he urged the lawmaker to cut back, but the recommendation was ignored.
Matthew D. Parker, a former aide and friend, said Ney “could rarely make it through the day without drinking and would often begin drinking beers as early as 7:30 a.m.”
Huvelle said Ney’s alcoholism didn’t fully explain his pattern of corruption.
“It wasn’t an isolated aberration. It had a consistency to it: It involved significant and serious abuses of the public’s trust,” Huvelle said.
Ney, 52, is still eligible to receive his congressional pension. The National Taxpayers Union, which tracks pensions, said he would receive about $29,000 a year if he waited to draw it until 2016, when he turns 62.
Ney’s election-year actions drew criticism from Republican congressional leaders and the White House. Bush spokesman Tony Snow said Ney’s criminal activity “is not a reflection of the Republican Party.”
The gifts Ney received ranged from a trip to Scotland bankrolled by Abramoff’s clients to thousands of dollars in gambling chips that Ney got on two overseas junkets from foreign businessman Fouad al-Zayat, a Syrian-born aviation company owner in Cyprus.
The lawmaker agreed to push legislation helpful to Abramoff clients including Indian tribes and a foreign beverage distiller. He agreed to help Al-Zayat get a visa to enter the United States and a legislative exemption to laws barring the sale of U.S.-made airplanes and parts to a foreign country.
Abramoff, once an influential lobbyist, is the star witness in an FBI corruption investigation that has shaken Capitol Hill. He is serving six years in a Maryland federal prison in a fraudulent Florida casino deal.
Ney’s sentencing is the latest development in a long-running investigation that so far has yielded convictions of several former congressional aides and two members of the Bush administration.
Among those still under scrutiny for their ties to Abramoff are former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas; former Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.; Steven Griles, a former deputy secretary at the Interior Department, and Italia Federici, a political fundraiser for former Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
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