Ney lied about trip, says Republican's former aide

Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 31, 2006:
Ohio Republican Rep. Bob Ney never met with Scottish members of parliament during a golf trip to Scotland, even though he subsequently signed travel disclosure forms that claimed such a meeting occurred, Ney's former chief of staff told a jury Tuesday.

Neil Volz went to work for lobbyist Jack Abramoff in February 2002 after leaving Ney's office and accompanied them both to Scotland in August 2002. His testimony took place in the trial of another golfer on the trip: former General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian. Safavian is accused of falsely claiming that Abramoff had no business ties with the GSA when Savafian got permission to visit Scotland with the group.

Volz said much of the trip consisted of golfing, drinking and smoking cigars. The group, which included two Ney aides and former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, stayed in hotels that cost as much as $500 nightly. Golf and caddy fees at the elite courses they visited came to $400 per person per game. A single round of drinks cost $100. On the private jet that ferried them to Scotland, they dined on sushi from Abramoff's restaurant.

Ney was originally scheduled to eat dinner with Scottish parliamentarians early in the trip, but the appointment fell through. Ney later scrambled to arrange a meeting in a London parliamentary building so he could claim the trip was for official business, Volz testified.

Afterward, Volz said he filled out a sample travel disclosure form for Ney that listed the trip's cost at $3,200, a low amount that Volz believed wouldn't cause media scrutiny. Volz suggested that Ney cite visits with the Scottish parliamentarians, attending the Edinburgh Military Tattoo with Queen Elizabeth II, and visiting British parliamentarians as the trip's official purpose. The forms that Ney filed with the House of Representatives used Volz' wording, minus the royal reference.


Former Ney Aide Details How Abramoff Treated 'Champions'

Washington Post, May 31, 2006:
In the first public testimony by a member of Jack Abramoff's inner circle, a former congressional aide told a federal jury yesterday how the disgraced lobbyist identified his "champions" in government and then showered them with favors to get inside information and help for his clients.

Neil G. Volz, who was chief of staff to Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) before joining Abramoff's lobbying firm, testified that among those he and his colleagues considered allies were Ney and former General Services Administration official David H. Safavian, the first person brought to trial in connection with the Abramoff scandal.

In the first public testimony by a member of Jack Abramoff's inner circle, a former congressional aide told a federal jury yesterday how the disgraced lobbyist identified his "champions" in government and then showered them with favors to get inside information and help for his clients.

Neil G. Volz, who was chief of staff to Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) before joining Abramoff's lobbying firm, testified that among those he and his colleagues considered allies were Ney and former General Services Administration official David H. Safavian, the first person brought to trial in connection with the Abramoff scandal.

Safavian's lawyer, Barbara Van Gelder, tried to chip away at Volz's credibility, eliciting admissions from him that he helped Ney and two staff members provide false information about the cost and the purpose of the Scotland trip to the clerk of the House. Volz admitted that he unsuccessfully floated the idea of embellishing Ney's contacts by suggesting he attended an event that included Queen Elizabeth II.


On advice from Safavian, Volz said, the lobbyists first tried to insert language in an election reform bill. "We had a champion in the Congress who had already agreed to attach another provision," Volz testified, identifying the lawmaker as "Congressman Ney." Ney had agreed to try to add language to the same bill that would have aided a Texas Indian tribe represented by Abramoff.


How to Do Nothing, Washington-Style

Washington Post, May 30, 2006:
The Gulfstream II had everything a congressman getting a free golf trip to Scotland could want. "State of the art entertainment center," boasted a description of the jet's elegant appointments. "Complete bar service. . . . Rich mahogany woodwork . " For the $91,465 charter, lobbyist Jack Abramoff got his money's worth -- or, as was his style, other people's money's worth: in this case, two Indian tribes and a Russian vodka distributor.

The charter details were part of the evidence introduced last week during the trial of David Safavian at the federal courthouse in Washington. A former General Services Administration official, Safavian is accused of lying to investigators about whether Abramoff had business before the agency when he invited Safavian along for the ride. Also on board, and shown to the jury in a photograph that captured him reading the newspaper in a plush captain's chair, was Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).


Ney got flight on plush, private jet

Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 27, 2006:
The luxurious private jet that ferried Ohio GOP Rep. Bob Ney and several aides on a golf trip to Scotland with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff came equipped with mahogany woodwork, plush seats, computers and a bar stocked with two bottles of red wine and a case and a half of "lite" beer, according to records released at a trial on Friday.

Ney stayed in $500 per night hotel rooms while visiting London and golfing at the world's most renowned golf courses, according to evidence presented in the case of another golfer on the trip, former General Services Administration Chief of Staff David Safavian.

Safavian is charged with lying to ethics officers and federal investigators about Abramoff's business before his agency when he got permission to go on the trip.

Prosecutors said Ney returned to the United States on a $758 commercial flight that was charged to Abramoff's personal American Express card, which violates congressional rules that ban lobbyists from paying legislators' expenses.


Prosecutors say the August 2002 trip cost about $140,000 for nine people, and the charter bill for the private Gulfstream jet alone came to more than $91,000.

A snapshot admitted into evidence showed Ney reading a newspaper aboard the plane. The trip's itinerary didn't list any official business.

Others on the trip were Abramoff's 10-year-old son, former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, and a pair of lobbyists who worked with Abramoff, Michael E. Williams and Neil Volz, a former aide to Ney.

Earlier this month, Volz pleaded guilty to criminal charges and admitted acting as a go-between when Abramoff plied Ney with trips, free meals and gifts. Volz is scheduled to testify at Safavian's trial.


Ethics probe to include Rep. Ney

Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 18, 2006:
The House Ethics Committee on Wednesday agreed to launch its own probes of several lawmakers who are under federal investigation, including Ohio's Bob Ney.

Rogue lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, have pleaded guilty to criminal charges that stemmed from plying Ney with meals, sports tickets and a trip to Scotland that they said were meant to influence Ney's official actions. Ney denies wrong doing and says he welcomes the ethics investigation.


One of those statements said the committee will investigate accusations that Ney accepted "gifts, travel benefits, campaign contributions . . . or other items of value" from Abramoff and his associates, and "the relationship if any" between those gifts and "Ney's status or actions as a member of Congress."

The ethics panel established a four-member investigative subcommittee to probe Ney's actions. Its members are: Texans Lamar Smith, a Republican, and Gene Green, a Democrat, along with Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn and California Democrat Xavier Becerra.

"The investigative subcommittee shall have jurisdiction to determine whether Rep. Ney violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other standard of conduct applicable to his duties or the discharge of his responsibilities," the statement said.


Funds link Martinez, Abramoff

Miami Herald, May 18, 2006:
...Court papers filed last week by federal prosecutors in Washington said Abramoff enlisted U.S. Rep. Robert Ney, an Ohio Republican, in a January 2003 effort ''to influence the decisions and actions'' of then-HUD Secretary Martinez. At the time, Ney was the incoming chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees HUD.

The statement made no allegation that Martinez did anything improper. Ney has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged.

Still, Ney is among a number of lawmakers under scrutiny in the Abramoff scandal.

Ney's notoriety peaked in January with Abramoff's admission to crimes that included allegedly bribing Ney with gifts and cash. The outcry prompted Martinez to give the $2,500 he received from Ney's political action committee in 2004 to charity.

''The senator wants to make it crystal clear to his constituents that he is not interested in any campaign donations that have even a hint of impropriety in this matter,'' Martinez spokeswoman Kerry Feehery told The Miami Herald on Jan. 13.

Ney, Martinez and Abramoff were linked publicly again on May 9 when Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, pleaded guilty to corruption conspiracy.

Like Abramoff, Volz also implicated Ney in corruption.

Volz, who quit Ney's staff in February 2002 to join Abramoff's lobbying team, said in a statement filed with the court that Ney met with Martinez in early 2003. Ney's purpose was ''to assist Abramoff's clients'' by telling Martinez that Ney's upcoming priorities would include ''housing for Native Americans,'' it read.

How the Ney-Martinez meeting was intended to help any of Abramoff's Indian clients was not made clear. But Senate records show that only one tribe -- the Saginaw Chippewas -- retained Abramoff to lobby HUD.


Former Aide to Rep. Ney Pleads Guilty

Washington Post, May 8, 2006:
A former congressional aide and business associate of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Monday to charges in connection with the investigation of influence-peddling and public corruption.

Neil Volz, who served as chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, including wire fraud and violating House rules, charges stemming from his work on Capitol Hill and the lobbying practice he joined after leaving Ney's office.

He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The penalties could vary, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said, depending how helpful Volz is in the government's ongoing investigation of influence-peddling involving lawmakers, their aides and members of the Bush administration.

"The purpose of the conspiracy was for defendant Volz and his co-conspirators to unjustly enrich themselves by corruptly receiving, while public officials, and providing, while lobbyists, a stream of things of value with the intent to influence and reward official acts and attempting to influence members of Congress in violation of the law," according to a criminal information filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Two former aides to Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the former House Majority Leader, already have pleaded guilty to their roles in the conspiracy that was centered on the work of Abramoff, once a powerful Republican lobbyist.

Ney has not been charged, but his lawyer has acknowledged that he is Representative 1, described in court papers as the recipient of gifts and travel from Abramoff.

Shortly after leaving Ney's office, Volz joined Abramoff's firm and did lobbying work less than a year after leaving government employment. Federal law requires congressional staff members to wait a year before they do private work involving the previous government employer.

Among the projects on which Volz worked was securing a lucrative contract for Foxcom Wireless, an Israeli communications company, to improve cell phone reception in House office buildings.

Also during that period, Volz pressed Ney to support projects by the firm's Indian tribe clients.

Read the plea agreement.


Analysts say Ney's primary performance shows weakness

From the Times-Reporter, May 4, 2006:
Rep. Bob Ney’s tepid victory over a relatively unknown opponent in Ohio’s Republican primary Tuesday highlights his vulnerability heading into the fall election, political analysts say.

Ney, R-Heath, who is under investigation in a federal probe of corruption and bribery in Congress, won 68 percent of the vote against James Brodbelt Harris, a political novice who got 32 percent of the vote.

“It’s not disastrous, but it certainly isn’t all that encouraging either,” said Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “There’s only one reason why they’re voting for somebody else when the opponent is little known – it’s because they’ve gotten turned off to Bob Ney.”

Although Harris, a financial analyst, conducted a spirited campaign over the Internet, he put little if any money into the race. Harris fell short of the $5,000 fundraising threshold required to file federal campaign finance reports.

Sabato said incumbents who get less than 70 percent in a primary are usually in trouble in the general election.

“Many of those Republicans who didn’t vote for him ... may well vote against him again in November,” he said.

Ney, who is seeking a seventh term, faces Democratic challenger Zack Space of Dover in the Nov. 7 election. Democrats have targeted the race as among their most promising opportunities to retake control of the House.


Several analysts agreed with Sabato that Ney’s margin of victory was weak.

“If you start seeing his (Ney’s) opponent getting 25, 30, 35 percent of the vote, that’s not a good sign,” said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “If his opponent gets a decent share that might suggest some dissatisfaction among rank-and-file Republicans.”

Stuart Rothenberg, editor of The Rothenberg Political Report, said the results confirmed his view that Ney is one of the weakest incumbents in the nation.

Analysts pointed out that Ney did not do much better than Rep. Tom DeLay, the former Republican majority leader who dropped his bid for re-election in Texas. DeLay, who is under indictment on campaign finance charges in Texas, won 62 percent of the vote against three opponents in a March primary.

Elsewhere around the state, veteran Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, surprised observers by collecting just 58 percent of the vote against his primary challenger, Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller.

Analysts said Regula is in less peril than Ney because he is not implicated in a scandal and faces a political novice in the general election.

In Ney’s GOP-leaning district, almost as many Democrats came out to vote as Republicans – raising another concern for Ney.

Turnout for the four-way Democratic primary totaled 46,682, a few thousand votes short of the 49,940 Republicans who voted.

“It suggests to me that Republican turnout in Ney’s district was depressed,” Rothenberg said. “That suggests that Republicans weren’t enthusiastic.”