Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Another Ney Staffer Goes Down

The big news here is that the young ex-Ney staffer is co-operating with federal prosecutors. That means the Abramoff scandal is not over yet.

William Heaton, former chief of staff to then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), has agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, according to court documents filed yesterday.

Heaton's plea agreement comes just days before the former lawmaker will report to federal prison in West Virginia for corruption charges. Ney is scheduled to enter prison March 1.

According to the plea agreement, Heaton could receive up to five years in jail and a fine of $250,000.

Heaton has become the second member of Ney's staff to be ensnared in the scandal involving imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who bribed Ney and his staff with lavish trips and gifts in return for official favors. Heaton's predecessor, Neil Volz, was sentenced last year for conspiracy charges.

According to court documents, Heaton, who began working for Ney in September 2001 as an executive assistant, rose quickly to the position of chief of staff when his co-conspirator Volz left the position to work for Abramoff in February 2002.

Heaton's involvement in the Abramoff scandal spanned from August 2002 until August 2004, according to the documents.

Over those two years, Heaton accepted numerous favors from Abramoff and other members of his lobbying firm, including a now-infamous all-expense-paid golf trip to Scotland. Heaton was also was one of several recipients of a number of other trips abroad, concert and sporting-event tickets, meals and gambling chips, all taken with full knowledge the gifts were in exchange for official favors from Ney.

During one of those trips, Heaton and another staffer helped Ney conceal $5,000 brought into the country through customs and stored the money in a safe inside Ney’s congressional office. Court documents said Heaton "open[ed] the safe as requested so that Ney could make repeated withdrawals."

Heaton knowingly falsified his 2002 and 2003 financial disclosure forms and assisted Ney in misrepresenting his travel disclosure form about the receipt of gifts from Abramoff and others. ...

The staffers, however, all appear to be cooperating with prosecutors. The sentencing dates or status conferences for each continue to be postponed, a bad sign for other lawmakers or staffers close to the scandal who could become targets of the probe.

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