WASHINGTON – Rep. Bob Ney pleaded guilty Friday in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation, the first lawmaker to confess to crimes in an election-year scandal that has stained the Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration.
Standing before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, Ney pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making false statements. He acknowledged taking money, gifts and favors in return for official actions on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.
Ney did not immediately resign from Congress, and within minutes, Republican and Democratic leaders vowed to expel him unless he steps down. The White House also called for Ney's resignation.
Beleaguered GOP leaders, struggling to overcome fallout from a separate scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley and teenage male pages, said they would make Ney's ouster the "first order of business" in a postelection session.
"I never intended my career in public service to end this way, and I am ashamed it did," Ney said in a written statement issued moments after his plea.
The 52-year-old lawmaker faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. Huvelle said prosecutors had agreed to recommend a term of 27 months, and said federal guidelines suggest a fine of between $5,000 and $60,000.
Ney did not resign his seat. Several officials have said the congressman is financially strapped and needs his $165,200 annual paycheck and benefits as long as he can continue to receive them.
Ney's lawyer, Mark Touhey, told the judge he would resign before sentencing on Jan. 19. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican leaders said he would be gone far more quickly than that.
"It is long past time for a new direction that restores integrity and civility to the House," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader.
Ney is the latest in a string of once-influential men convicted in a scandal that so far has caught several lobbyists and two members of the Bush administration.
Abramoff, the Republican super-lobbyist, admitted guilt in January after secretly cooperating with prosecutors for weeks.
Two former aides to Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, have also pleaded guilty, as has Ney's former chief of staff.
Additionally, Roger Stillwell, a former Interior Department official, pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor charge for not reporting tickets he received from Abramoff.
And former White House official David Safavian, who had been the Bush administration's top procurement official, was convicted of covering up his dealings with Abramoff. He is scheduled for sentencing on Oct. 27.
Ney confessed his wrongdoing in a federal courthouse a few blocks distant from the Capitol, where until recently he wielded a chairman's gavel.
The first charge accused Ney of conspiring to commit "honest services" fraud, a combination of mail and wire fraud often used in public corruption cases. The second count charges Ney with not revealing his gifts from Abramoff on financial disclosure forms.
Ney acknowledged accepting all-expense-paid and reduced-price trips to play golf in Scotland in August 2002, to gamble and vacation in New Orleans in May 2003 and to vacation in New York in August 2003. The total cost of all the trips — in which others, including some aides, participated — exceeded $170,000, prosecutors said.
Ney also admitted accepting meals and sports and concert tickets for himself and his staff.
The Ohio Republican did not speak with reporters as he entered or left the building. It was his first public appearance since quietly entering an alcohol rehabilitation program last month.
The written statement referred to that. "The treatment and counseling I have started have been very helpful, but I know that I am not done yet and that I have more work to do to deal with my alcohol dependency," it said.
The statement read like a cautionary tale for others who might be tempted by the allure of the Capitol. "I never acted to enrich myself or to get things I shouldn't, but over time, I allowed myself to get too comfortable with the way things have been done in Washington DC for too long," it said.
Until recently, Ney had insisted he would seek a new term. He reversed course in August, under pressure from party leaders who feared the loss of his seat if he remained on the ballot. The race to replace him is competitive, with Zach Space, the Democrat, running ahead of Republican Joy Padgett in several polls.
Inside the courtroom, Huvelle spent nearly a half-hour asking the sandy-haired congressman a series of questions about whether he understood the charges and agreed that he had taken money, gifts and favors in return for official actions on behalf of Abramoff and his clients.
At the end she asked him how he pleaded to the conspiracy count, he replied, "I plead guilty your honor."
Asked how he pleaded to the count of false statements, he replied, "I plead guilty, your honor."