WASHINGTON – Facing at least two years in prison, former Rep. Bob Ney is trying to play down his role in a bribery scandal. Prosecutors are pushing for a harsher sentence, portraying him at the center of a conspiracy that sold congressional services for cash.
Ney, an Ohio Republican, pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy and making false statements, admitting that he traded official actions for expensive trips, sports tickets, lavish meals and campaign donations from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now serving a prison sentence.
Most of the terms of the plea deal were set, but Ney reserved the right to argue for less prison time, claiming the scheme involved fewer than five people.
Federal prosecutors disputed that claim in court documents filed this week. They described a web of associates — including congressional staffers and Abramoff's clients — who put a price on various government acts. Among those listed in the documents:
—For a $10,000 donation to the National Republican Campaign Committee, Abramoff got Ney to insert kind words about the lobbyist's new business venture into the Congressional Record.
—For $32,000 in political donations to Ney, Abramoff told one of his clients, an American Indian tribe, that it could buy Ney's support for legislation favorable to the tribe.
—For about $50,000 in casino chips, a foreign businessman influenced Ney to contact the State Department about trade rules on behalf.
Those were outlined in Ney's plea deal in October. This week, prosecutors added a new detail. In 2003, Neil Volz, an Abramoff employee and former top Ney aide, arranged for the congressman to personally resolve a passport dispute for the daughter of Russian energy executive Alexander Koulakovsky, an Abramoff client.
"Ney took these steps after having been promised and shortly before enjoying a vacation in Lake George, N.Y., in August 2003, with trip costs exceeding $3,500 paid by Volz and another lobbyist," prosecutors wrote.
Koulakovsky has been linked in the Abramoff case to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. The Washington Post has reported that Koulakovsky hired Abramoff to arrange meetings with DeLay and lobby for federal aid.
Koulakovsky and his business partner have been linked to a $1 million check to a charity sponsored by DeLay that charity officials said was intended to influence a DeLay vote, the newspaper reported.
DeLay has not been charged in the Abramoff case and denies any wrongdoing.
Ney is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 19. Prosecutors are pushing for 29 months in prison. Ney's attorneys say the sentence should be two years.