WASHINGTON – While former Rep. Bob Ney was trading political access for campaign donations and lavish gifts, his young chief of staff was secretly wearing a wire and shuttling incriminating documents to the FBI, according to court documents.
Will Heaton let FBI agents record his telephone calls and taped a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Ney. He leaked documents and worked late into the night and on weekends to avoid arousing suspicion that he was working with the government.
"The moment I walked into my first meeting with the Justice Department, a huge weight was lifted off my chest," Heaton wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. "For the first time in years I felt at peace with myself and I knew I was finally making the right choice."
After helping send the Ohio Republican to prison for corruption, Heaton pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy. He admitted accepting a golf trip to Scotland, expensive meals, and tickets to sporting events between 2002 and 2004 as payoffs for helping clients of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Heaton worked for Ney from September 2001 to July 2006, becoming in 2002 the youngest chief of staff on Capitol Hill. Heaton's lawyers said in court documents that Ney preferred to hire inexperienced staffers because they had not received extensive ethics training and lacked the maturity to question him.
Heaton is to be sentenced Thursday in federal court. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison but federal sentencing guidelines call for a more likely sentence of 18 months to 24 months. He is asking for no jail time, in part because of how hard he worked for the FBI to help take down Ney.
"I made several terrible decisions while working for Congressman Ney, but in my mind the most awful was my silence," Heaton wrote. "I remained silent about much that occurred during my tenure with Congressman Ney because I was too fearful of the consequences if I spoke up."
He said he realized Ney's behavior was inappropriate but did not initially come forward because he did not want to be a "tattletale on the playground."
Ney was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison in January. Abramoff, the star witness in the sweeping Capitol Hill investigation, is serving prison time in an unrelated Florida case and is awaiting sentencing in the corruption case.