WASHINGTON – A former Capitol Hill aide received probation and a fine but no jail time Thursday after a federal judge credited him with helping convict a congressman in the Jack Abramoff scandal.
William Heaton let FBI agents record his telephone calls and taped a 2 1/2-hour meeting with Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio. He leaked documents and worked late into the night and on weekends to avoid arousing suspicion that he was working with the government.
Federal prosecutors recommended that Heaton serve house arrest, but U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle ordered him to serve two years probation and pay a $5,000 fine. Huvelle said she would not have been so lenient had Heaton's cooperation not been so exceptional.
"People don't generally walk around congressmen wearing a wire," Huvelle said.
Heaton, 29, apologized several times in court. He said he was ashamed that he did not have the courage to stand up to Ney, who was trading political access for campaign donations, trips and expensive gifts.
"American citizens should be able to trust those who work on their behalf," he said in court. "I violated that trust."
Ney, who resigned from Congress, was sentenced in January to 2 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty.
After helping send Ney to prison, Heaton pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy. He admitted accepting a golf trip to Scotland, expensive meals, $5,000 in gambling chips and tickets to sporting events between 2002 and 2004 as payoffs for helping clients of Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist.
"If we can't find people who can stand up to authority and don't let power corrupt them, then we'll all be in serious trouble," Huvelle said.
Attorneys said Heaton has an opportunity to speak to congressional staffers as part of a new Capitol Hill ethics program. Young aides respect and awe the powerful people who do business in Congress, Heaton said, and "they forego their moral duties in order to respect that authority."
"No one else need repeat my mistakes if my life can serve as a cautionary tale for others," said Heaton, who at 23 became the youngest chief of staff on Capitol Hill.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said Ney promoted young, inexperienced aides who would not question him or challenge his dealings with lobbyists.
Huvelle ordered Heaton to perform 50 hours of community service each year of his probation. She said that should be in addition to speaking to congressional aides.
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.