WASHINGTON – A former high-ranking Justice Department official was accused Monday of criminal conflict of interest in the latest case stemming from the investigation of disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Robert Coughlin was deputy chief of staff of the Justice Department's criminal division -- the same division handling the Abramoff probe -- before resigning a year ago, citing personal reasons. He was due in federal court in Washington on Tuesday for a plea hearing.
Prosecutors accused Coughlin in court papers Monday of providing assistance from 2001-2003 to a lobbyist and the lobbyist's firm while receiving gifts from the firm and discussing prospective employment there.
The lobbyist isn't named but The Associated Press has previously reported that Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff's lobbying team who also is under investigation. At the time Coughlin worked for the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs and its office of intergovernmental and public liaison, and Ring worked for Abramoff's Greenberg Traurig firm.
Coughlin talked with Ring about going to work for Greenberg, according to an attorney with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Ring also provided Coughlin with meals and tickets to events, the AP has reported.
Attorneys for Coughlin declined comment and Ring's attorney didn't immediately return a call for comment.
The investigation of Coughlin's conduct was handled by federal prosecutors in Maryland because of his ties at Justice Department headquarters. The document filed in court Monday is known as an information and is normally filed as part of a plea deal.
Ring and Coughlin worked together for John Ashcroft when he was a Republican senator from Missouri, before he became attorney general in 2001. Ring lobbied Coughlin and other Justice Department officials on a variety of issues, including getting federal money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe.
The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles. At least one current member of Congress, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., remains under investigation.
Ring worked for Doolittle, who is retiring from Congress at the end of this year, before going to work for Abramoff.
Abramoff is serving prison time for a criminal case out of Florida and has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal in Washington.