WASHINGTON – The Justice Department lost one of its own to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal Tuesday as a former-high ranking department attorney pleaded guilty to conflict of interest.
Robert E. Coughlin II admitted in federal court in Washington that he accepted meals, concert tickets and luxury seats at sporting events from a lobbyist while helping the lobbyist's clients. He pleaded guilty to a single conflict-of-interest charge and faces up to 10 months in prison under a plea deal with the government.
The lobbyist was not named but Coughlin was lobbied during the period in question by Kevin Ring, a member of Abramoff's lobbying team who also is under investigation
Coughlin, now 36 and living in Texas, accepted the gifts from 2001 to 2003 while working on legislative affairs for the Justice Department. He later became deputy chief of staff of the department's criminal division — the same division handling the Abramoff probe — before he resigned a year ago, citing personal reasons.
"Guilty, your honor," Coughlin said in a clear voice when Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle asked him how he would plead. He left court holding hands with his wife. He and his attorney declined comment on the way out.
Because of Coughlin's ties at Justice Department headquarters, prosecutors in Maryland investigated his conduct while reporting to the deputy attorney general's office in Washington.
As part of his plea, Coughlin agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation.
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.
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.