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Abramoff deputy pleads guilty in corruption case

Friday, January 30, 2009

By NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press Writer

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WASHINGTON — 

A former deputy to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Friday to lavishing congressional staffers with gifts including an all-expense paid trip to the World Series, box seats at concerts and fancy restaurant tabs.

Todd Boulanger admitted to U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts that he provided tens of thousands of dollars worth of entertainment to Capitol Hill aides who could help him get legislation favorable to his clients. Sometimes, he said, he concealed their identities in expense reports to try to keep them from being exposed for violating gift bans.

Boulanger, 37, could have faced up to 5 years in prison, but under terms of his plea deal prosecutors recommended that he get 18-24 months with reduced time if he continues to cooperate in the investigation. A sentencing date has not been set and he was released without bail.

Boulanger is a native of Manchester, N.H., and was for years an aide to former GOP Sen. Bob Smith from his home state. He left Capitol Hill to work with Abramoff, who is in prison and has cooperated with the Justice Department to help convict former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, several lobbyists and top Capitol Hill aides.

During the plea hearing, the prosecutor read e-mails between Boulanger, his colleagues and congressional aides, who were not shy in their demands. Boulanger, who told the judge all the accusations against him were true, made it clear in his correspondence that he expected the staffers would return his favors.

The prosecutors said one legislative director in the Senate, identified only as "Staffer F," tried to help insert spending measures and add other amendments to legislation for Boulanger's clients. Later, the staffer asked Boulanger if he could "score some hockey tickets," and Boulanger got him front-row seats.

"This is without a doubt the most in demand game of the season," Boulanger wrote. "You, my friend, are in debt to me for a while!"

Boulanger later got the staffer box tickets to see the Baltimore Orioles, but the staffer wanted more. "Could you make sure there's beer this time," he wrote. I "mean, the red sox, crab cakes, and fillet mignon's were nice but haha."

Later, Boulanger expressed confidence that the senator whom the staffer worked for would give them a favor. "Easy money," Boulanger wrote to Abramoff. The staffer "practically lives in our various suites. We are shady."

Another Senate staffer sent an e-mail to Boulanger's colleague, Kevin Ring, asking for tickets to see Paul McCartney, Green Day, NSYNC, ice skating, the circus and a hockey game, detailing how many tickets she needed and where she would like to sit. An attorney with knowledge of the case, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, identified her as Ann Copland, a former aide to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who could help with legislation benefiting a client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Boulanger told Ring to make sure she gets whatever she wants and at one point wrote, "To be honest, she's more valuable to us than a rank-and-file house member."

She ended up getting more than $25,000 worth of gifts from Boulanger and his associates, but also at times complained about the food in the box seats the lobbyists provided. She urgently e-mailed Boulanger from the ice skating event, saying she was "freaking out" because she had brought 14 people and there was no food in the suite. Boulanger responded that he would reimburse her for whatever she had to pay to feed her guests.

Copland left Cochran's office last spring after working there for three decades and took another government job at Mississippi Public Broadcasting at a salary of $92,000. But Copland continued to collect her roughly $140,000 annual salary from Cochran's office through May 9 _ an overlap of nearly two months.

Copland could not be reached for comment Thursday. Cochran's spokeswoman said Copland stayed on to help train her replacement and that some of the pay was for unused vacation time.

Congressional ethics rules limit Senate staffers' outside employment and income. Senior staffers also are required to report outside income on annual financial statements submitted to the Senate, but Copland did not report her state income in a statement she filed in December.

Boulanger also admitted to sending two staffers to Game One of the World Series in New York in 2003, paying for airfare, a chauffeured vehicle, hotel rooms, dinner, tickets to the game, souvenir baseball jerseys and entertainment at a strip club. Three days later, Boulanger sent the staffers amendments he wanted inserted in the Federal Highway Bill to benefit a client that rented construction equipment.

One staffer who went on the trip worked for a House member, but was unidentified by name. The other was Trevor Blackann, a Senate aide who has plead guilty for his role in the scandal.

Ring is awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to corrupt government officials, but filed a motion to dismiss his case Friday.

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Associated Press writer Ben Evans contributed to this report.

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