WASHINGTON – A former congressional aide and lobbyist described Tuesday how he obtained insider information, advice and assistance from Bush administration procurement chief David Safavian to advance two projects for Republican influence-peddler Jack Abramoff, who then took the official on a lavish golf trip to Scotland.
The aide, Neil Volz, who was a partner of Abramoff's at the time, also outlined how the Abramoff team received assistance from several Republican congressmen including, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio.
Within weeks after this assistance, Safavian, Ney and two of Ney's staff members accompanied Abramoff, Volz and other Abramoff associates on a golfing trip to the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland and then to London. Volz said the bills for $500-a-night hotel rooms, $100 rounds of drinks, $400 rounds of golf, dinners and travel on a private Gulfstream jet were paid by Abramoff and his staff and he never saw Safavian pay for any expenses.
Safavian's lawyer has said he paid Abramoff $3,100 to cover his hotel and golf fees, but prosecutor Nathaniel Edmunds used Volz' descriptions of the costs to suggest the trip was more expensive.
The Abramoff team sent Ney partially filled out financial disclosure forms for him to file with Congress that falsely understated the cost of the trip at $3,200, said Volz, who was once Ney's chief of staff.
"I thought that number passed the smell test," Volz said, explaining that he hoped that reporters searching public records for travel abuses would pass right over it without asking questions.
Volz is the government's star witness in the trial of Safavian on charges of lying to investigators about his assistance to Abramoff while he was chief of staff to the administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency that oversees property owned by the federal government. The prosecution turned his testimony into a tutorial on how a lobbyist like Volz, who has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for some of this behavior, gathers information, rewards officials who help out and tries to operate in secrecy.
Safavian, who has denied any impropriety in his relations with ex-partner Abramoff, later became the federal government's top procurement official at the Office of Management and Budget before he was indicted.
Volz added flesh and blood details to a series of e-mails the government had introduced earlier showing contact between Abramoff's team and Safavian in the summer of 2002, before several of those involved, including Safavian and Ney, took an expensive weeklong golfing trip to Scotland that Abramoff organized.
Volz testified that the Abramoff team referred to Safavian as a "champion" because he could get inside information on policy developments that was not otherwise available to lobbyists.
He described how Safavian advised Abramoff and his partners to get information on the best way to secretly attach a rider to a bill nearing passage in Congress that would order the GSA to sell the so-called White Oak property in Silver Spring, Md., to a school that Abramoff had established.
Volz also described how Safavian advised him on getting letters from key congressmen to the GSA to alter a proposal to redevelop the Old Post Office here in a way that would give one of Abramoff's clients, the Chitimancha Indian tribe, an advantage over other bidders. Abramoff and the tribe wanted to develop the property as a luxury hotel, which would be near restaurants that Abramoff owned on Pennsylvania Ave.
"We were trying to rig the rules so our client would have the best chance" of winning the redevelopment project, Volz testified.
Describing help they requested from Capito's office on the White Oak project, Volz said they wanted to keep her role secret.
"She was up for re-election and this potentially could have put her in harm's way on the campaign trail ... because this project doesn't have anything to do with her district," Volz explained.
Ney is under criminal investigation in the Abramoff probe. Ralph Reed, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in Georgia, did some work for the lobbyist. Abramoff entered guilty pleas early this year in Washington, D.C., and Florida.