WASHINGTON – A federal investigation of corrupt lobbying practices on Capitol Hill intensified Friday as a former business associate of lobbyist Jack Abramoff signaled that he would plead guilty to charges that the two conspired to defraud four Indian tribes out of millions of dollars and to improperly influence a member of Congress.
In an eight-page criminal information filed in U.S. District Court, federal prosecutors charged that Michael Scanlon, 35, worked with Abramoff to extract $52.9 million in fees from the Indian tribes under false pretenses. The two then secretly shared nearly $40 million in profits, according to prosecutors.
The criminal information, a form of criminal charge that is usually a prelude to a plea agreement, also said that Scanlon and Abramoff illegally conspired to influence a member of Congress, Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio. Ney was identified in the information only as “Representative No. 1,” but details of the charges described specific actions taken by Ney.
Ney spokesman Brian J. Walsh said Ney “will fully cooperate in the investigation of the Abramoff matter. He has not been told that he is the target of any investigation, and there would be no grounds to do so.” Ney has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Scanlon was a top aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, before teaming with Abramoff, who was once one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington.
The plea deal, which is expected to be formalized early next week and includes Scanlon’s promise to cooperate with federal prosecutors, marks a major development in a widening probe ofAbramoff that has shaken Congress.
In a statement, Scanlon’s attorney, Stephen Braga, said that at a court hearing Monday “Mr. Scanlon and the Department of Justice will present a proposed plea agreement to the court to resolve the charge contained in the information.”
Abramoff, who was not charged in the documents made public Friday, declined comment through a spokesman.
Under the scheme, prosecutors charged, Abramoff, who was identified only as “Lobbyist A,” recommended to the four tribes that they hire Scanlon to perform grass-roots work in support of their casino gambling efforts. Scanlon would charge the tribes “prices that incorporated huge profit margins” and then secretly split the profits with Abramoff, the information said. The two concealed the kickback arrangement from the tribes.
The criminal information also detailed an alleged corruption scheme involving “Representative No. 1,” considered to be Ney.
The information charged that Scanlon and Abramoff “together and separately provided a stream of things of value” to Ney and members of his staff, “including but not limited to a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world famous courses,” tickets to sporting events and meals at Abramoff’s Washington restaurant, as well as campaign donations.
Ney agreed to “perform a series of official acts” that benefited clients of Scanlon and Abramoff, prosecutors charged,including but not limited to agreements to support and pass legislation (and) agreements to place statements in the Congressional record.”
According to the information made public Friday, Scanlon and Abramoff also conspired to influence Ney to advance the application of one of Abramoff’s clients to win a license to provide wireless telephone services to the U.S. House.