Thursday, June 01, 2006

[political-researchp] SFGate: Ethics Officers May Testify in Lobby Case
Wednesday, May 31, 2006 (AP)
Ethics Officers May Testify in Lobby Case
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN, Associated Press Writer

(05-31) 02:16 PDT WASHINGTON, (AP) --

On the heels of their star witness's description of how Republican
influence-peddler Jack Abramoff got inside information from Bush
administration executive David Safavian, prosecutors are going to compare
Safavian's behavior with federal ethics laws and regulations.

Prosecutors are prepared to call two ethics officers Wednesday from the
General Services Administration, the government property management agency
where Safavian was chief of staff before moving on to be the chief federal
procurement officer.

In August 2002, ethics officers at the GSA permitted Safavian to go on a
weeklong golf expedition to Scotland and London with Abramoff based on
Safavian's assertion that Abramoff had no business pending before the

But a convicted lobbyist, Neil Volz, who was then a partner of Abramoff's,
testified in U.S. District Court on Tuesday that during the weeks before
the lavish trip Safavian provided insider information and advice on how
Abramoff could get GSA approval for two of his projects

Volz also outlined how the Abramoff team received assistance from several
Republican congressmen or their aides, including Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio,
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Rep. Don Young of Alaska and
Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio.

Ney, Capito and LaTourette issued renewed denials of any wrongdoing.

The government's star witness against Safavian, Volz was a former chief of
staff to Ney. Volz has pleaded guilty to conspiracy for some of the
behavior about which he testified. Facing an 18- to 24-month prison
sentence, he hopes cooperation with prosecutors will win him probation

Safavian, Ney and two members of Ney's staff accompanied Abramoff, Volz
and other Abramoff associates on an August 2002 golf trip to the famed St.
Andrews course in Scotland and then to London. Volz said the bills for
$500-a-night hotel rooms in London, $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 any expenses.

On cross examination, Safavian's lawyer Barbara Van Gelder got Volz to
acknowledge that Safavian told him in Scotland he was paying Abramoff
$3,100 for his expenses.

Prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds used Volz's descriptions of the costs to
suggest the trip was far more expensive. Edmonds showed that Ney reported
$1,200 in hotel expenses although Volz said Ney spent two nights in London
in the Mandarin Hotel, which charged $500 a night for the congressional
staff rooms, leaving only $200 to cover the cost of four nights at St.

The Abramoff team sent Ney partially filled out draft financial disclosure
forms for him to use in filing disclosures with Congress that falsely
understated the total cost of the trip at $3,200, Volz testified.

"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.

In court, however, Edmonds pointed out that the official date stamp on
Ney's disclosure form, due within 30 days of the trip, showed it was not
filed until September 2004, the same month news stories appeared about the

Volz testified that Safavian, who is charged with lying to investigators
about assisting his ex-partner Abramoff, was referred to by the Abramoff
team as a "champion" because he could get inside information not otherwise
available to lobbyists.

Volz described advice Safavian provided on how to get GSA to sell land in
Silver Spring, Md., to a school Abramoff had founded and on how to get
preferential treatment for an Abramoff client, the Chitimacha Indian
tribe, in the GSA's redevelopment of the Old Post Office here.

Ney is under criminal investigation in the Abramoff probe. Abramoff
entered guilty pleas early this year in Washington, D.C., and Florida. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2006 AP

Politics Traditions American politics


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