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Ney sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison

Ex-congressman pleaded guilty in Abramoff scandal

Former US representative Robert W. Ney left the federal courthouse in Washington after being sentenced yesterday to a federal prison term. Ney pleaded guilty in October to conspiracy to commit fraud and making false statements in a bribery scandal. (MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES)

WASHINGTON -- Former US representative Robert W. Ney of Ohio was sentenced yesterday to 30 months in prison, becoming the first member of Congress headed for jail because of his corrupt dealings with now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

US District Judge Ellen Huvelle handed down a slightly tougher sentence than the 27 months recommended by prosecutors, telling Ney that, "as a member of Congress, you had the responsibility above all else to set an example and to uphold the law."

Ney, a Republican, became a symbol of the corruption that roused voters and helped sweep into Congress a new Democratic majority promising ethics reform.

The former chairman of the House Administration Committee admitted that he performed official acts for Abramoff's lobbying clients between 2001 and 2003, receiving in exchange luxury vacation trips, skybox seats at sporting events, campaign contributions, and expensive meals -- as well as tens of thousands of dollars in gambling chips from an international businessman who sought his help with the State Department.

In the continuing investigation, Ney and seven others have pleaded guilty or been convicted, and several are cooperating witnesses. In addition to the government's chief witness, Abramoff, they include Ney's former chief of staff, Neil Volz, and two other Capitol Hill staff members who once worked for former majority leader Tom DeLay. All three had joined Abramoff's lobbying team at the Greenberg, Traurig law firm.

More charges are expected soon. Prosecutors recently notified a former deputy secretary of the Interior Department, Steven Griles, that he is a subject of investigation, sources knowledgeable about the inquiry said.

Ney told the judge yesterday that he regretted his actions and apologized to his family and to the voters who sent him to Washington.

"I will continue to take full responsibility for my actions and battle the demons of addiction," he said, referring to the alcohol problem he has sought treatment for in recent months. Ney's physician and a former staff member wrote letters to Huvelle describing heavy drinking.

Matthew Parker, a former aide and friend, said Ney began to drink more heavily in 2004 when he first came under federal scrutiny. "Bob was a functioning alcoholic who could rarely make it through the day without drinking and would often begin drinking beers as early as 7:30 a.m.," Parker said.

But the judge rejected Ney's plea for leniency.

"Whether or not you've served your constituents well, on some level you have seriously betrayed the public's trust and abused your power as a congressman," she told him. "You have a long way to go to make amends for what's happened."

Ney pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy and making false statements. Huvelle agreed to a defense request that he serve his term in a federal prison in Morgantown, W.Va., where he can receive alcohol treatment. She ordered him to pay a $6,000 fine, remain on probation for two years after his release, and participate in supervised community service.

"Today's sentence makes it clear that our government is not for sale," said Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher.

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