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DeLay ex-aide pleads guilty in Abramoff case

Scanlon charged with conspiracy to defraud Indian tribes

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Michael Scanlon, left, worked with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and is a former aide to Rep. Tom Delay.



Casinos and Gambling
Crime, Law and Justice
Tom DeLay

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Michael Scanlon, a former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay and a onetime partner of high-powered Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge Monday.

As part of the deal with the Justice Department, Scanlon agreed to testify against Abramoff in a probe that also has implicated at least one member of Congress, two government sources have told CNN.

Scanlon was charged Friday with one count of conspiracy as part of an ongoing federal criminal investigation of his and Abramoff's lobbying activities.

Scanlon, a 35-year-old public relations executive, agreed to pay $19.7 million in restitution for kickbacks he admitted receiving as part of the conspiracy to defraud his and Abramoff's clients.

"He's obviously regretful for the circumstances that bring him here, but he's trying to do what he thinks is right," his attorney, Plato Cacheris, told reporters after the hearing in federal district court.

Scanlon was freed on an unsecured $5 million bond pending sentencing. His only comment was: "You guys will be seeing me around."

As part of the plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Scanlon admitted plotting to cheat clients and corruptly influence federal officials.

Among the high-profile clients of Scanlon and Abramoff were Indian tribes that wanted political access in Washington.

Congressional committees and the Justice Department are investigating whether they swindled those tribes out of millions.

According to e-mail obtained by a Senate committee, Abramoff made a fortune from the gambling operations of six Indian tribes while privately mocking tribal leaders as "monkeys" and "morons."

Scanlon acknowledged in court that the tribes were not told that $19 million of the $80 million Abramoff and Scanlon billed them went to hidden kickbacks.

Cacheris said Scanlon was "regretful for what happened to the tribes, but he has nothing to say now."

Sentencing was delayed for at least 90 days at the government's request. U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle told Scanlon to return to court March 1 for a status hearing.

Sentencing guidelines in the plea agreement call for Scanlon to serve from 51 to 63 months in prison, Huvelle said. But prosecutor Mary Butler said the government wanted to determine Scanlon's degree of cooperation before sentencing.

Abramoff already faces federal wire fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with his 2000 purchase of a Florida casino boat company. His lawyers have said he did nothing wrong.

He is a longtime associate of several top GOP leaders, including DeLay, Americans for Tax Reform director Grover Norquist, and former Christian Coalition chief Ralph Reed.

Last week, prosecutors accused Scanlon in court papers of conspiring to "corruptly offer and provide things of value, including money, meals, trips and entertainment, to federal public officials in return for agreements to perform official acts" benefiting Scanlon and his lobbyist partner.

The partner is identified in the court documents only as Lobbyist A and is not facing charges. One government official told CNN that Lobbyist A is Abramoff.

The government alleged that between January 2000 and April 2004, Scanlon and the lobbyist "would falsely represent to their clients that certain of the funds were being used for specific purposes."

In fact, prosecutors said, "Scanlon and Lobbyist A would use those funds for their own personal benefit and not for the benefit of their clients."

"It was a purpose of the conspiracy for Scanlon and Lobbyist A to enrich themselves by obtaining substantial funds from their clients through fraud and concealment and through obtaining benefits for their clients through corrupt means," the prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also detailed a "stream of things of value" given to an unnamed congressman, identified in the court documents as Representative No. 1.

The items listed include a "lavish" trip to Scotland to play golf, tickets to sporting events and campaign contributions to the representative and his political action committee in exchange for a series of actions by that representative.

The Justice Department would not identify the congressman. But government sources said he is Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee.

In the court documents, prosecutors alleged Scanlon and Lobbyist A got the lawmaker "to perform a series of official acts."

According to the documents, those acts included supporting bills, placing statements in the Congressional Record, meeting with the lobbyists' clients and supporting a client of Abramoff's in a bid to wire the House of Representatives for wireless telephone service.

Ney's office issued a statement Monday saying that any allegation that the congressman "did anything illegal or improper is false."

"This plea agreement mentions a number of unsubstantiated allegations, but in fact, many of the things suggested to have occurred did not actually take place," the statement said.

It went on to say the only thing the plea agreement showed was "that Mr. Scanlon had a deliberate, secret, and well-concealed scheme to defraud many people, and it appears, unfortunately, that Rep. Ney was one of the many people defrauded."

Ney is the only member of Congress to disclose that he has been subpoenaed as part of the investigation -- a step required under House rules.

He is known to have entered comments in the Congressional Record against a man standing in the way of an Abramoff project, and he took a 2002 golf trip to Scotland that Abramoff sponsored.

Abramoff's name surfaced earlier this year amid ethics questions about DeLay, a longtime friend. The Washington Post has reported DeLay took two expensive overseas trips that Abramoff and other lobbyists bankrolled -- a violation of House rules, if true.

DeLay has denied wrongdoing, calling the report "just another seedy attempt by the liberal media to embarrass me."

The Texas Republican was forced by House rules to step down as majority leader after he was indicted October 3 by a Texas grand jury on unrelated felony charges of conspiracy and money laundering. He was replaced by Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri.

CNN's Kelli Arena, Kevin Bohn and Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.

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