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Ex-DeLay aide pleads guilty to fraud

From Terry Frieden, Kevin Bohn and Paul Courson
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former senior aide to Rep. Tom DeLay pleaded guilty Friday in federal court to fraud conspiracy, saying he joined a scheme with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others to enrich themselves and illegally influence members of Congress.

In a deal with federal prosecutors, Tony Rudy -- DeLay's former deputy chief of staff and press secretary -- pleaded guilty to one count of mail and wire fraud in a conspiracy after he left DeLay's office to become a lobbyist. The count includes the violation of a one-year prohibition on lobbying after leaving government service, the government officials said.

"The purpose of the conspiracy was for defendant Rudy and his co-conspirators to unjustly enrich themselves by corruptly accepting and providing a stream of things of value with the intent to influence and reward official acts, making misrepresentations to their own clients and attempting to influence members of Congress in violation of the law," the criminal charging document said.

"Guilty, your honor," Rudy told the judge after a 30-minute reading of the charges.

Bilking Indian tribes

The document identifies Abramoff and Michael Scanlon -- another former DeLay aide -- as co-conspirators, but does not name DeLay, a Texas Republican, or any member of Congress.

Abramoff and Scanlon have pleaded guilty to bilking Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars and to providing political donations, trips, meals and tickets to members of Congress and their staffs in return for official favors. The two men are cooperating with federal investigators in a corruption investigation of Congress.

The document also clearly refers to DeLay, calling him "Representative No. 2," but sources close to the investigation said nothing in the charges implicates DeLay, a longtime Abramoff associate. The Texas Republican gave up his post as majority leader in September after he was indicted in his home state on charges he improperly steered corporate donations to state legislative candidates in 2002.

DeLay has denied wrongdoing, remains in Congress, and continues to fight the charges.

Rudy faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but the court said he was likely to get much less time if he keeps his promise to cooperate with prosecutors. Rudy was fined $250,000, and prosecutors estimate he may have to repay as much as $100,000 in money he directly received in the conspiracy.

District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle set a review hearing on Rudy's sentencing for July 11 to determine how helpful he is to investigators.

After Friday's hearing, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, speaking for the government, said: "The American public loses when officials and lobbyists conspire to buy and sell influence in such a corrupt and brazen manner. ... By his admission in open court today Mr. Rudy paints a picture of Washington which the American public and law enforcement will simply not tolerate."

The government also announced Rudy's wife would cooperate with investigators and would not be charged in the case. She was not named in open court, but was listed as receiving payments arranged by Abramoff totaling $50,000.

Reading from court papers filed with Rudy's plea, Huvelle said that the money was "a retainer fee for consulting services to be performed by Rudy's wife." The payments began with $10,000 in June 2000, with monthly payments of $5,000 after that.

Rudy did not challenge that the payment were made and agreed with the government's assertion that Abramoff arranged "for at least one of his clients to make donations" subsequently used to make payments to his wife.

Huvelle noted there was not yet a signed agreement for the wife's cooperation in the investigation. Prosecutors said they anticipated the agreement would be signed and filed shortly.

Rudy's link to DeLay

Rudy served as deputy chief of staff for DeLay when the lawmaker was House majority whip but had left that position when DeLay became majority leader.

It was after he left government service that Rudy went to work for a lobbying firm with ties to Abramoff.

In a separate case, Abramoff also pleaded guilty to wire fraud and conspiracy charges in connection with his 2000 purchase of a Florida casino boat venture. On Wednesday, he was sentenced to nearly six years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of more than $21 million. (Details)

Although there are no known ties to the Abramoff affair, another Republican, Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California, resigned in November after pleading guilty to taking bribes from defense contractors.

In the time since the lobbying scandal broke, members of Congress have pledged quick reform but have had difficulty meeting timetables for action.

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