When he went to work for Abramoff, Volz became the point person in providing gifts to Ney and his staff, taking part in an August 2002 trip to St. Andrews, Scotland, that Abramoff arranged for Ney, two of his staffers, conservative political consultant Ralph Reed and indicted former government procurement officer David Safavian.
According to documents released earlier by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, the charter jet to fly the group to Scotland cost $91,000 and the group rung up an additional $75,000 in costs on the trip, which was financed by Abramoff’s lobbying clients via payments funneled through a charity established by the lobbyist.
The trip was taken at a time when Ney was helping Abramoff and Volz with a provision in an election reform bill that would have given federal recognition to one of Abramoff’s tribal clients. The Tigua Tribe of El Paso, Texas, had its casino shut down by state officials in early 2002, thanks to Abramoff. Abramoff then convinced the tribe to pay him millions of dollars to get it reopened.
The Volz plea also repeats accusations that Ney and his staff received “regular meals and drinks” at Abramoff’s former restaurant, Signatures. Monday’s court documents also included new gift allegations, including the trips to Arizona and New Orleans as well as one to Lake George, N.Y., in August 2003.
Tuohey and Lawler said Monday that they had been in repeated contact with the Justice Department regarding Ney, who recently escaped indictment on a different piece of the Abramoff probe, due to expiration of the statute of limitations last month. In some cases, the lawyers have been trying to produce receipts to prove that meals and travel were paid for and not gratis on behalf of Volz or Abramoff.
In mounting its public defense Monday, the Ney legal team spelled out the plan of attack if Ney is indicted: that the charges are based on bad facts and, in the instances where Ney did accept gifts from Abramoff, the official actions he took that benefited the lobbyist’s clients were done on the merits.
In a bribery or illegal gratuity case against Ney, the Justice Department will have to prove not just that he accepted thousands of dollars worth of gifts from Abramoff and that actions were taken that benefited his clients, but also that those gifts were the primary motivating factor behind Ney’s official actions.
Attempting to refute an allegation that Ney brought up tribal housing issues on behalf of Abramoff in a meeting with then-Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, Lawler said that issue was done because of his concern for the issue.
“Does he care about Indian housing? Yes. Does he care about it because Jack Abramoff gave him something? No,” Lawler said.
“There was never an occasion when Congressman Ney took an official action” because of Abramoff’s gratuities to him, Tuohey said.
In their most detailed public explanations to date, Tuohey and Lawler also took on some of the long-simmering allegations against Ney.
The trip to Scotland, for instance, was not a golf junket, they said, but was actually supposed to be a fundraising event that would benefit Scottish and American children, at which Ney’s presence would help with the amount raised, they said.