Former Istook Chief of Staff Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy

Posted June 2, 2008 at 3:16pm

John Albaugh, the former chief of staff to retired seven-term Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), pleaded guilty Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of conspiracy to defraud the House of Representatives.

“Mr. Albaugh decided to accept the government’s proposal and move on with his life,” said Albaugh’s attorney, Jeffrey Jacobovitz, a partner in D.C.’s Schiff Hardin.

Albaugh, 41, who was released on his own recognizance, will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle on Sept. 17. He faces anywhere from 18 to 24 months, according to federal sentencing guidelines, but the government could ask for less depending on the extent of his cooperation.

Albaugh currently lives in South Carolina, where he works in real estate development.

Asked whether Istook was implicated in the conspiracy or whether his client intended to provide information that would implicate others, Jacobovitz said, “I cannot say anything about cooperation.”

Istook was first elected to Congress in 1992 and did not run for re-election in 2006, instead making an unsuccessful Oklahoma gubernatorial bid.

He is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“I am as surprised and as shocked as anyone,” Istook said in a statement released Monday. “I have not seen the charges and I have no information about them. I have met with the FBI. They did not share any details about the case, but they told me I am not a target of their investigation. I will continue to cooperate with them fully.”

According to the documents filed by the Justice Department, Albaugh was part of a conspiracy “to benefit himself and/or Representative 4 by using and agreeing to use his official position by performing and agreeing to perform official acts in return for a stream of things of value benefiting himself and/or Representative 4.”

Representative 4 is not named in the document, but is described as the Member that Albaugh worked for, which was Istook.

According to the Justice Department, Albaugh conspired with a lobbyist who had previously worked for a House Member, had been a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee and had been executive director of a “political party Caucus.”

That résumé dovetails with Jack Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, who worked for Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) in the House, was a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee and was the director of the Conservative Action Team in the House.

The charging document alleges that in March 2003, at Albaugh’s suggestion, Istook called Abramoff to thank him “in advance for use of one of his FedEx Field suites for an upcoming fundraising event. During that call [Istook] also asked which particular projects [Abramoff’s clients] wanted in the transportation bill.”

Abramoff told the lobbyists working for him to “make sure we load up our entire Christmas list,” the Justice Department alleges.

With Istook as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies, Albaugh “agreed to ensure that [Abramoff clients] received more than $4 million in a Subcommittee draft of the transportation appropriations bill.”

Justice alleges that Istook’s campaign did not reimburse Abramoff for the costs of fundraisers hosted at his restaurant and at FedEx Field.

Albaugh is accused of repeatedly accepting tickets to sporting events and concerts and free meals without disclosing these gifts on his financial disclosure forms.

The charges indicate that Ring was orchestrating the contacts with Albaugh and providing the meals and tickets, and presenting the legislative requests to Albaugh.

According to the charging document, Istook benefited from a February 2003 fundraiser that Abramoff and his associates held at Abramoff’s former restaurant, Signatures.

The documents state that while Albaugh solicited this dinner, Istook’s campaign committee didn’t reimburse Ring, or Ring’s firm at the time, Greenberg Traurig, or the restaurant for the cost of the event, or file an in-kind contribution with the Federal Election Commission.

Following that fundraising event, Istook called Abramoff at Albaugh’s suggestion asking Abramoff “which particular projects [Greenberg Traurig’s] clients wanted in the transportation bill,” according to court documents.

Abramoff pleaded guilty on Jan. 4, 2006, to separate charges of tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials in exchange for access and government favors.

He has not been sentenced on those charges because he continues to cooperate with federal investigators.

He is serving a five-and-a-half-year sentence at a minimum security prison in Cumberland, Md., for his role in a separate fraud case, involving Florida-based SunCruz Casino.