Ex-Senate Staffer Pleads Guilty

Posted March 10, 2009 at 12:35pm

Former Senate aide Ann Copland pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud, acknowledging she accepted more than $25,000 in gifts including tickets to sporting events and concerts from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates.

Copland, a longtime aide to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) who left in 2008 to join Mississippi Public Broadcasting, has agreed to cooperate with Justice Department attorneys in their long-running investigation into lobbying activities on Capitol Hill. Copland is among the 18 individuals, including the incarcerated Abramoff, to be charged with wrongdoing in the case since 2005.

Appearing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Copland’s voice wavered at times during the hourlong hearing, in which she admitted to exchanging official activities — including designating appropriations earmarks — for tickets to events including baseball and football games, ice skating competitions and concerts such as Green Day, ’N Sync and Paul McCartney. Many of those events included tickets in private suites.

Although Copland consented to a plea agreement that the tickets and other items she received are worth as much as $30,000, her attorney suggested those values could be revised downward before her sentencing date, which has yet to be set.

“Some of the valuations may seem a little high,— attorney Drew Hutcheson said.

Copland could face a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, but under federal sentencing guidelines the former Senate aide could face a shorter sentence of 10 to 16 months.

Copland will be allowed to travel between her homes in Fairfax, Va., and Jackson, Miss., prior to her sentencing. She resigned her post at Mississippi Public Broadcasting at the time federal prosecutors informed her she would be charged, her attorney said Tuesday. She is currently working as a consultant, but “She’s angling now to find some work that is related to public broadcasting,— Hutcheson said.