Hill Staffers to Testify in Latest Abramoff Scandal Trial

Former Transportation Aides on Witness List

Posted March 18, 2009 at 6:44pm

Federal prosecutors indicated Wednesday that a cadre of former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee aides will be called to testify in the corruption trial of Fraser Verrusio.

Verrusio, policy director of the Transportation and Infrastructure panel under then-Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), appeared in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for his arraignment on charges of conspiracy, accepting an illegal gratuity and making false statements.

An indictment issued in early March includes allegations that Verrusio accepted an expensive trip to New York in 2003 to attend the World Series, as well as other gifts from lobbyists affiliated with Jack Abramoff, but failed to report those items in his annual financial disclosure.

In addition to Verrusio, former GOP Senate aide Trevor Blackann also participated in the World Series trip organized by lobbyists Todd Boulanger and James Hirni, all of whom have pleaded guilty to related charges. None of those individuals has been sentenced as they continue to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

District Judge Richard Roberts has yet to set a trial date in Verrusio’s case, but the former aide is schedule to return to court in May for a status hearing. Verrusio’s attorney, public defender A.J. Kramer, requested 45 days to review numerous boxes of documents provided by the federal prosecutors.

But federal prosecutor Kendall Day said Wednesday that the government’s case is anticipated to require about eight days to conduct and will include as many as 14 witnesses. Kramer said the defense could call eight to 10 witnesses and would require up to five days to present its case.

Among the government’s expected witnesses are four former aides to the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Included on the list is Graham Hill, who joined the committee in 2001 and became counsel for the Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines in early 2002. He served as the subcommittee’s staff director and senior counsel from early 2005 until he left the panel in late 2006. Hill is currently at Ice Miller Strategies and is listed on the firm’s Web site as both a founding member and chief executive officer.

Prosecutors also expect to call Levon Boyagian, who joined Young’s staff in 2000 and moved to the Transportation panel in 2001. Boyagian also served as staff director of the Subcommittee on Highways, Transit and Pipelines before leaving Capitol Hill in late 2004 to join lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide. He has since founded his own lobbying shop, Boyagian Consulting.

In addition, the government named Elizabeth Megginson, who joined the Transportation panel in 2001 and became its chief counsel in early 2002.

Megginson held that post until 2007, when she followed Young to the House Natural Resources panel, where she briefly served as senior counsel. Megginson moved to the Maritime Administration in early 2007 and was acting deputy maritime administrator and chief counsel when she left at the end of the Bush administration.

Lloyd Jones, the Transportation panel’s former chief of staff who has since retired, is also likely to be called to testify.

Government prosecutors sought Wednesday to restrict Verrusio, 39, from contacting any former Transportation Committee aides — noting the former aide might be “naturally inclined— to discuss the case with former colleagues — in the period before his trial.

Prosecutors had raised objections to contact with Jones, noting that Verrusio had earlier raised his case in casual conversation. According to Day, Jones immediately reported the incident to his attorney.

“We would ask that any contact Mr. Verrusio have with Mr. Jones be in the presence of counsel,— Day said. Kramer objected to that proposal, stating he did not want to act as a “baby sitter.—

Instead, Roberts agreed to order Verrusio to refrain from contact with Boyagian, Megginson and Hill. The judge ruled that Verrusio may contact Jones, whom Kramer described as a personal friend, but is barred from discussing the case.

Verrusio is the 18th individual charged in the Justice Department investigation focused on disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, scheduled for release from prison in 2011, and his associates.

Verrusio is now one of only three individuals named in the Abramoff investigation who has opted to challenge the Justice Department.

Kevin Ring, a one-time aide to then-Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) who later joined Abramoff as a lobbyist, is scheduled to go on trial in September. He has sought to dismiss the government’s indictment, asserting he did not violate any laws in existence at the time of the allegations.

In the only other trial to occur to date, a jury convicted former White House official David Safavian of lying to ethics officials about his relationship with Abramoff. Safavian was convicted on similar charges in 2006, but that verdict was overturned.