It's hardly a title to be proud of but former Republican Hill staffer Mark Zachares, 49, officially joined the ranks today of the cooperators for the Justice Department's influence peddling investigation stemming from the activities of now-convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Zachares' cooperation was announced by Judge Ellen Huvelle during his plea hearing in D.C. federal court today on one felony count of conspiracy. (For details, check here.)
As part of the plea, DOJ promises not to prosecute Zachares' wife Cynthia, who sat in the second to the last row of the courtroom with her lawyer Alan Yamamoto. That is, as long as Cynthia cooperates too.
Lawyers on both sides would not say why Cynthia, who was interviewed by federal investigators on Feb. 23, was granted immunity or what her cooperation might yield. All Zachares' attorney, Edward MacMahon would say was that she did not receive money from Abramoff.
Zachares, who has been working in sales and lives in Maryland, was released on personal recognizance. He faces 18-24 months in prison, although that may be reduced for his cooperation.
"Mr. Zachares is a good man and he's taken responsibility for all the things he did," MacMahon said after the hearing, declining to go into any detail about the extent or nature of his client's cooperation or potential liability for members of Congress who Zachares worked with.
Lawyers set a status conference in his case for Aug. 3, but if the experience of other cooperators (such as Neil Volz or Tony Rudy) is any indication, that hearing may be held off indefinitely because, as prosecutor Richard Pilger said "cooperation may be ongoing for some time now."