As cooperative defendants go, Will Heaton was good. But Neil Volz outshone him, prosecutors say.
Volz, who was former Ohio Rep. Bob Ney’s chief of staff before Heaton and who later joined Jack Abramoff’s lobbying team in 2002, is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 12 for plying his old boss and his staff with meals at swanky restaurants, sporting and concert tickets, and vacations in New Orleans and Lake St. George, N.Y. He has also admitted to violating the one-year ban against lobbying Ney and then concealing the relationship in public disclosure forms.
As with Heaton, the government has filed a memo in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, asking Judge Ellen Huvelle for a soft sentence – home detention – on account of Volz’s cooperation in the corruption investigation. Huvelle showed Heaton mercy earlier this month, sentencing him to two years’ probation for helping Ney use his office to benefit Abramoff’s clients and accepting thousands of dollars worth of gambling chips on an Abramoff-sponsored trip.
The judge was impressed by Heaton's assistance: He wore a wire during one meeting with Ney, recorded several of his phone conversations with the congressman, and turned over incriminating documents. But the young chief of staff agreed to cooperate only after investigators confronted him with information they’d received from Volz about the trips Ney and Heaton took on Abramoff’s dime, according to the memo.
Volz also provided investigators with a fuller portrait of Ney’s malfeasance (and Abramoff's influence). Soon after he took over the Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, Ney called Volz and said he had made it clear to the other members that his “highest priority was Indian housing.” He asked Volz to relay the message to Abramoff so that he could give Ney further instructions, according to the memo.
Later, once Ney realized Volz was cooperating in the investigation, he called and left several “abusive” messages on Volz’s answering machine, which Volz saved and turned over to investigators. Ney is serving a 30-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
“The government would have been able to successfully prosecute Ney without Heaton’s assistance, but not without Volz’s,” wrote prosecutors Mary Butler and Nathaniel Edmonds. “Volz’s information about additional things of value given to Heaton and official action in which Heaton was involved assuredly helped the government persuade Heaton that he should directly cooperate in the government’s investigation.”
The oneupsmanship continues throughout the memo: Volz dredged up photos and invoices from the cigar-and-golf-laced Scotland trip in 2002 and handed over his e-mail correspondence with Abramoff. Prosecutors praised him for his testimony during the trial of former General Services Administration chief of staff David Safavian, who schemed to transfer 50 acres of government land in Silver Spring, Md., to the control of a private school that Abramoff was supporting. (In June 2006, Safavian was convicted of making false statements and obstructing justice.)