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Ney’s Legal Bills for Year Mount to Six Figures

Despite shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in attorney fees during the past six months, House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has made no decision on whether to set up a legal defense trust fund to help defray the costs.

Although he and his aides have repeatedly denied that Ney is under investigation by any entity, Ney paid more than $135,000 last quarter to the Houston law firm Vinson & Elkins for representation in the growing scandal surrounding former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In May, Ney retained Mark Tuohey, a partner at Vinson & Elkins and a former federal prosecutor, to defend him during any potential probe by the House ethics committee or Justice Department.

The big payment to Vinson & Elkins came on top of an earlier $14,000 that he shelled out to Republican lawyer Don McGhan, who also serves as general counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The combined $149,000-plus in legal fees represents roughly one-fifth of the money that Ney has raised this entire cycle. In his latest filing with the Federal Election Commission, Ney reported taking in slightly more than $755,000 since January, with $199,000 coming in during the third quarter.

Ney has made no decision on creating a legal-defense fund, according to his spokesman, Brian Walsh, although other lawmakers facing ethics or corruption probes, including Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) and William Jefferson (D-La.), have done so.

On Tuesday, Ney faced new questions about whether his ties to Abramoff have embroiled him in a federal probe of the one-time influence peddler.

The Washington Post reported that Ney is under investigation by federal prosecutors in Florida for his role in Abramoff’s purchase of SunCruz Casinos. Abramoff and a former business associate, Adam Kidan, were recently indicted in Miami on federal mail and wire fraud charges related to their purchase of SunCruz in late 2000. Their trial will begin in January 2006.

Ney’s office released a statement blasting the Post for its story, although the Ohio Republican did not specifically deny the assertion that he is now a target of a federal probe.

“Today’s story in the Washington Post reads like a cross between Groundhog Day and the National Enquirer,” Walsh said. “While the Washington Post continues to drag Congressman Ney’s name through the mud with outrageous stories such as this, the Congressman continues to await the opportunity to address all of these matters with the House Ethics Committee which he has been seeking to do for almost a year now.” Ney has twice asked the ethics committee to review his dealings with Abramoff, although the panel has been bogged down in partisan battles since the start of the 109th Congress that have prevented the panel from initiating any investigations.

The office of R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, who is heading up the SunCruz probe, did not return calls seeking comment on whether Ney is being targeted by his investigators.