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Ex-Hill Staffer to Plead Guilty in Bribe Case

A former House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staffer is expected to plead guilty today to accepting cash and other gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in exchange for using his position to help Abramoff and his clients.

According to documents filed by the Justice Department on Monday, Mark Zachares, a Transportation and Infrastructure staffer from June 2002 to November 2004, helped steer clients to Abramoff, contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency on behalf of Abramoff’s clients and provided information to Abramoff about the committee’s dealings with the Department of Homeland Security to assist his lobbying practice.

In exchange, DOJ alleges, Abramoff paid Zachares $10,000 in cash, provided him with thousands of dollars worth of tickets to sporting events and tried to get the White House to appoint him to a senior position in the Department of Interior. Zachares also joined an August 2003 golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff and a Member of Congress who is identified as Representative No. 3 in the filing but who knowledgeable sources said was Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.). Feeney agreed to repay the costs of a trip to Scotland with Abramoff and said he was “misled” by the lobbyist about who actually was paying for the trip; he believed it was underwritten by a legitimate nonprofit organization. Feeney’s office issued a statement Monday noting that he “anticipates voluntarily cooperating” with the Justice Department investigation of Abramoff.

The Justice Department filing suggests Abramoff and Zachares were involved in a long-term plan to use Zachares’ position to funnel business to Abramoff clients, until Zachares could join Abramoff’s lobbying practice and represent the same clients. Zachares’ attorney declined to comment.

Zachares held several positions with the committee, including legal counsel to the short-lived subcommittee on oversight and investigations in 2002. He became staff director of the subcommittee on the Coast Guard and maritime transportation in 2003, and the Justice Department alleges that at that point he planned with Abramoff to use his position to recruit clients and jointly develop a maritime lobbying practice.

At the time, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) was the subcommittee chairman, but LoBiondo’s spokesman said the Congressman had no role in hiring Zachares.

“Congressman Don Young, who was Chair[man] of the full House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during that time, was solely in charge of the hiring, firing, and daily management of staff, including Mark Zachares,” LoBiondo spokesman Jason Galanes wrote in an e-mail Monday evening. “Despite being a subcommittee chair[man], Congressman LoBiondo had no input in the selection or management of staff members for the Coast Guard & Maritime Transportation Subcommittee. At no time did Mark Zachares make a request of then-Chairman LoBiondo on behalf of Jack Abramoff.”

Young’s spokesman did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

Prior to working in the House, Zachares held several positions in the administration of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, another Abramoff client, and Abramoff was trying to get Zachares a job at the Interior Department, where he could have continued to assist Abramoff’s clients, the Justice Department alleges.

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