tampabay.com

Cost hidden for Feeney trip

By ANITA KUMAR
Published April 25, 2007


WASHINGTON - Lobbyist Jack Abramoff treated Rep. Tom Feeney and others to a Scotland trip in 2003 that began with a trans-Atlantic flight on a private jet and featured twice-daily golf at world-famous locales.

New court documents released Tuesday show Abramoff's expenses for the luxury trip averaged about $20,000 per person for each of the eight people who went, not the $5,000 Feeney estimated in the travel report he filed in Congress.

A guilty plea entered Tuesday by former congressional aide Mark Zachares revealed new details about the extravagant four-day trip that illustrated the influential reign of Abramoff, now in prison for defrauding clients.

Zachares pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted in documents, among other things, that the travel report he filed upon returning from Scotland was filled with lies that were coordinated by Abramoff.

Zachares had said the trip was paid for by a conservative think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research, that it had cost $5,643 and that the purpose was fact finding. All three were lies, according to the documents.

Feeney, 48, an Orlando-area Republican who has been contacted by the FBI as part of the Abramoff investigation, reported precisely the same details in his travel report on the Scotland trip.

Feeney has insisted he didn't know Abramoff covered the cost of the trip, which is a violation of House rules.

Feeney's office released a statement to the St. Petersburg Times on Monday acknowledging that he has been contacted by the FBI in the inquiry.

On Tuesday, his spokeswoman, Pepper Pennington, said he would not comment further except to say, "Rep. Feeney is anxious to discuss this matter at the appropriate time."

The documents filed in U.S. District Court in Washington refer to Feeney, the only current member of Congress to have gone on the four-day trip, as "Representative #3."

Federal agents have asked the St. Petersburg Times and the Orlando Sentinel for documents about Feeney but have refused to say whether the congressman is under federal investigation. The Times and the Sentinel have referred the FBI's request to their attorneys.

The document the FBI has requested from the Times is an e-mail from Feeney's former chief of staff, Jason Roe, who was answering questions about the Scotland trip last year.

Roe resigned abruptly Tuesday from his new job as deputy campaign manager for presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Zachares is the 11th person, and fifth congressional staffer, involved in the growing Abramoff scandal to plead guilty. He admitted to helping Abramoff get inside information on congressional action in exchange for $10,000 cash, $30,000 worth of tickets to sporting events and concerts and the trip to Scotland.

Court documents show that Zachares, a staffer at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee until 2005, coordinated with Abramoff to lie about the Scotland trip.

Feeney, once the speaker of the Florida House, is one of three men who were U.S. House members when they accompanied Abramoff to Scotland on trips that included rounds of golf at the legendary Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews.

The others are former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, who is serving prison time for corruption related to his Abramoff relationship, and former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay, indicted in an unrelated Texas case for alleged improper fundraising, is under investigation.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Anita Kumar can be reached at 202 463-0576 or  

Major">akumar@sptimes.com.

Major players

Among the group who flew to Scotland in 2003 to play golf at well-known locales are three prominent names besides Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla. They are:

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas: DeLay resigned in June 2006 after he was indicted in his home state of Texas on unrelated money laundering charges in 2005.

Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio: Ney pleaded guilty to two felony charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and making false statements in October. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He decided to not seek re-election last year.

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff: He pleaded guilty in January 2006 to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and mail fraud stemming from the purchase of the SunCruz Casinos gambling fleet. He received nearly six years in prison and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors investigating influence peddling.