E-mail details false trip data

Published April 26, 2007

WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom Feeney has insisted for years that he didn't know convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for their luxury golfing trip to Scotland in 2003.

But an e-mail obtained by the St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday shows that Abramoff's office sent specific instructions on how to report the trip expenses to a handful of people, including Feeney's congressional assistant.

The e-mail from Holly Bowers, Abramoff's then-assistant, instructs recipients to say a conservative think tank, the National Center for Public Policy Research, paid for the trip at a cost of $5,643 per person.

In reality, the extravagant trip that began with a trans-Atlantic flight on a private jet and featured twice-daily golf at world-famous locales cost about $160,000, or $20,000 per person for each of the eight attendees.

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

The e-mail, written in September 2003, a month after the trip, was sent to Feeney's then-executive assistant Eliza Baker. Others on the e-mail list included Mark Zachares, a former House aide who last week pleaded guilty to conspiracy for his relationship with Abramoff.

In court documents released Tuesday in his case, Zachares said he knew the expense details for the Scotland trip were lies coordinated by Abramoff.

Feeney's office released a statement to the Times earlier this week acknowledging that he has been contacted by the FBI in the inquiry, but would not answer further questions.

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.

On Wednesday, Florida Today in Brevard County reported that the FBI asked it for a recording of an interview between Feeney and the newspaper's editorial board.

All three newspaper are consulting with their attorneys.

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