DOI investigator completes two Abramoff probes
With some members of Congress still under scrutiny, the Jack Abramoff probe appears far from over. But a federal investigator from the Interior Department has wrapped up work in the ongoing saga.

In his latest report to Congress, Earl E. Devaney of the department's Office of Inspector General said he completed two probes related to the scandal. Both resulted in guilty pleas from former deputy secretary J. Steven Griles and former Republican Congressman Bob Ney of Ohio.

"The hard work and dedication of all OIG personnel who contributed to these investigations and audits reflect the OIG's commitment to promoting excellence and integrity in the Department," Devaney said in his semi-annual report. "We will continue to work diligently with the [Interior] Secretary and the Congress to improve transparency and accountability of government to the American public."

Along with an unrelated investigation into oil and gas leases, Devaney described the Griles and Ney probes as the "three of the highest profile investigations conducted during my tenure." He said his office spent three years looking into Griles' ties to Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty for defrauding tribal clients.

Griles, a former lobbyist, pleaded guilty in March to one count of obstructing the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. At a hearing in June, he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for his crime.

"Griles admitted that, during his interview and testimony, he had lied about his relationship with Abramoff," Devaney wrote in his report. "Griles also acknowledged that, contrary to his statement and testimony, Abramoff had enjoyed special access to him."

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has assigned identification number 28950-016 to Griles, who has yet to begin his sentence. His status is described as "NOT IN BOP CUSTODY."

As for Ney, he is already serving a 30-month prison term for pleading guilty to accepting favors from Abramoff in exchange for legislative favors. He agreed to insert amendments into legislation that would have allowed two Texas tribes to reopen their casinos, which had been shut down as a result of litigation with the state.

"In addition to actions that transcend DOI, Ney's conviction was based on his assistance to the Abramoff lobbying team regarding Indian tribes in Texas," Devaney wrote. His office was part of the federal task force behind the Abramoff investigation.

Despite the conclusion of Devaney's work, the task force has continued its work. Two more people connected to the Abramoff scandal have pleaded guilty and face sentencing this fall.

One of them -- Italia Federici, the former head of a Republican environmental group started by former Interior Secretary Gale Norton -- introduced Griles to Abramoff and acted as a "conduit" whenever the lobbyist wanted favors at Interior, according to prosecutors.

Additionally, at least three members of Congress with ties to Abramoff remain under scrutiny. They are Rep. John Doolittle (R-California), whose Washington, D.C., area home was recently raided by federal agents; former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who resigned amid questions into legislative actions he took for Abramoff and Abramoff's tribal clients; and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Arizona), who said he has turned over documents to investigators.

The Abramoff probe began in early 2004 after news accounts cited the high fees tribes paid to the Republican insider. But the Griles probe dates back much further, with Devaney and his office looking into Griles and his relationship with lobbyists as far back as June 2002.

In March 2004, after an 18-month probe that cost more than $1 million, Devaney issued a report that detailed Griles' "ethical lapses" in contacts with lobbyists. He later told Congress that Norton was "unwilling" to punish Griles -- a factor that contributed to Griles' downfall in the Abramoff scandal.

"In retrospect, all the warning signs were there," Devaney said in March after Griles pleaded guilty.

Norton resigned in March 2006 and continued to defend Griles even as he came under scrutiny. In a letter to the judge in the case, she urged leniency for her deputy, citing his work on trust reform.

Norton's successor, Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, has vowed to turn Interior into a "model of an ethical workplace" but the effort encountered turbulence when the official he chose to run a conduct board resigned to become a lobbyist.

Kempthorne also failed to take immediate action against an official who broke ethics rules -- even after Devaney issued a critical report. The official, Julie MacDonald, was allowed to stay on the job for two months until she resigned.

OIG Report:
Semiannual Report to Congress (April 2007)

Relevant Links:
Office of Inspector General, DOI - http://www.doioig.gov

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