Monday, February 02, 2009

Another aide to Alaska's Rep. Don Young implicated in Abramoff Lobbying Scandal

2.02.09

Rep. Don Young aide implicated in lobbying scandal

By ERICA WERNER

WASHINGTON (AP) — A second former staffer to an Alaska congressman has been implicated in the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling investigation as the scandal sweeps up a growing number of ex-Capitol Hill aides and lobbyists.

Fraser Verrusio, who worked under Republican Rep. Don Young when the congressman chaired the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, figures in plea deals reached recently by two former Abramoff associates and a one-time congressional aide.

Identified in federal court papers only as "Staffer D," he's described accepting an all-expenses-paid trip to Game One of baseball's 2003 World Series from lobbyists who wanted his help.

Two attorneys familiar with the case said Monday that Staffer D is Verrusio, who was policy director on the transportation committee for about five years. The attorneys spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

An attorney for Verrusio, Paul Rauser, didn't immediately return a call. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment.

The lavish trip to the series game between the Florida Marlins and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium has already helped prosecutors win corruption-related guilty pleas from three people: Trevor Blackann, a former aide to two Missouri Republicans; James Hirni, a former Abramoff lobbying associate; and Todd Boulanger, another former Abramoff deputy.

Boulanger and Hirni helped provide the World Series trip. Blackann and Verrusio were the recipients and were also treated to a chauffeured SUV, dinner at an expensive steakhouse and a visit to a strip club, court papers say.

The purpose was in part to influence Verrusio and Blackann to help an equipment rental company win favorable language in a highway bill, according to a plea deal Boulanger accepted Friday.

Abramoff is in prison and has cooperated with the Justice Department to help convict more than a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.

Mark Zachares, also a former Young aide, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in April 2007. Zachares acknowledged accepting gifts and a golf trip to Scotland from Abramoff's team in exchange for official acts on their behalf.

Young's spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment Monday. Young has denied wrongdoing but in December he stepped down under pressure as lead Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, saying he wanted to focus on clearing his name in an unrelated corruption investigation in Alaska.

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