Abramoff Aide Expected to Plead Guilty

James Hirni, a Republican lobbyist who once worked for Jack Abramoff, is expected to plead guilty in connection with the Justice Department's wide-ranging influence-peddling investigation, according to documents filed Friday afternoon in federal court in Washington D.C.

The information document indicates that Hirni is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud in connection with his activities as a lobbyist.

Also Friday, Todd Boulanger, another former Abramoff associate under federal scrutiny, departed abruptly from his lobbying shop, Cassidy & Associates, the firm announced.

Hirni, who most recently worked for Wal-Mart's government relations office, and Boulanger were identified earlier this week in the plea agreement of Trevor Blackann, a former congressional staffer to Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Though the two were not listed by name, public documents and interviews match Boulanger and Hirni to the descriptions of Lobbyists D and E outlined in the plea agreement.

The information document filed Friday details how Hirni gave gifts to congressional staffers from whom he was seeking official action for his client, United Rentals, identified only as "Equipment Rental Company."

In 2003, Hirni, along with Boulanger, identified only as Lobbyist D in the information document, sought two legislative amendments. The first would encourage "state public works agencies to rent rather than purchase construction equipment," a move that would clearly boost United Rentals' business. The other would encourage public works agencies to contract only with companies with large amounts of liability insurance coverage, something United Rentals had. They hoped to get this language inserted into the federal highway reauthorization bill pending before the committees that Blackann and another individual listed Staffer D had control over, the document states.

To do so, Hirni "corruptly provided things of value to Staffer D and Blackann" in order to "influence induce ad reward official action favorable to Equipment Rental Company," the information document states.

In particular, the document outlines Hirni, Boulanger and Person #1 paid for Blackann and Staffer D to attend the first game of the 2003 World Series in New York, including round trip airfare, an overnight stay in a hotel, a private chauffeur, a souvenir baseball jersey, food and drink as well as "admission to and entertainment at a gentlemen's club following the game."

Several days after the event Boulanger emailed a draft of the two amendments sought by United Rentals to Blackann while Hinri sent the same to Staffer D. In November, the two convinced a Senate staffer to offer the amendments, the document states, and when one came under attack by small business owners, Hirni, Boulanger and Person #1 supported Blackann's attempt to protect it.

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