Nightline Investigation: Did a Powerful Congressman Receive Favors in Alleged 'Corruption Scheme?'

Bob Ney is hardly a household name, but in Congress, the Ohio Republican is well-known as "the mayor of Capitol Hill."

As chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Ney controls such key perks as congressional contracts, office space, parking places and even the cafeteria menus. He's the one who replaced "french fries" with "freedom fries" after the French opposed invading Iraq. Such authority sounds mundane, but, in fact, he wields plenty of power.

"A good part of Bob Ney's power comes from the reality that members of Congress are constantly going to him and asking for little things," said Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "From the ability to have a room to run a reception to making sure that your administrative assistant gets to park reasonably close to the elevator -- those little things accumulate, so you do not want the chair of the house administration committee to be unhappy with you."

But now, court documents suggest Ney may have received favors in an alleged "corruption scheme" involving Washington's most notorious lobbyists: Jack Abramoff and his former partner, Mike Scanlon. They allegedly schemed to cheat their clients, enrich themselves and shower members of Congress with political contributions.

Last month, Scanlon struck a plea bargain that left him smiling: a reduced prison sentence in return for his cooperation.

Now that Scanlon is cooperating with federal authorities, some speculate he could cause problems for Ney.

"I think that Congressman Ney had better get right with his God," said Texas political consultant Marc Schwartz. Schwartz, who had extensive dealings with Abramoff and Scanlon, is cooperating in the federal investigation. In his first television interview, Schwartz tells "Nightline's" Chris Bury that Scanlon's testimony could be damaging for Ney.

'Pay to Play'

"The information that he can provide would be extremely beneficial in uncovering what has become, in my opinion, a 'pay to play' scheme," Schwartz said.

In Texas, Schwartz represented the Tigua Indians of El Paso in their campaign to re-open the Speaking Rock Casino after the state had shut it down.

In 2002, Abramoff and Scanlon -- who had once worked with the Tigua's competitors to shut the casino, sold the tribe on a secret plan, called "Operation Open Doors," to get Congress to reopen Speaking Rock. But the Tiguas would have to pay to play.

"We anticipate the tribe will have to make approximately $300,000 in federal political contributions," the document read.

The scheme called for language to be quietly inserted into an entirely unrelated election reform bill. According to the tribe's consultant, the key contact would be Congressman Bob Ney. In March 2002, Abramoff sent Scanlon this e-mail: "Just met with Ney! We're f'ing gold. He's going to do Tigua."

"He agreed to put language into the bill on the House side and would help us, help the tribe in making sure that the language stayed and that this change would be affected," Schwartz said.

Six days later, Abramoff sent Schwartz an e-mail that said, "Congressman Ney. 'Please get the following checks for him asap.'" The requests -- which came from Abramoff -- for Bob Ney's campaign and political action committee -- totaled $32,000.

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