Ex-House Aide Pleads Guilty in Abramoff Probe

A former Congressional aide pleaded guilty today to a federal conspiracy charge stemming from his acceptance of gifts in the ever expanding wake of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The ex-aide, John Albaugh, was a long-time staff member of former Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Oklahoma in 2006.

Albaugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy for accepting dinners, drinks and tickets to sports events and campaign contributions from Abramoff's firm, which was seeking specific legislation and action from Congress for transportation legislation.

Court documents made many references to Albaugh's relations with "Lobbyist C," who has been identified as Kevin Ring by sources briefed on the matter. Ring worked on Capitol Hill for Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., before working for Abramoff at the Greenberg Traurig firm.

Albaugh's guilty plea is the most recent that stems from Ring's activities at Greenberg Traurig. In April, former Justice Department employee Robert Coughlin pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest for his connections with Ring when he worked at the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs, and later, as the deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liason.

Although he is not mentioned by name, since he is not charged, Istook has been identified in the court documents as "Representative 4." Istook served as the chairman for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies.

"Albaugh accepted from Lobbyist C a stream of things of value which were intended to and did induce defendant Albaugh to take a stream of official action to benefit Lobbyist C," Greenberg Traurig and its clients, the criminal complaint noted.

In a March 14, 2002, e-mail, Ring mentioned the need for federal funds for one of his clients and sent an e-mail to Albaugh, noting, "[y]ou are going to eat free of our clients."

According to the court papers on Jan. 29, 2003, "Albaugh requested and [Ring] agreed ... [to] host a $10,000 fundraising dinner for the benefit of Representative 4 the following week."

Weeks after the fundraiser, according to the criminal complaint, "On or about March 19, 2003, at the suggestion of defendant Albaugh, Representative 4 called Jack Abramoff, thanking him in advance for use of one of his FedEx Field suites for an upcoming fundraising event.

"During that call, Representative 4 also allegedly asked Abramoff which particular projects Firm B's clients wanted in the transportation bill. Abramoff, thereafter, sent an e-mail to the lobbyists on his team, telling them that Representative 4 had 'basically asked what we want in the transportation bill,' and instructing the lobbyists to 'make sure we load up our entire Christmas list.'"

The criminal complaint also notes that, "On or about July 29, 2003, defendant Albaugh agreed with [Ring] to assist him with securing approximately $4.183 million in funding for a road project benefiting one of Lobbyist C's clients. Defendant Albaugh, [Istook], and [Ring] had discussed this request the night before in an MCI Center Suite during an American Idols concert."

The court documents detail a series of dinners and a fundraiser at FedEx Field for Istook during a Washington Redskins game on Sept. 4, 2003. In November, Ring e-mailed Albaugh, "[n]ow let's get that conference done so we can bring the bucks home!!!!" Albaugh responded, "I [sic] actually going thru the earmarks right now!"

Days later, on Nov. 11, 2003, according to the court documents, Albaugh e-mailed Ring to tell him, "there will be something for [Client A]. About 1 million."

According to the charging documents, Albaugh received more than $4,000 worth of sporting event tickets, concert tickets and meals from Ring and Abramoff. The investigations into Abramoff and his associates have involved 13 guilty pleas by various lobbyists, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and the conviction of David Safavian, who worked for the Government Services Administration.

Contacted by ABC News after Albaugh's guilty plea today, his attorney Jeffrey Jacobovitz said, "Mr. Albaugh decided to accept the government's proposal and move on with his life. He deeply regrets and accepts full responsibility for his involvement in these matters and their impact on his family and the community."

According to sources at the Justice Department, prosecutors are looking at Ring's activities while he worked for Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig.

Messages left Monday evening for Ring's attorney Richard Hibey were not immediately returned.

Istook was not available for comment at his office at the Heritage Foundation, where he is currently a fellow.

Istook, who is now employed by the Heritage Foundation, issued a statement today, saying, "I am as surprised and as shocked as anyone. I have not seen the charges and I have no information about them. I have met with the FBI. They did not share any details about the case, but they told me I am not a target of their investigation. I will continue to cooperate with them fully."