The paper trail seems so obvious it makes you wonder whether anyone ever worried about getting caught. When Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and his wife flew from Houston to a golf resort in Scotland in June 2000, the first-class airfare cost $14,001, a big-ticket item for a public servant. But someone else paid.
The American Express bills of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January, show he footed the bill for the tickets, in an apparent violation of House ethics rules.
"The source of the travel expenses may not be ... a registered lobbyist," according to the House rules. Abramoff was a registered lobbyist at the time.
DeLay's attorney told The Washington Post last year that DeLay was unaware of the "logistics" of bill payments and did not believe Abramoff paid for the tickets.
"This is a classic example of why the ethics rules have to be reformed," said Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21, a nonprofit watchdog group. "The Scotland trip was a trip to play golf, pure and simple, and private interests should not be allowed to finance those kinds of trips and gain influence with members in return."
Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy, honest-services mail fraud and tax evasion. Officials said Abramoff had brought corruption to a new level at the Capitol.
"The corruption scheme with Mr. Abramoff was very extensive, and the investigation continues," said Alice Fisher, the head of the Department of Justice's criminal division.
One aspect of Abramoff's corruption scheme was the free trips he provided to politicians to the Super Bowl, a golf resort in Scotland and to the northern Mariana Islands in the South Pacific.
An ABC News hidden camera recorded Abramoff greeting and hugging DeLay as he arrived in the northern Marianas.
DeLay, the former House majority leader, was only one congressman out of dozens who accepted the lobbyist's trips and campaign contributions.
"There are many members of Congress who will not sleep well tonight," said Wertheimer at the time of the investigation. "This is a blockbuster of an investigation that will reach deep inside the power structure."
Federal authorities told ABC News that Abramoff began providing details of his dealings with DeLay and pinpointing a long list of senators and representatives more than a year ago.
At least nine have since returned Abramoff's campaign contributions, and all, including DeLay, have denied any wrongdoing.
Officials told ABC News that the first congressman to be indicted for bribery is expected to be Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio.
ABC News' Gina Sunseri contributed to this report