Former Ney Staffer Sentenced

By Theresa Cook

Aug 16, 2007 12:53pm

ABC News’ Jason Ryan, Jennifer Duck and Theresa Cook Report:  Convicted ex-Congressman Bob Ney’s former chief of staff has been spared prison time in his conspiracy case.

William Heaton, 29, will serve two years on probation, and pay a $5,000 fine.

Sentencing letters filed last week disclosed that Heaton cooperated with the Justice Department to record conversations with Ney, a Republican from Ohio who resigned last year amid his own investigation.  Heaton asked for leniency because he aided the Justice Department, and had faced a maximum of 5 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

The former aide pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge before Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle February 26. 

He admitted accepting favors and numerous items of value, and attempting to use his official position to help disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a foreign businessman in their business ventures.

Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security officials have told ABC News the foreign businessman is Fouad Al Zayat, a Syrian born businessman who lives in London.  Heaton pleaded also admitted that he sought to obtain a U.S. visa for Zayat.

Among the lavish items Heaton accepted while working for Ney was an August 2002 golf trip to Scotland with Ney, Abramoff, Republican strategist Ralph Reed and other staffers Ney staffers.

Abramoff, who is currently serving time in a federal prison, made campaign contributions to Ney to seek favorable legislation for a Native American tribe that Abramoff was representing. Abramoff also took Ney and staffers on trips to New Orleans, Lake George NY and paid for numerous meals, drinks and tickets to sporting events.

On a 2002 trip to London, Zayat provided Ney with thousands of dollars of gambling chips at a casino. Ney returned to the United States with the chips, but made Heaton the chips to avoid reporting the money to U.S. Customs.

Heaton worked for Ney from July 2001 to 2006. At age 23, he became the youngest chief of staff to work on Capitol Hill when assumed the role in February 2002.  Heaton succeeded Neil Volz, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy in May 2006.

Ney pleaded guilty to corruption charges related to the Abramoff lobbying scandal last fall, and is serving out a 2 ½ year prison sentence.

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