Top Politico's Sudden Fall

Charges against lobbyist could signal problems for others.

January 29, 2009, 12:07 PM

January 29, 2009— -- Once named as one of the "50 Politicos to Watch," Republican lobbyist Todd Boulanger is now under the spotlight for a very different reason: he is expected to plead guilty to federal charges for influence-peddling as part of the wide-ranging investigation into the activities of the now-jailed Jack Abramoff, according to recently filed court documents.

The documents, filed in federal court in Washington, indicate that Boulanger, a former staffer for former Sen. Bob Smith (R-NH), is expected to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy for honest services fraud for giving "a stream of things of value," that were intended "as a means of influencing, securing and rewarding official action."

His expected plea shows that even after the Republicans have fallen from power, the investigation into the party's abuses continues and is expected to lead to new criminal indictments in the coming months. It may also put pressure on another former Abramoff associate, Kevin Ring, who has been charged in a 10-count indictment for conspiring with Abramoff to influence public officials through gift giving and skirting disclosure requirements but maintains that he did nothing illegal.

It is unclear if Boulanger's plea would lead to trouble for other members of Congress, but he has been tied to fundraising for former Florida Republican Rep. Tom Feeney, who was defeated last year, and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). A spokesperson for Cochran said he is not a target of an investigation. Feeney could not be reached for immediate comment.

Mark Flanagan, a lawyer for Boulanger, said in a statement that "Mr. Boulanger regrets this situation and is accepting responsibility for certain past conduct." He added, "Mr. Boulanger is cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and looks forward to its complete and swift resolution."

Boulanger first began lobbying in 1999, joing Abramoff at the first of Preston Gates and following him to Greenberg Traurig until 2004, when the first public reports raised questions about Abramoff's lobbying operation. It was then that Boulanger moved to Cassidy & Associates, a Washington lobbyist powerhouse, where he managed to reestablish himself, boasting clients from Whirlpool Corp. to the Motion Picture Association of America.

Indeed, just this year The Politico listed him as one of the "players" to watch, noting, "From his successful weathering of the Jack Abramoff storm to his many cable TV appearances, Boulanger has proven his nattily attired, outside-the-box staying power."

Tickets for Sporting events and Concerts

The scrutiny into Boulanger was first disclosed in court documents filed in November of as part of the plea agreement of Trevor Blackann, a former congressional staffer to Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Blackann pleaded guilty in November to making false statements on his 2003 tax return about $4,100 in gifts he received from lobbyists including Boulanger.

This week's court filing offered few details on Boulanger's activities as part of the conspiracy. The only example of his efforts to influence was a series of emails involving someone named as Staffer E, who worked for a senator that could help Boulanger with one of his tribal clients. Asking how many tickets she could get for various concerts and sporting events, Boulanger once wrote she "should get everything she wants."

But in Blackann's plea documents, Boulanger's link with Blackann was spelled out. According to the documents, Boulanger began giving Blackann tickets for sporting events and concerts shortly before Blackann joined Bond's staff December 2000. The relationship grew, particularly in 2003 when Boulanger turned to him for a help with a client, United Rentals. Boulanger would also buy Blackann meals and drinks, continuing until he resigned from Greenberg Traurig in March 2004. During 2003 alone, Boulanger spent more than $3,100 buying such gifts for Blackann, according to the documents.

The biggest event was in October 2003 when Boulanger took Blackann, along with another staffer and former Abramoff associate John Hirni, who has also pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge, on a free trip to the first game of the 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," according to Blackann's plea agreement.

During this period, Boulanger would often ask Blackann for help with clients, including in February 2001 when Boulanger asked Blackann to help obtain a letter of support from his boss for "a person seeking political appointment in the Bureau of Indian Affairs," according to Blackann's plea. The Justice Department informed Bond he is not a target of the investigation, according to his office.

Boulanger and Blackann were personal friends. (According to a 2005 article in The Hill newspaper, the two went sailing together.) But, according to the court document, "Blackann knew that the lobbyists gave these things of value for or because of officials action they were seeking from him or had obtained from him." And, it said, he took those gifts knowingly.

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