Former Justice official pleads guilty in Abramoff probe
By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer Tue Apr 22, 4:17 PM ET
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department lost one of its own to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal Tuesday as a former high-ranking department attorney pleaded guilty to conflict of interest.
Robert E. Coughlin II admitted in federal court in Washington that he accepted meals, concert tickets and luxury seats at sporting events from a lobbyist while helping the lobbyist's clients. He pleaded guilty to a single conflict-of-interest charge and faces up to 10 months in prison under a plea deal with the government.
The lobbyist is identified in court documents only as "Lobbyist A," but details of the relationship make clear that he is Kevin Ring, a former member of Abramoff's lobbying team and former Capitol Hill staffer who also is under investigation.
Ring was friends with Coughlin and lobbied him during the period in question on issues mentioned in the court papers, including money for a jail for the Choctaw tribe, The Associated Press has previously reported.
Abramoff, the disgraced GOP lobbyist, appears in court papers as "Lobbyist B," but plays mostly a bit part as Ring's demanding boss, pressuring him for action on the Choctaw jail and other issues. The court papers state that Coughlin "never had a substantive conversation with Lobbyist B."
Coughlin, now 36 and living in Texas, accepted the gifts from 2001 to 2003 while working on legislative affairs for the Justice Department. He later became deputy chief of staff of the department's criminal division — the same division handling the Abramoff probe — before he resigned a year ago, citing personal reasons.
"Guilty, your honor," Coughlin said in a clear voice when Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle asked him how he would plead. He made no comment as he left court holding hands with his wife.
As part of his plea, Coughlin agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation. He has already offered substantial information about Ring's behavior, based on details in court papers.
The court papers detail Ring's attempts to get $16.3 million for a jail for the Choctaw tribe, a major Abramoff client. Coughlin pulls strings to make it happen, including getting more sympathetic officials involved.
The Justice Department probe of Abramoff and his team of lobbyists has led to convictions of a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles. At least one current member of Congress, Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., remains under investigation.
Abramoff is serving prison time for a criminal case out of Florida and has not yet been sentenced on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion stemming from the influence-peddling scandal in Washington.