At the center of the congressional ethics scandal that brought down an Ohio congressman Friday - a scandal which Democrats hope gives them control of Congress this fall - is a guy from Finneytown.
Neil G. Volz, 36, was a friend and top aide to U.S. Rep. Bob Ney - who ended up testifying against him. Volz' testimony helped build the case against Ney that led the central Ohio Republican to agree to plead guilty to two federal charges Friday.
After months of denying any wrongdoing, Ney admitted Friday he took a lavish golf trip to Scotland, free meals and other gifts in exchange for official favors.
He also admitted he encouraged Volz, his former chief of staff, to lobby his congressional office illegally after leaving his service.
Volz, who graduated from Finneytown High School in 1989, pleaded guilty May 8 to conspiracy in the widening ethics scandal surrounding disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Volz admitted accepting gifts while working for Ney in exchange for favors, then lobbying Ney and offering the congressman gifts after leaving his office . . .
Shortly after leaving Ney's office, Volz traveled on a private jet to Scotland with Ney, Safavian, Ney's then-chief of staff William Heaton, Paul D. Vinovich, a lawyer for the House Administration Committee, and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed.
He testified at Safavian's trial that these so-called "champions" were treated to rounds of drinks, golf, cigars, rooms at expensive hotels - much like he had been treated while he worked for Ney. Safavian was convicted June 21 of lying and obstructing justice related to the Scotland trip. Abramoff and two business associates also pleaded guilty to fraud and attempting to bribe Ney.
Legal observers say the effectiveness of Volz's testimony in the Safavian case is a strong indicator of the role he could have played in any trial against Ney, especially since Volz, his former staff member and confidant, is in a position to testify against him.
Stanley Brand, an ethics law expert, said Volz is a key piece of the puzzle.
"It wouldn't be the first time that an aide was used to get the principal," Brand said.
Volz left Barnes & Thornburg earlier this year after it became apparent he was going to be indicted by federal prosecutors.
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