Monday, August 24, 2009

Ex-VOA Chief of Staff Indicted in Abramoff Scandal

By Scott McCabe
Washington Examiner
August 24, 2009

A former chief of staff of Voice of America has been indicted by a D.C. federal grand jury on public corruption charges over accusations he took thousands of dollars in sports and concert tickets from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Horace M. Cooper, 44, of Lorton, Va., will appear Sept. 9 to face charges of conspiracy, fraudulent concealment, false statements and obstruction of an official proceeding. He faces up to 20 years if convicted, according to federal prosecutors.

His lawyer, Solomon L. Wisenberg, said Cooper was innocent and planned to vigorously fight the charges.

In court filings, federal prosecutors said Cooper began to solicit and accept gifts from Abramoff's lobbying firm in 1998, when Cooper was legislative director to then Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Cooper accepted luxury box seats for Redskins and Orioles games, floor seats for Wizards contests, and tickets for Alan Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and N'Sync concerts at MCI Center.

The gifts continued to flow Cooper's way when he took a new job as the chief of staff for two federal agencies from 2001 to 2005, first at Voice of America and then the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration.

In exchange, court documents say, Cooper helped Abramoff secure VOA funds for Abramoff's new television production business, provided sensitive information about competitive bidders and assisted Abramoff's client in a Labor Department investigation into a Mariana Islands garment manufacturer, according to court filings.

Prosecutors said Cooper also took advantage of thousands of dollars in complimentary meals at Abramoff's downtown D.C. restaurant. While dining, Cooper would present his credit card but be charged only for a nominal item, such as a lemonade or soft drink, prosecutors said. Cooper would sign the bill to make it look as if he had paid for the entire meal.

Once, prosecutors alleged, when Cooper was charged $140 for a meal, Cooper e-mailed Abramoff stating: "I think there may have been a little glitch at the restaurant on Friday. I went there and gave my credit card and it was charged, It's no big deal, but I thought I'd let you know."

To date, 20 people have been convicted or are awaiting trial in connection with the Abramoff scandal. Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison and is cooperating in the investigation.