Huffpost Politics

Ex-Senate Aide Charged In Abramoff Scandal

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WASHINGTON — A longtime former aide to Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran has been charged in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, accused of accepting gifts and granting favors for the imprisoned former lobbyist.

Court documents filed Thursday say Ann Copland took thousands of dollars worth of event tickets and meals out in Washington from Abramoff and associates at his firm. Prosecutors say the gifts were in exchange for her favors benefiting one of their top clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Charges against Copland were outlined in a legal document called a criminal information, which only can be filed with the defendant's consent and typically signals a plea deal. The document says Copland understood that Senate rules prohibit staffers from soliciting gifts from lobbyists, but still secretly did so.

"It was a purpose of the conspiracy for defendant Copland to be unjustly enriched by her receipt of things of value, and to conceal these gifts from the U.S. Senate and the people of the United States," the document said.

Copland worked for Cochran for 29 years, then abruptly left his office last spring after Abramoff prosecutors had netted a dozen convictions in the scandal.

Cochran's office refused to comment on the case Friday.

Campaign finance records show that Abramoff, his associates and his clients gave Cochran at least $82,500 in campaign donations during the years in question, from 2001 to 2004. But there is no indication from the documents that Cochran, a Republican, knew of Copland's behavior or is being investigated.

E-mails revealed in court documents show Abramoff's firm went out of its way to keep Copland happy because, as lobbyist Todd Boulanger once wrote to his boss, "she's more valuable to us than a rank-and-file house member." The e-mail was revealed in a plea agreement Boulanger struck recently .

Prosecutors included a copy of an e-mail that Copland sent to one of Abramoff's deputies, Kevin Ring, in March 2002, detailing a list of tickets she wanted and how many for each event. She asked to see Paul McCartney, an ice skating event, 'NSync, Green Day and a hockey game. She also asked for two to six tickets to see the circus, but only if they were floor seats.

Ring, currently awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to corrupt government officials, forwarded the note to Abramoff saying, "Wow ... We already told her she was fine on McCartney, ice skating, and Green Day _ although we need to let her know how many tix she can have for each. Also, please review the other requests and let me know what we can do there."

Abramoff wrote, "She'll get everything she wants."

Other court documents show that Copland was not shy to complain when she didn't like her accommodations, like when she got the lobbyists' luxury suite for a Baltimore Orioles game. "Ackkk. Only beer and no Hebrew National hot dogs," she complained in an e-mail to Boulanger.

Copland sounded angry in another e-mail from the firm's box suite at a the ice-skating event after no food had arrived for her party of 14 people. "I'm freaking out here," she wrote, and Boulanger replied that she would be reimbursed for any food she had to buy.

The documents say Copland "on repeated occasions" provided official actions benefiting Abramoff's firm, particularly the Mississippi Choctaws.

For example, when Copland asked a lobbyist for the suite at the Orioles game in 2003, he responded in part by asking whether a Choctaw provision the firm no longer wanted had been removed from an appropriations bill. Copland assured him it had, and the final version of the bill contained an explicit statement that the provision "is no longer necessary."

(This version CORRECTS that charges were filed Thursday, not Friday.)