APRIL 22, 2008
A high-ranking official at the Department of Justice has been charged with accepting bribes from jailed Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, making him the second federal prosecutor involved in the biggest corruption scandal to rock Washington in modern time.
As the Deputy Chief of Staff at the Justice Department’s criminal division, Robert Coughlin received a stream of valuable gifts and favors from Abramoff and “willfully participated personally and substantially as a government officer and employee” in providing assistance to the lobbyist, according to the federal charges. This violation of federal conflict-of-interest laws is a felony and Coughlin is expected to plead guilty.
Coughlin is the second Justice Department official (the other is Sue Ellen Wooldridge, a top environmental prosecutor) to get busted in the Abramoff fiasco, which has led to the convictions of a dozen people, including administration officials, a congressman (Bob Ney of Ohio) and former Deputy Interior Secretary (Steven Griles). Several other prominent politicians and top Washington aides remain under investigation.
Abramoff pleaded guilty in 2006 to showering lawmakers and members of their staff with upscale European vacations, sports and entertainment tickets, expensive meals and other pricey gifts in exchange for special favors. The jailed lobbyist raked in millions of dollars by selling his Washington connections to wealthy Native American groups seeking to gain influence in the capital.
Coughlin used his power to push through several tribal projects for Abramoff clients, including millions of dollars in government funding for a new jail for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians even though the tribe is wealthy and doesn’t need the taxpayer dollars.
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