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The Congressman’s Conduit

Six years ago this month, former congressional page Will Heaton took a job working for Ohio Rep. Bob Ney. Heaton, then 23, soon became Ney’s chief of staff and the youngest person to run a congressional office. Ney was closely tied to corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff and, according to federal prosecutors, the congressman capitalized on Heaton’s “inexperience and deferential attitude,” to have Heaton serve as “an active conduit” for things “of value” that Ney wanted in exchange for “official acts requested” by Abramoff. In a matter of months, Heaton (shown here with Ney in similar blue jackets) was doing more than facilitating, he was also “an active participant in the conspiracy,” soliciting free trips from Abramoff for himself, and free food and drink at Abramoff’s restaurant Signatures.

Abramoff was convicted of fraud and Ney came under federal investigation. Heaton, at first “fearful of the consequences” was finally  “the last to begin cooperating” with the Justice Department. He made up for his original reluctance, however. Counseled by House chaplain Daniel Coughlin (below and on the following page), Heaton was soon wearing a wire against his boss. He met “repeatedly with agents and prosecutors on the weekend and late in the evenings so that he could continue working for Ney without arousing suspicion.” Heaton also recorded numerous phone conversations and a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with Ney, who subsequently pleaded guilty and is currently serving 30 months in prison.

Heaton himself pled guilty to one charge of conspiracy, but prosecutors, in return for timely and substantial assistance, asked Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to go easy on the younger man at sentencing.  “Ashamed and deeply sorry” he had “blurred the lines between acceptable and unacceptable professional behavior,” Heaton also personally wrote Judge Huvelle (Pages 3-5), “I shutter (sic) at what I may have become.” Hoping his story will serve as a “cautionary tale” to others and, admitting, “there is no excuse for what I did,” Heaton vowed to return to the values of his boyhood “moral touchstone” Rudyard Kipling’s inspirational poem If,  (“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you …”).

Heaton, sentenced Aug. 16 to two years probation, community service, a $5,000 fine, and a second chance, “failed to make the moral and just choices to serve our nation honorably.” But having overcome his fear of being the “tattletale on the playground” by confessing his sins to the House priest, Heaton begins the rest of his life with a unique perspective on the relationship between acts and consequences.

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