DeLay Aide To Plead Guilty

From CBS News:

Tony Rudy, a former top aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, has agreed to plead guilty to charges in the widening federal investigation of lobbyist fraud, a law enforcement official said Friday.

A hearing was scheduled Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, where Rudy was expected to enter his plea.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal has not yet been filed with the court.

Rudy would be the first person to plead guilty to charges in the case since Jack Abramoff, once a leading GOP lobbyist, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in January.

Rudy was referred to in court papers released in connection with Abramoff's plea. The documents referred to Rudy as Staffer A, and said that Abramoff, on behalf of clients who wanted to stop Internet gambling and postal rate legislation, paid $50,000 in 10 equal monthly payments beginning in June 2000 to Rudy's wife while Rudy was a top aide to DeLay.

The Abramoff court papers allege no wrongdoing by DeLay, and his attorney, Richard Cullen, said the former House Majority Leader "expects his current staffers and expected his former staffers to adhere to the highest ethical standards."

"None of this means necessarily that DeLay is going to be indicted," says CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen. "But a deal like this only strengthens the government's hand."

Cohen says "the closer these guilty pleas come to Tom DeLay the more threatened becomes his legal position. And that's because if there is a criminal case against him over this, and we don't know that yet, it's going to be made and supported and perhaps ultimately proven by those who had the most direct contact with him – and that's people like Rudy."

Rudy joined Abramoff's lobbying team at the Greenberg Traurig law firm in 2001. Soon after, he signed on with another former DeLay staffer, Ed Buckham, at the Alexander Strategy Group.

Abramoff, 47, was sentenced Wednesday to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in a case in Florida involving the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats.

He will remain free while helping prosecutors with the vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.

CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports that Abramoff still faces sentencing for his guilty pleas in Washington to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy.

No date has been set for his sentencing in that case.

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