11th conviction in Abramoff-lobbying probe

Mark Dennis Zachares pleads guilty before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle
Mark Dennis Zachares pleads guilty before Judge Ellen S. HuvelleArt Lien / NBC News
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former congressional aide pleaded guilty Tuesday to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from lobbyist Jack Abramoff in an influence-peddling scandal that has touched the White House, Interior Department and congressional Republicans.

Mark Zachares was the 11th person to be convicted in the Justice Department probe.

Zachares admitted engaging in official acts on Abramoff's behalf while working for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who chaired the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Abramoff assisted Zachares in obtaining his committee post. Zachares left Young's staff in 2005. Young's office did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment Monday and Tuesday.

5th congressional staffer to plead
"Guilty, your honor," Zachares told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle who asked what plea he would enter to a single count of conspiracy. He faces a maximum of five years in prison, but under federal sentencing guidelines will probably face two years or less.

After the court appearance, defense attorney Edward MacMahon declined to say whether Young was aware of what Zachares was doing on behalf of Abramoff.

Zachares agreed to cooperate with the government's continuing investigation and outside the courthouse MacMahon reinforced that point to reporters .

The former Republican aide is the fifth congressional staffer to plead guilty in the Abramoff scandal, including two ex-aides to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

Zachares provided information to Abramoff about pending congressional actions on the reorganization of federal agencies into the Homeland Security Department.

In court, Zachares admitted that Abramoff and his lobbying team supplied him with $30,000 worth of tickets to sporting events and concerts on more than 40 occasions in 18 months from mid-2002 to early 2004.

Congressman cooperating
Zachares accompanied Abramoff and six others including Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., on a $160,000 golf junket to Scotland in 2003, according to the conspiracy count to which Zachares pleaded guilty.

Feeney's office said the Justice Department has contacted the congressman to request more information and that Feeney is cooperating.

Early this year, Feeney agreed to reimburse the government $5,643 for the Scotland trip that Abramoff, Zachares and the others took.

Zachares "falsely reported the cost of transportation, lodging and meals as only $5,643, a figure coordinated with Abramoff to be substantially identical as the figures other attendees, including Representative 3, would report," according to a statement of facts which Zachares signed March 14.

"Representative 3" is a reference to Feeney. The congressman's office said Tuesday morning before Zachares' guilty plea that it would have no further comment on the matter at this time.

Zachares and Abramoff became professional acquaintances when Zachares worked for the attorney general in Saipan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The island government paid Abramoff over $7 million for lobbying from 1996 to 2001.