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Former Gregg staffer caught in lobbying probe

A former congressional aide to Commerce Secretary-nominee Judd Gregg has been caught up in a long-running investigation into a Capitol Hill lobbying scandal.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former congressional aide to Commerce Secretary-nominee Judd Gregg has been caught up in a long-running investigation into a Capitol Hill lobbying scandal.

A person familiar with the case confirmed Wednesday that "Staffer F" in court documents is Kevin Koonce, who worked as legislative director in Gregg's Senate office from 2002-04. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is still under investigation.

Staffer F was cited in a guilty plea last week by Todd Boulanger, a former deputy to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In federal court, Boulanger admitted he plied the staffer with front-row tickets to a hockey game, meals and drinks and other tickets to a baseball game, and in exchange received favors in spending legislation.

The total value of the gifts Staffer F took from Boulanger exceeded $10,000, court papers said.

The biographical details about Staffer F contained in court documents — his job title at the time in the Senate office — correspond to Koonce's.

Koonce has not been charged with any crime. He now works at a private firm, Sorini Samet & Associates LLP.

After several attempts by The Associated Press to reach him, Koonce replied to an e-mail Wednesday, saying only that he was on personal leave.

A spokesman for President Barack Obama, who on Tuesday appointed Sen. Gregg, R-N.H., to serve as Commerce secretary, declined to comment. Gregg's spokeswoman, Andrea Wuebker, had no immediate comment.

Abramoff, once a top GOP lobbyist, is now in prison and has cooperated with the Justice Department to help convict more than a dozen people, including former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, former Deputy Interior Secretary J. Steven Griles, and a number of former lobbyists and Capitol Hill aides.

Boulanger was the most recent ex-lobbyist to fall, pleading guilty Friday to lavishing a number of congressional staffers with gifts similar to those he gave Staffer F, including an all-expense-paid trip to the World Series.

As part of the plea documents, prosecutors said Staffer F tried to help insert spending measures and add other amendments to legislation for Boulanger's clients. Later, the staffer asked Boulanger if he could "score some hockey tickets," and Boulanger got him front-row seats.

Boulanger later got the staffer box tickets to see the Baltimore Orioles, but Staffer F wanted more.

"Could you make sure there's beer this time," he wrote in an e-mail. I "mean, the red sox, crab cakes, and fillet mignon's were nice but ... haha."

Later, Boulanger sent an e-mail to Abramoff expressing confidence that the senator for whom the staffer worked would give them a favor. "Easy money," Boulanger wrote, adding that the aide "practically lives in our various suites. We are shady."

According to his biography on the Web site of Sorini Samet & Associates, Koonce was a negotiator for the U.S. trade representative prior to working for Gregg. Koonce also worked for six years as a legislative assistant to former Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., in the 1990s. Koonce graduated from Denison University and received a law degree from Catholic University.