Mark Zachares, one of the more minor figures in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, has agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge at a plea hearing Tuesday.
According to one source, the investigations have been picking up speed because Abramoff, who is in jail, has been "spilling his guts" in continued debriefings with federal prosecutors. The source noted wryly that while the Justice Department was once dubious of Abramoff's credibility, prosecutors are embracing much of what he's telling them.
Tuesday's plea indicates that the investigations have new momentum and are likely to lead to additional charges.
The criminal information cites Zachares' "extensive contact" with Abramoff going back to the mid-1990s. Zachares worked for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, then took key staff positions on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee while Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, was the chairman. Abramoff tried and failed to get Zachares a job with the Office of Insular Affairs at the Interior Department.
The headline in the plea is the cryptic reference to "Representative #3." We're told this is a member of Congress who has not been publicly named before in the Abramoff investigation.
Zachares went on the $160,000 golf trip in August of 2003 with Abramoff and six others, including a member of the House identified as "Representative #3. That lawmaker is not identified, but Rep. Tom Feeney acknowledged the golf trip on his financial disclosure forms but claimed it was paid by the National Center for Public Policy Research, not Jack Abramoff.
Earlier this year, the House Ethics Committee ordered Feeney to repay $5,643 and Feeney did so. With their reference to "representative #3," prosecutors are signalling that Rep. Feeney could be their next target.
Zachares got more than $30,000 in sports tickets from Abramoff. There are a few interesting details: Zachares tried to get a non-public Department of Justice Threat Assessment Report about Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands for Abramoff. He also tried to procure reorganization plans for the Department of Homeland Security.
Abramoff had told Zachares that his activities on the Hill would serve as "credits" that would translate into dollars when and if Zachares went to work for Abramoff.