Ex-Congress Staffer Faces|Prison for Lobbyist’s Gifts


     (CN) – A former congressional staffer was convicted Thursday of accepting gifts from a lobbyist, including an all-expenses paid trip to Game One of the 2003 World Series, complete with chauffeur, baseball jerseys, meals, drinks and strippers.

     Fraser C. Verrusio worked as policy director for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and also worked for Alaska Republican Don Young.
     While the congressional committee was considering the Federal Highway Bill, an equipment rental company lobbied for three amendments to it.
     Lobbyist Todd Boulanger and James Hirn set Verrusio up with the tickets to the big game and discussed the bill with him during the trip, prosecutors said. Trevor Blackann, a Senate legislative assistant, also accepted the lobbyists’ “gift.”
     After a 10-day trial, a jury in Washington, D.C., found Fraser C. Verrusio, 41, guilty of one count of conspiring to accept an illegal gratuity, one count of accepting an illegal gratuity and one count of failing to report the gifts on a financial disclosure statement.
     “Evidence also established that one of the lobbyists who helped arrange for the trip worked with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and that the equipment rental company was a client at Abramoff’s firm,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
     “The all-expenses paid trip accepted by Verrusio and Blackann included round-trip commercial airline travel from Washington, D.C., to New York City, use of a chauffeured Cadillac Escalade for transportation while in New York City, a ticket for each individual to Game One of the World Series, lodging, a steak dinner, drinks and entertainment at a strip club,” the statement adds.
     Verrusio never identified the trip or related gifts on the 2003 financial disclosure statement, which requires mention of anything valued at more than $285 per year from a single source, prosecutors said.
     The ex-staffer, who is scheduled for sentencing on May 6, faces a maximum penalty of 12 years in prison and $750,000 in fines on the three charges.
     Blackann has pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme. “To date, 20 individuals, including lobbyists and public officials, have pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial in connection with the activities of Abramoff and his associates,” according to the statement. “Abramoff pleaded guilty in January 2006 to conspiracy to commit honest services fraud, honest services fraud and tax evasion. He was sentenced in September 2008 to 48 months in prison.”

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