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Former Justice Official Pleads Guilty

WASHINGTON (CN) - The former deputy chief of staff in the Justice Department's criminal division - which investigated and indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates on corruption charges - pleaded guilty to conflicts of interest Tuesday in Federal Court. Robert E. Coughlin II admitted he accepted "things of value" from a lobbyist for an unnamed lobbying firm - believed to be Abramoff's. He faces up to 10 months in prison under a plea deal.

Robert E. Coughlin II was accused of violating conflict of interest laws while he worked for the Justice Department's office of legislative affairs, from 2001 to 2003.

Coughlin, 36, resigned a year ago.

The information alleges that he lobbied DOJ officials successfully and got them to reverse the denial of a $16.3 million grant for one of the lobbyist's clients to build a tribal jail.

Coughlin became deputy chief of staff in the DOJ's criminal division in 2005. In 2006, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave him the "Attorney General's Award for Fraud Prevention."

Coughlin got meals, drinks, golf rounds, and tickets to concerts and sports events from Lobbyist A while he also "provided information, made recommendations, rendered advice, set up and attended meetings at DOJ with lobbying clients, expedited DOJ action, strategized about how to reverse a previous DOJ decision about an application for a $16.3 million grant, and participated personally and substantially as a government officer, in particular matters in which Lobbyist A was lobbying the DOJ," according to the information.

It adds, "On or about January 31, 2002, DOJ reversed its prior decision and decided to award $16.3 million to Lobbyist A's tribal client for construction of the jail."

Here is another allegation from the information: "Coughlin contacted DOJ officials to research the meaning of language in the Patriot Act that might impact a client of Lobbyist A and The Law/Lobbying Firm".

And in an accusation that characterizes the contempt with which Abramoff's firm reportedly treated its Native American clients, the information states: "In an April 19, 2001, email chain, Lobbyist A invited Coughlin to dinner again and asked if Coughlin would attend the tribal-jail-grant meeting with the other DOJ officials, '(e)ven if it is just at the beginning to say hello, (because) it would be good if you were there so some of the clowns there know that I have friends, if you get my drift.' Coughlin agreed to attend the meeting and accepted the dinner invitation." (Parentheses in the information.)

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