A widening federal investigation against Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, suspected of fraud and other offenses, is beginning to attract public attention to his business and political associates. One of them is Representative Robert W. Ney, a Republican from a rural district in Ohio. Others are Abramoff’s customers, including a semi-Israeli high-tech company, Mobile Access Networks Inc. (formerly Foxcom Networks).
An investigation by “The Washington Post” reveals ties between Mobile Access Networks, then named Foxcom Wireless, Ney, and Abramoff. “The Washington Post” found that in 2001, Foxcom won a $3 million contract to install antennas for cellular telephones at the House of Representatives. Ney, head of the House Administration Committee, who has close ties with Abramoff, approved awarding the contract to Foxcom.
“The Washington Post” says, “Sometime that year, exactly when is unclear, Foxcom donated $50,000 to the Capitol Athletic Foundation, Abramoff's charity.” “The Washington Post” adds, “After the contract was awarded, Foxcom listed Abramoff as its lobbyist. Over the next two years, Foxcom paid Abramoff's team $280,000.”
Abramoff, a religiously observant man and a fervid support of Israel, is suspected of being paid millions of dollars from an American Indian tribe that hired him to promote the tribes casino business. Abramoff is suspected of using some of these proceeds to finance junkets for legislators and associates to golf course outside the US and for other recreational activities. He is also suspected of sending paramilitary equipment to Israeli settlers in Betar Illit.
Abramoff was also an associate of Rep. Tom DeLay (R.-Texas), the Republican Party strongman, who was recently forced to resign his position as House Majority Leader after being indicted for violating campaign financing laws.
Ney is a very close associate of Abramoff. In 2002, Ney sponsored legislation to reopen a casino for a Texas Indian tribe that Abramoff represented.
“The Washington Post” says, “Ney accepted many favors from Abramoff, among them campaign contributions, dinners at the lobbyist's downtown restaurant, skybox fundraisers, including one at his MCI Center box, and a golfing trip to Scotland in August 2002. If statements made by Abramoff to tribal officials and in an e-mail are to be believed, Ney sought the Scotland trip after he agreed to help Abramoff's Texas Indian clients.”
“The Washington Post” does not claim that Ney received any favors for awarding the license to Foxcom.
Foxcom entered the House wireless antenna tender at a late stage. “The Washington Post” writes, “In the late 1990s, members of Congress became increasingly frustrated at the lack of cell phone coverage inside the Capitol and its nearby office buildings. The House decided to let the major wireless companies select - and pay for - a company to install antennas for cellular phones.”
According to “The Washington Post”, six companies - Cingular, Nextel, Sprint, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless and Voicestream promised to finance the project. In 1999, AT&T Wireless asked LGC Wireless, then the world's leading provider of such equipment, to work with the House bureaucracy to put the antennas and repeaters into House buildings. LGC worked with the architect of the Capitol and the House Information Resources office to develop a plan.
“The Washington Post” says that Foxcom then entered the picture. In 2001, Ney was appointed head of the House Administration Committee, which was in charge of the antenna project, and used his authority to award the project to Foxcom.
“The Washington Post” quotes Henry Collins Jr., the senior network systems engineer for the House as saying, “We were really surprised, given all the work we put in with LGC in designing the system. Then, all of a sudden this other company showed up. We had to go through this whole thing again."
“The Washington Post” states that LGC COO Alex Gray wrote to Ney to complain about the "highly politicized selection process" that favored the Israeli company despite the House's "Buy American" posture.
“The Washington Post” continues, “Assistant House Counsel Carolyn Betz, replying on behalf of Ney, said in a letter to LGC that in the fall of 2001 the major wireless companies were receiving ballots to vote on who should get the contract.” However, an investigation by the newspaper found that the six companies were neutral, because both LGC and Foxcom were considered capable of doing the job.
“The Washington Post” says that Mobile Access Networks managers declined to be interviewed in its investigation, referring all questions to the House Administration Committee, headed by Ney.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on October 20, 2005