WASHINGTON – A former high-level staffer of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, the Department of Justice announced today.
Mark D. Zachares, 48, entered his plea to the one-count criminal information today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, before Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle. Zachares faces up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, and supervised release following his incarceration. As part of a plea agreement, Zachares has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the activities of former Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff and others.
According to plea documents, Zachares met Abramoff in the mid-1990s when Zachares was a government official for the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), then an Abramoff lobbying client. After a failed attempt to secure for Zachares an appointment as head of the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs in Washington, D.C., Abramoff ultimately helped Zachares secure what became a series of positions as a high-level staffer to the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. Zachares admitted that his job search with Abramoff, which started in late 2000, marked the beginning of a conspiracy that continued through April 2004, wherein Zachares corruptly solicited and received a stream of things of value from Abramoff and his lobbyists in exchange for agreeing to take, and taking, official action to benefit Abramoff, his lobbyists, and their lobbying clients. Zachares left the House committee in November 2005.
According to plea documents, the things of value received by Zachares included tens of thousands of dollars worth of tickets to concerts and sporting events, a luxurious golf trip to Scotland on a private jet, free meals and drinks, and multiple rounds of free golf at Abramoff’s country club. Zachares also admitted receiving $10,000 from an Abramoff-controlled entity shortly before he started working on Capitol Hill.
Zachares also admitted that he and Abramoff entered into what they called a “two year plan,” whereby Zachares would work as a Capitol Hill staffer to benefit Abramoff’s interests, while making political contacts necessary to eventually be hired as a highly-paid lobbyist with Abramoff’s firm.
Zachares admitted that the actions he agreed to take, and took, to benefit Abramoff, his lobbyists, and their clients included securing for Abramoff non-public information, referring potential lobbying clients to Abramoff’s firm, reaching out to administrative agencies on behalf of Abramoff clients, using his position to exert “payback” on entities that had retained competing lobbying firms, and actively participating in the strategic planning of a new “maritime lobbying practice” at Abramoff’s firm, which was explicitly designed to take advantage of Zachares’ then-position with the House subcommittee with maritime oversight responsibilities. Zachares further admitted that he intentionally failed to disclose the gifts he had received from Abramoff and his lobbyists, as required in annual financial reports.
The Zachares case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Richard C. Pilger and Matthew L. Stennes of the Public Integrity Section, which is headed by Chief William M. Welch II. The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The broader investigation into the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff is being conducted by a task force including special agents of the FBI, the Department of Interior Office of the Inspector General, the General Services Administration Office of the Inspector General, and the Criminal Investigation branch of the Internal Revenue Service, as well as prosecutors in the Public Integrity and Fraud Sections of the Criminal Division and the Criminal Tax Section of the Tax Division. To date, the investigation has yielded guilty pleas from several defendants, including public officials such as former Congressman Robert Ney and former Deputy Secretary of the Interior James Steven Griles. The investigation has also resulted in the conviction by jury trial of the former chief of staff for the General Services Administration, David Safavian.