WASHINGTON – A former lobbyist pleaded guilty today to conspiring with others to commit honest services fraud, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division announced. James F. Hirni, 36, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts in the District of Columbia.
According to court documents, Hirni was employed during 2003 as a lobbyist. One of Hirni’s lobbying clients was a construction equipment rental company (Equipment Rental Company). On behalf of Equipment Rental Company, Hirni and others sought an amendment to a federal highway bill that would encourage state public works agencies to rent rather than purchase construction equipment. Hirni and others also sought an amendment to the federal highway bill that would encourage state public works agencies to contract only with those companies that had large dollar amounts of liability insurance coverage – such as Equipment Rental Company.
During his plea, Hirni admitted that he offered an all-expenses-paid trip to game one of the 2003 baseball World Series to two public officials. One of the public officials, Trevor Blackann, worked as a legislative assistant to a U.S. Senator who served on a Senate committee with responsibility over the federal highway bill. Blackann pleaded guilty on Nov. 20, 2008, to making a false statement on his 2003 tax returns by failing to report as income thousands of dollars in illegal gifts he received from lobbyists.
The other public official (Staffer D) worked on a House of Representatives committee with responsibility for the federal highway bill. In court documents, Hirni admitted that he offered these public officials the trip in part to influence them to take official action favorable to his and others’ efforts to amend the federal highway bill.
Hirni admitted that the all-expenses-paid trip provided to Blackann and Staffer D in October 2003 included round-trip commercial airline travel to and from New York City; use of a chauffeured, seven-passenger sport utility vehicle for transportation while in New York City at the cost of approximately $1,100; a ticket for each official to game one of the World Series; a souvenir baseball jersey for each official; as well as lodging, meals, drinks and entertainment, including more than $600 in charges at a gentlemen’s club.
According to plea documents, Hirni admitted that during the World Series trip, he, Blackann and others discussed the federal highway bill and Equipment Rental Company. After the trip, Hirni admitted he and others proposed amendments to the bill to Blackann and Staffer D; sought to identify a public official who could insert their proposed amendments into the Senate’s version of the bill; and worked to prevent the removal of one of the amendments once it was added to the bill.
The case is part of the ongoing investigation into the activities of former lobbyists Jack Abramoff and his associates. Sixteen individuals, including lobbyists and public officials, have pleaded guilty or are awaiting trial as a result of the investigation, including Abramoff, who was sentenced in September 2008 to 48 months in prison.
This case is being prosecuted by trial attorneys M. Kendall Day and Peter C. Sprung of the Public Integrity Section, headed by Section Chief William M. Welch II. The investigation is being conducted by the FBI.