The former chief of staff to ex-Rep. Bob Ney who wore a wire to help convict his old boss has avoided jail time for his involvement in the still-unfolding Jack Abramoff scandal. Though Will Heaton will be on probation for two years, his cooperation with authorities has spared him a stint behind bars. Ney, of course, was not so lucky and is currently serving a 30 month sentence.
At his sentencing hearing, Heaton apologized for his role in the influence-peddling scam that has already netted its fair share of guilty pleas:
Heaton -- who was at one point the youngest chief of staff on Capitol Hill -- said before the sentencing that he is sorry for failing to "make moral, just choices and to serve our country honestly."
"My choices disappoint me greatly," Heaton told U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle in Washington. "American citizens should be able to trust those who work on their behalf. I violated that trust."
As he no doubt breathes a sigh of relief, the sprawling Abramoff investigation rolls on, with the Justice Department adding staff and looking at who is next on the list, like Rep. John Doolittle and his wife Julie. And of course several other inquiries have moved in to steal Abramoff's spotlight, as the U.S. News & World Report notes in mentioning Reps. William Jefferson and Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens.
I'm struck particularly by the quote from Heaton's sentencing judge, Ellen Huvelle, to Heaton at the end of the article: "If we can't find people who can stand up to power ... then we will have a serious problem on our hands." Indeed if we can't find a sufficient number of legislators willing to stand up to the old-way system of granting access in exchange for cash (campaign or otherwise) we'll be stuck in an Abramoff-like loop indefinitely.