Former Campbell aide set to plead in corruption case

The attorney handling the misdemeanor corruption plea of a former aide to former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) once was recommended for a judgeship by Campbell.

A former U.S. attorney for Colorado, William Leone, is to represent Ginnie Kontnik today as she pleads to a misdemeanor count in connection to a kickback scheme she allegedly concocted in 2002.

The kickback allegation has been thrown out in exchange for her plea to a charge of failing to report the extra income to the clerk of the Senate, a misdemeanor. The plea also ends the case without resolving an allegation by Campbell that a member of his staff had forged his signature on a letter pressuring a law-enforcement task force to award a no-bid contract.

A professor at the George Washington University Law School, Jonathan Turley, said the plea bargain “puts the emphasis on ‘bargain.’”

“She took a kickback and she’s getting a misdemeanor charge? Why can’t I get that kind of deal for my clients?” Turley said.

He added that the magistrate who is set to rule on the plea agreement today in Denver is not required to accept it if he deems it insufficient.

Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said that the charge to which Kontnik will plead is sufficient, “given the facts of the case,” and that the sentence is appropriate to the charge.

“It’s not a public corruption charge,” Sierra said.

Leone was the top deputy to U.S. Attorney John Suthers when Kontnik’s case was first considered by the Justice Department. Suthers recused himself and his office because Campbell had been involved in his appointment.

Leone said Thursday that he was not involved in the recusal discussions, and that he had checked with the Justice Department, which told him he was not violating any rules on whom he could represent after his departure from the department. Leone is best known for his prosecution of the Baby Bell Qwest Communications.

He said he saw no conflict in representing someone with whom he worked on his application for a federal judgeship. Leone was one of nine people Campbell and Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) recommended to the White House in May 2001. At the time, Leone was in private practice.

Kontnik and Allard’s chief of staff, Sean Conway, were the senators’ liaisons to the Campbell-Allard Judicial Selection Advisory Committee, which sifted names for the senators.

“I never thought this was a close issue,” Leone said.

He said he is simply standing in as Kontnik’s attorney and that the agreement was negotiated by a former federal prosecutor in Washington, Chris Mead. Kontnik called him because of a mutual friend, Leone said.

Kontnik told a reporter in February 2004 that she had demanded money back from one of Campbell’s employees, Brian Thompson, after arranging to inflate his pay. Kontnik said it was paid “under an arrangement previously agreed to by the senator [Campbell],” but then backed off, saying, “He might not have technically signed off on it.”

Campbell’s announcement of his retirement from the Senate weeks after Kontnik’s admission sparked a scandal that also included allegations he had steered a no-bid federal contract to Thinkstream, a company co-owned by one of Campbell’s top contributors.