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Doug Hampton admits guilt in plea deal

WASHINGTON – Former Las Vegan and ex-Senate aide Doug Hampton pleaded guilty Thursday to violating federal lobbying law, a case stemming from the scandal that enveloped his family and former Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.

Hampton admitted to a single misdemeanor charge of lobbying the Senate in violation of the law that requires a one-year “cooling off” period for aides leaving Capitol Hill.

The former Nevadan initially faced seven felony accusations of breaking the law, which aims to police conflicts of interest as former staffers trade in the private sector on their connections and knowledge of how Congress works.

But 15 months after being indicted, Hampton reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that culminated in his appearance for a 20-minute hearing before U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in U.S. District Court.

“I plead guilty,” Hampton, 50, declared after Howell reviewed the charge with him and asked how he wanted to plead.

Sentencing guidelines for Hampton’s offense call for between zero and six months in prison and a possible fine between $250 and $5,000, according to the plea document.

Howell set a sentencing date of Sept. 5. Hampton, who now lives in California, will remain free until then.

A.J. Kramer, Hampton’s public defender attorney, said he planned to ask Howell to keep his client out of prison. Outside attorneys who have monitored the case say Hampton’s otherwise clean record and the circumstances of the crime make it a good chance he will not be incarcerated.

Government prosecutors have agreed to argue for no more than the six-month maximum set by the guidelines.

The plea brings one step closer to finality a case that had its roots in the extramarital affair that Ensign, Hampton’s then-boss and best friend, had with Hampton’s wife over nine months in 2007-2008.

Hampton left his job as Ensign’s administrative assistant on May 1, 2008, after discovering the affair and being unable to stop it. To help Hampton stake out a new profession, Ensign helped him obtain Nevada lobbying clients.

Hampton was indicted in March 2011 on charges he illegally contacted Ensign’s office within the one-year blackout period on behalf of the companies that hired him. While they were not identified in court, newspaper reports and Senate investigators named them as including NV Energy, Allegiant Air and Entravision, a Spanish language media company.

The charge to which Hampton pleaded guilty involved an email he sent to Ensign’s transportation aide on May 6, 2008, days after he left his Capitol Hill job, according to a court document filed Thursday.

On behalf of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air, Hampton’s email asked for Ensign or the aide to help get the Department of Transportation to reconsider its stance on an aviation fuel surcharge.

Ensign, who resigned from the Senate last May after being crippled by reports of the affair and reported attempts to cover it up, was investigated by the Department of Justice but was not charged.

Neither Hampton nor Kramer would comment after the hearing, including when asked their views now on Ensign.

When a reporter observed that Hampton appeared to be biting his tongue, Kramer declared, “That’s true.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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