Carib News publisher pleads guilty

The Justice Department said Rodney, who is also the chief executive officer of the weekly Carib News newspaper and its foundation, pleaded guilty to the charge in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Rodney, 73, is the only person to have been charged in the scandal, which prompted an ethics inquiry of several lawmakers, said Assistant U.S. Attorney General, Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

Breuer said Rodney, through the Carib News foundation and Carib News, has organized an annual conference for more than a decade in the Caribbean, called the Annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference. Many of the conferences have been attended by members of Congress, he said.

The pre-approval process required the private sponsor to submit a Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form disclosing, among other things, the source of funding for the member’s trip, including transportation, lodging and meals.

“In pleading guilty, Rodney admitted that he made false statements on the Private Sponsor Travel Certification Form submitted to the Ethics Committee in connection with the 12th Annual Caribbean Multi-National Business Conference held in Antigua and Barbuda from Nov. 8-11, 2007,” the Justice Department said.

It said Rodney acknowledged several times in court on April 14 that he was guilty of the crime of false statements.

At the end of the 45-minute hearing, he blamed a “lapse of judgment” and said, “I regret that deeply,” the Justice Department said.

According to court documents, in connection with the 2007 conference, “Rodney provided round-trip airfare, hotels and meals for the members attending the conference, using money and in-kind support provided by the foreign host country and a private corporation.

“Instead of listing the foreign host country and private corporation on the certification form that he submitted, Rodney falsely stated that Carib News Foundation was the only entity that paid for the members’ travel and that the foundation had not accepted funds from any other source earmarked for that purpose,” it said.

According to the House Ethics Committee’s initial inquiry, money from several major corporations, including American Airlines, AT&T and Verizon, paid for at least six lawmakers to go on the Caribbean trips in 2007 and 2008, “but Rodney failed to disclose their involvement,”

As a result of Rodney’s actions, “the public was denied the right to know the true source of financial support for travel by Members to the Conferences,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

In a letter, dated March 2009 and addressed to the Office of Congressional Ethics, lawyers for Rodney described him as a “pillar of the Caribbean American community.

“It is clear that it has always been our clients’ intention to complete all of the necessary paperwork, including the House’s Private Sponsor Certification Form, accurately and honestly,” wrote the lawyers, Joel Cohen and Danielle Walsman.

In its report last year, the House Ethics Committee “publicly accused” Rodney; his Jamaican-born wife, Faye Rodney; and their employee, Patricia Louis, of “submitting false or misleading information during the committee’s pre-travel review of the conferences.”

Court documents do not show that Faye Rodney or Louis has been charged.

More than 30 friends and family attended Rodney’s hearing on April 14. Rodney stood for most of the hearing between his two new attorneys, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree Jr. and Devereaux Cannick of Aiello & Cannick in Maspeth, N.Y.

The Justice Department said that Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, of federal district court in Washington, who was expected to determine Rodney’s fate on April 14, will now sentence him on July 22.

Rodney faces a maximum of five years in prison and a US$250,000 fine on the false statement charge, Breuer said.

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