Senator’s former aide indicted over conflicts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former aide to Republican Senator John Ensign was indicted on Thursday on suspicion of trying to lobby and seek assistance from his former boss on behalf of his new employers, an airline and an energy company.

Douglas Hampton, 48, was charged by a federal grand jury in Washington with seven counts of violating the criminal conflict of interest laws.

Ensign had an affair with Hampton’s wife, Cynthia, who had worked on his campaign.

Just days after leaving Ensign’s office in May 2008, Hampton began consulting for a low-cost airline and then later an energy company, according to the indictment. They have been previously identified as Allegiant Air and NV Energy.

Federal law bars former Senate staff members from lobbying their previous boss or staff for one year.

The indictment accuses Hampton of seeking assistance from Ensign and his staff to help urge the Transportation Department reconsider its position on a fuel surcharge issue and back off enforcement action against the airline over fees it charged.

He also was charged with lobbying Ensign and his staff in hopes of getting help from the Interior Department to expedite a long-delayed environmental impact statement for construction of a coal-fired power plant in eastern Nevada.

Ensign, rocked by the scandal involving the extramarital affair, announced this month he would not seek re-election in 2012. He is also facing a Senate ethics committee probe related to the affair.

That probe is focused in part on $96,000 in payments that Ensign’s parents made to the Hamptons, which Ensign’s attorney has characterized as a gift.

Questions have also been raised about whether Ensign sought a job for Hampton after the affair was discovered. The senator has said that he merely made calls recommending Hampton for jobs, but did not press them to hire him.

An attempt to reach Hampton’s lawyer was not immediately successful. The maximum penalty for each count is five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Xavier Briand)

Senator’s former aide indicted over conflicts