Ring Case Is Handed Over to Jury

Posted October 5, 2009 at 6:30pm

Correction Appended

A federal jury began deliberations Monday in the public corruption trial of former lobbyist Kevin Ring and could soon issue a verdict in only the second case to challenge the government’s charges stemming from its investigation of disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys sought to sway jurors a final time Monday during more than four hours of closing arguments in which prosecutors painted Ring as an able Abramoff protégée and the defense portrayed him as a rule-abiding lobbyist.

Ring, a former aide to then-Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), faces eight counts of violating federal laws, including conspiracy to commit fraud for providing gifts to public officials in exchange for official acts.

During closing arguments, Ring’s defense team sought to discredit the charges, saying the Justice Department failed to provide evidence that Ring had exceeded the boundaries of legal lobbying.

“You’ve been treated to a case that’s been long on slogans, long by guilt by association,— said lead defense attorney Andrew Wise, who noted that federal prosecutors dropped Abramoff’s name eight words into their closing arguments. “But what has the evidence shown to you about Kevin Ring?—

“Kevin Ring was a lobbyist. … It was his job to influence public officials,— Wise continued. “It was his job to influence the course of governmental policy. He used what were traditional tools of the lobbying practice, including meals, including tickets to games.—

Federal prosecutors called numerous witnesses during the more than three-week trial — including former Congressional aides and other “Team Abramoff— lobbyists — and introduced hundreds of e-mail exchanges that the government pointed to as evidence of public corruption.

In his closing argument, Wise urged jurors to dismiss those e-mails as “stupid little pithy jokes, one-line BlackBerry messages,— rather than admissions of providing illegal gratuities to House or Senate aides.

“These were a bunch of guys in their early 30s, Mr. [Neil] Volz told you it was a boastful and chest-pounding environment,— Wise said, referring to the former chief of staff to then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). Volz pleaded guilty in 2006 to helping Abramoff bribe Ney and was sentenced in 2007 to two years of probation, as well as community service and a $2,000 fine.

“The idea that these e-mails can somehow be taken as the gospel … stretches credulity,— said Wise, an attorney with the D.C.-based law firm Miller & Chevalier.

Wise also challenged the credibility of witnesses, including Volz and Todd Boulanger, another former Senate aide-turned-“Team Abramoff— lobbyist, as well as Ann Copland, a former aide to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), and John Albaugh, chief of staff to then-Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), citing plea agreements each had signed with the Justice Department.

Ring’s defense ultimately put no witnesses on the stand, including Ring himself, after a former Doolittle aide — Peter Evich, who served as legislative director — invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to testify in the case. The defense also sought to call David Ayres, former chief of staff to then-Attorney General Ashcroft, and his wife, Laura Ayres, but both invoked their right against self-incrimination.

During the government’s closing arguments, prosecutors continued to focus heavily on Ring’s distribution of sporting and other event tickets, as well as meals at Abramoff’s now-defunct Signatures restaurant.

“We’ve never disputed that Mr. Ring was good with policy and that Team Abramoff didn’t use all of the legitimate tools at their disposal,— DOJ attorney Michael Ferrara said. “We’ve never suggested that Kevin Ring wasn’t working policy and politics, but he had this huge advantage: the tickets, the meals, the expense account. The key question is intent.—

Federal prosecutors alleged during the trial that “Team Abramoff— spent up to $1 million annually on those sporting and event tickets given to government officials, including House and Senate aides.

Ferrara also defended the government’s reliance on numerous e-mails to demonstrate Ring’s intention during his tenure with Abramoff, at Preston Gates & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig.

“Mr. Ring wants you to believe that he never meant one thing he wrote in an e-mail the entire time he was a lobbyist,— said Ferrara, a trial attorney in the DOJ’s public integrity section.

After closing arguments, Wise moved to declare a mistrial, alleging misstatements made to jurors by federal prosecutors during the closing arguments, but U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle stated, “We’re not declaring a mistrial.—

Correction: Oct. 6, 2009

It was incorrectly reported that Greg Orlando had invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify on Monday. Orlando said he was never contacted by Ring’s attorneys.