Ex-House Aides Could Testify in Ring Retrial

Posted October 19, 2009 at 6:48pm

When former House aide-turned-lobbyist Kevin Ring returns to court for a new trial on public corruption charges in June, a lineup of former House staffers could testify in his defense — despite previously invoking their Fifth Amendment rights — as the statute of limitations on crimes related to the case runs out.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle set a new trial date in the public corruption case Monday, after declaring a mistrial last week when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

Huvelle noted that the statute of limitations for several alleged crimes in the case will expire before the new trial — including a charge of conspiracy, which reaches the end of its five-year term this month — allowing potential witnesses to testify without the fear of prosecution.

Referring to apparent confusion among jurors that led to the panel’s disagreement over a verdict, Huvelle expressed a desire for more witnesses in the new trial.

“The holes are being created by people taking the Fifth,— Huvelle said.

Ring had been on trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under a September 2008 indictment stemming from the influence-peddling investigation of his former boss, disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

A former aide to then-Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), Ring is accused of providing tickets to sporting events and other gifts to Congressional staff in exchange for assistance for Abramoff’s clients.

During the nearly three-week trial that began in September, Ring’s defense team put no witnesses on the stand.

According to court documents, Ring’s attorneys sought to call David Ayres, who served as the chief of staff to then-Attorney General Ashcroft, and his wife, Laura Ayres; Laura Blackann, Doolittle’s communications director; David Lopez, Dolittle’s chief of staff; and Peter Evich, Doolittle’s former legislative director.

“These attempts were based on the fact that these witnesses had made many exculpatory statements in their interviews with the FBI,— Ring’s attorneys, Andrew Wise and Timothy O’Toole, wrote in court documents. “However, each witness invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.—

Federal prosecutors named Blackann, Evich and Lopez in a court document alleging Ring’s 11 co-conspirators, but none of the trio was formally charged with wrongdoing.

Wise said Monday that the defense would review its efforts to call those individuals, specifically citing former Doolittle aides Lopez and Evich.

“He has very exculpatory information,— Wise said, referring to Evich’s interviews with FBI agents.

Huvelle also questioned, however, whether would-be witnesses could still refuse to testify if criminal charges related to filing false tax statements remain viable next June — such as those witnesses who accepted tickets to sporting events but did not report those tickets as income. “I want to know when they filed their tax returns,— Huvelle said.

Federal prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds said some witnesses could still face prosecution if they lied during interviews with FBI investigators because the five-year statute of limitations on those charges — including false statements or obstruction of justice — begins at the time of the interview, which in some cases was years after the alleged activities.

During the first trial, federal prosecutors put several former Congressional aides and lobbyists on the witness stand. However, those individuals had already pleaded guilty to related charges via agreements with the Justice Department.

Huvelle also agreed to Ring’s defense team’s request to delay the new trial pending the outcome of several cases before the Supreme Court that address “honest services fraud,— the same statute under which Ring is being charged.

Ring should not be required to go to trial “with the state of the law completely in flux,— Wise said.

Federal prosecutors had argued in an earlier hearing that those cases address unrelated aspects of the law and should not affect the Ring case. But Huvelle said Monday that setting a June court date would allow time for the Supreme Court to finish its work on those cases.