Lobbyists, Clients Undeterred by Scandal
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Lobbyist Kevin A. Ring sat silently as Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) displayed e-mails and canceled checks to support allegations that Ring and lobbyist Jack Abramoff inflated fees and concocted invoices to defraud their client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
Testifying before the committee Wednesday morning, Ring asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but he also offered an apology. "I'm sorry the clients for whom I worked have had to endure the enormous emotional and financial burden," he said.
The terse statement omitted an intriguing fact: Ring is still working for the Choctaws as their paid Washington lobbyist. Indeed, he was actively lobbying members of Congress to pass a Choctaw-backed amendment that came up for a vote in the House on Friday afternoon.
Ring is one of more than a dozen lobbyists who were members of "Team Abramoff," the tight-knit group who worked under Abramoff when he was at the lobbying helm of the Washington office of Greenberg Traurig LLP and, before that, Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP.
Members of that influence dream-team continue to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars as registered lobbyists, often lobbying for former Abramoff clients -- unimpeded by the taint of scandal and revelations of suspicious deal-making in the brash and sometimes salty e-mails exchanged with Abramoff.
Along with Neil G. Volz and Edward P. Ayoob, Ring left Greenberg Traurig and went to work for Barnes & Thornburg LLP. Shawn Vasell, who like Ring asserted Fifth Amendment rights Wednesday, now works in the Washington office of Hewlett-Packard. Other former Team Abramoff members include Todd A. Boulanger, who handles as many as eight client accounts at Cassidy & Associates Inc., including Abramoff's former client, the Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana; and Tony C. Rudy, who represents as many as a dozen clients at the Alexander Strategy Group.
Ring is one of the few Abramoff alumni who have been able to hold onto the same tribal clients who now say they were victimized by Abramoff's fraudulent billing practices. A federal task force is investigating those practices. Abramoff's spokesman, Andrew Blum, said his client could not comment while under investigation.
"It is a story of betrayal," testified Choctaw executive Nell Rogers, who sat at the same witness table as Ring.
Choctaw officials and their lawyer did not return several phone calls Thursday and Friday seeking comment for this article.
Deemed too radioactive to represent clients without causing embarrassment, Abramoff, along with his onetime business partner, Michael Scanlon, have largely been forced to give up their lobbying and public affairs practices. But most of their former associates still pound the halls of Congress for well-heeled clients.
The Indian affairs committee, during the third hearing into lobbying practices, released a fresh batch of e-mail among Abramoff and his team members. Documents show the laundering of money through nonprofit groups, a phony Christian grass-roots effort and attempts to pump up and doctor invoices sent to tribes.
Rudy, a former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), wrote Abramoff in 2001 that Senate staffers wanted $10,000 to pay for a trip to "reward" them for getting a specific appropriation for the Choctaws.