By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009
Federal prosecutors told jurors Friday that Kevin Ring, an associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's, lavished meals and tickets on lawmakers and public officials in the hopes of illegally influencing them.
"He was a lobbyist in name but a corruptor in reality," said Nathaniel B. Edmonds, a Justice Department prosecutor. "Ring is the sugar daddy, giving out the goodies to public officials over and over again."
Ring, 38, of Kensington, went on trial Friday in the District's federal court on conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice charges tied to the Abramoff lobbying scandal. His attorneys say he did nothing wrong.
"He pushed the envelope where Congress purposefully left the lines blurry," said his attorney, Andrew Wise. "Kevin Ring played by the rules of lobbying and government in a broken and sometimes ridiculous system."
But prosecutors said witnesses and Ring's e-mails will prove the lobbyist stepped well beyond legal limits in seeking to influence lawmakers, their staff members and government officials.
They said Ring gave lawmakers and officials gifts and tough-to-get tickets to concerts by such popular performers as U2, Paul McCartney and the Dave Matthews Band.
He handed out courtside seats to watch Michael Jordan play basketball for the Washington Wizards, they alleged. And Ring treated them to expensive meals at fancy restaurants.
"They were gifts to reward," Edmonds said. "They were gifts to influence."
In return, they said, lawmakers and government officials helped Ring's clients by awarding them millions of dollars in grants and by taking other official acts.
At one point, Ring gave tickets to concerts and the Wizards to a Justice Department official in the hopes of boosting government funding for a client, an Indian tribe, that wanted to build a jail in Mississippi. It worked, prosecutors said.
Ring told other lobbyists to "thank your friends on the Hill and in the Administration."
"In fact, thank them over and over this week -- preferably for long periods of time and at expensive establishments," he added. "Thank them until it hurts -- and until we have a June bill that reflects the fact our client is about to get a $16.3 million check from the Department of Justice!!!"
In another e-mail, Edmonds said, Ring joked about the types of lobbyists that worked with him. "The ethics thing is a real turn off -- we like amoral pond scum," Ring wrote, according to Edmonds.
Ring's attorney said those e-mails and many others need to be taken in context. Some are hyperbole and others are jokes, if bad ones, Wise said. "Sending an e-mail is not a crime," he told jurors.
Ring is only the second person charged in the Abramoff lobbying scandal to go to trial. Sixteen others, including Abramoff, have pleaded guilty. Abramoff is not expected to testify.