By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 16, 2009
A federal judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the prosecution of former lobbyist Kevin Ring after jurors deadlocked on charges that he lavished meals and concert tickets on public officials in the hope of illegally influencing them.
After hearing testimony for four weeks at the District's federal court, jurors deliberated for eight days but could not reach a verdict on any of the eight charges of conspiracy, providing an illegal gratuity or honest services fraud. Federal prosecutors indicated they would seek another trial.
Ring, 38, was a close associate of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, one of 16 people who pleaded guilty to participating in a pay-to-play corruption scam that involved members of Congress, their staffers and officials in the executive branch. Ring and federal prosecutors declined to comment.
In a note given to U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle on Thursday, the seven women and five men on the jury said they were "irrevocably blocked."
Earlier in the week, the jury had said that it had reached a verdict on a fraud charge accusing Ring of helping to orchestrate a $96,000 "no-show" job at his lobbying firm for the wife of then-Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.). "Basically, they put a congressman's wife on retainer," federal prosecutor Michael J. Leotta said during closing arguments.
But jurors changed their minds about that verdict. They indicated Thursday morning that they were deadlocked on that count, too, so Huvelle sent them back to re-deliberate the charge.
After several hours, they sent another note saying they could not reach a verdict. Huvelle declared a mistrial on all charges and set a hearing for Monday.
Ring was a former staffer in Doolittle's office and began working with Abramoff as a lobbyist in 1999. They worked together until 2004, when their firm, Greenberg Traurig, began an internal investigation into Abramoff's lobbying practices.
During the trial, federal prosecutors presented reams of e-mails that Leotta said proved Ring was engaged in a "long-term scheme" that amounted to "just another form of bribery."
Several of Ring's former associates and congressional staffers testified about the gifts they doled out and received and what was expected of them in exchange. Prosecutors accused Ring of giving lawmakers, their staffers and other officials gifts and tough-to-get tickets to concerts and sporting events. He also treated them to lavish meals.
In return, the associates and staffers said, lawmakers and government officials helped Ring's clients in part by awarding them millions of dollars in grants.
Ring's attorney, Andrew Wise, said his client had done nothing wrong. He said that Ring gave the gifts and paid for the meals but that under federal law at the time, it was legal for lobbyists to give lawmakers or their staffers and officials such gifts.
Ring didn't expect anything in exchange for the tickets or meals, Wise said. "Kevin Ring was an excellent lobbyist," he told jurors. "It was his job to influence public officials. It was his job to influence the course of government policy."