Judge permits retrial in Abramoff associate's corruption case

By Spencer S. Hsu
Friday, August 6, 2010; A10

A federal judge on Thursday allowed a high-profile corruption case brought against an associate of convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to go forward to a second trial, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling that weakened an anti-corruption law used by prosecutors in the case.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington rejected a plea by lawyers for Kevin A. Ring, a former congressional aide and lobbyist, to dismiss the case after the first trial ended in a hung jury in October.

Ring faces eight counts of conspiracy, providing an illegal gratuity and fraud, including allegations that he helped set up a $96,000 "no-show" job at his lobbying firm for the wife of then-Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.), for whom Ring previously worked as an aide.

Lawyers for Ring, who has said he is not guilty, argue that the case was grounded in a 1988 federal law that makes it a crime "to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services." The Supreme Court in June ruled that the honest-services law is unconstitutionally vague, limiting its application to bribes and kickbacks.

Ring's lawyers said prosecutors in the first trial did not provide evidence required by the recent ruling that their client had hidden "material facts" from the public or helped public officials defraud the public, as part of an explicit "quid pro quo."

Abramoff, a former powerhouse Washington lobbyist, is finishing a four-year prison term for a fraud and public-corruption scheme. He admitted ladling out expensive meals, lavish trips, sports tickets and campaign donations to public officials who helped his clients with federal funds, inside information and legislative favors.

Ring's lawyers said their client, as a private lobbyist, was under no duty to disclose his activity and never told those he wined and dined to hide the activity.

"The meals, the tickets -- that was going on" all the time by Washington lobbyists, said Andrew Wise, calling it "everyday conduct."

Huvelle, while acknowledging that the high court ruling made prosecutors' burden tougher, said the evidence is sufficient to leave up to the jury the question of whether Ring was guilty of "bribery-plus" honest services fraud.

"There is no constitutionally protected right to buying a public official meals or tickets to Wizards games or concert tickets," Huvelle said. "If a public official breaches his fiduciary duty by accepting bribes . . . a jury could find that the failure to disclose that bribe would constitute a material falsehood."

Prosecutors said the case always involved bribery and should not be affected by the Supreme Court's decision in June involving former Enron executive Jeffrey K. Skilling.

They submitted a five-page bill of particulars of meals, tickets, trips and payments that Ring allegedly helped arrange for 11 officials, side by side with alleged grants, earmarks, policy positions, information, bill sponsorships or other assistance they performed. The Doolittles have not been charged with wrongdoing.

Ring's retrial is scheduled for October.

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