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Ring guilty on five counts in Abramoff bribery case

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; A06

A federal jury Monday convicted Washington lobbyist Kevin A. Ring on five of eight counts related to the Jack Abramoff bribery and influence-peddling scandal, handing a victory to the Justice Department unit charged with fighting corruption in government.

After a two-week trial and three days of deliberation, the D.C. panel of eight men and four women found Ring guilty on charges of conspiracy, fraud and illegal gratuities related to his work with disgraced lobbyist Abramoff and Ring's former boss, then-Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.).

The jury acquitted Ring, of Kensington, on three counts of fraud in his dealings with John C. Albaugh, chief of staff to then-Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.), who recanted his testimony against Ring shortly before trial.

"Another member of 'Team Abramoff' has been held accountable for his actions," Mythili Raman, a senior official for the Justice Department's criminal division, said in a statement. "We are committed to bringing to justice those who seek to corrupt our democratic process."

A downcast Ring and his lead attorney, Andrew Wise, declined comment. U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle set sentencing for March 1 and allowed Ring to remain free on his own recognizance.

The decision nearly closes the book on a four-year investigation that transfixed official Washington earlier this decade, exposing the excesses and reach of unscrupulous K Street players into the White House, executive branch agencies and Capitol Hill.

The verdict brings to 19 the number of lobbyists, public officials and legislative aides - including an Ohio congressman and a deputy secretary of interior - ensnared by the corruption probe, admitting or being found guilty of trading government favors worth millions of dollars for Abramoff clients in return for an "endless expense account" of lavish meals, tickets to sporting events and luxury vacations.

Congress has since adopted clearer disclosure and gift rules. Still, the Ring case showed how legal limits remain murky and prosecutions rare, even as his supporters said he was a peripheral player targeted by overzealous investigators.

Wise argued that Ring was just doing his job as a lobbyist - influencing public officials - using the same tools that were used "all over town" and calling his prosecution "guilt by association."

Prosecutors said Ring and other members of "Team Abramoff" boasted freely in e-mails about using gifts to "thank" or "invest" in officials for taxpayer-funded favors such as a $16.3 million Justice Department grant to build a prison for a client, a Mississippi Choctaw Indian tribe.

The government said Ring helped scheme to provide Doolittle's wife a $96,000-a-year job that required little work, and worked with Robert E. Coughlin II, a Justice official who pleaded guilty to criminal conflict of interest for accepting gifts from Ring.

Juror Stephen Baker, a tax accountant, called the government's lengthy pursuit of Ring, a relatively minor figure, "a waste of time and money." But, Baker added, prosecutors flooded jurors with a consistent stream of evidence, concluding, "The law is what it is."

Abramoff investigations are winding down. In June, the Supreme Court forced Ring prosecutors to streamline their case, narrowing the government's use of a 1988 "honest services fraud" statute only to bribes and kickbacks for specific acts, not broader patterns of corruption without an explicit quid-pro-quo.

One-time targets Doolittle and Tom Delay (R-Tex.), former House majority leader, announced this summer that they would not be charged.

One more defendant, Fraser Verrusio, a former aide to Alaska congressman Don Young (R), is scheduled for trial early next year on charges that he allegedly sought and received an all-expenses-paid trip to Game 1 of the 2003 World Series in New York.

Abramoff is set to complete a four-year sentence in home confinement in Baltimore next month.

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