- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

Prosecutors on Friday called a former deputy to imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff the “sugar daddy” of a conspiracy to corrupt government.

Kevin Ring, a 38-year-old former Republican Capitol Hill staffer, is the first member of the notorious influence-peddling team to take his case to a jury trial. Opening arguments in the case began Friday.

He is charged with 10 felony counts for purportedly buying government officials expensive meals and tickets to sporting events and concerts in exchange for helping his clients.

Mr. Ring’s lawyer told the jury he was only using the traditional tools of the lobbying trade to build influence and did nothing illegal.

Sixteen others charged in the investigation, including Abramoff, have pleaded guilty in deals with the government rather than take their chance in court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Edmonds read portions of numerous e-mails in which Mr. Ring discussed getting favors from lawmakers, congressional staffers, and officials within the Bush administration. In many of the same e-mails, Mr. Ring also discusses getting them sought-after tickets to concerts by musicians such as the Dave Matthews Band, U2, and Paul McCartney.

“Ring is the sugar daddy. He gives out the goodies to public officials over and over and over again,” Mr Edmonds told the jury.

“Cha-ching!” Mr. Ring wrote in one e-mail exulting in the successful effort to get $16 million in federal money for a lobbying client, an Indian tribe seeking to build a new jail.

“You are going to eat free off our clients,” Mr. Ring wrote in a different 2002 e-mail to former congressional staffer John Albaugh, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the House.

At one point, some members of the packed courtroom snickered as the prosecutor read an e-mail from a congressional staffer requesting tickets to a series of heavy metal concerts.

Mr. Ring’s lawyer, Andrew Wise, told the jury that they will be shocked by much of what they hear about how lobbying and government worked, but said the e-mails don’t prove any conspiracy by his client, under the corruption laws that existed then.

“Kevin Ring played by the rules of lobbying and government in a broken and sometimes ridiculous system,” Mr. Wise said. “That doesn’t make him a saint, that doesn’t make him a victim.”

But, the defense lawyer insisted, “the e-mails are not a crime.”

The most serious counts against Mr. Ring carry a maximum possible prison sentence of 20 years.

The trial is expected to last about four weeks. Abramoff is not expected to testify, nor are the two former lawmakers mentioned most frequently in the case, John T. Doolittle of California and Ernest Istook of Oklahoma. Both are Republicans who left Congress after the Abramoff scandal erupted. Neither has been charged criminally.

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