- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A jury in the second trial of a key figure in the Abramoff lobbying scandal couldn’t reach a verdict Wednesday and indicated it was struggling to do so.

The panel of eight men and four women deliberating the fate of Kevin A. Ring, a former associate of disgraced Washington superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, sent a note to U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle indicating they were deadlocked. Mr. Ring’s first trial ended last year in a hung jury.

Mr. Ring is accused of providing tickets, pricey meals and other gifts to members of Congress, their aides and George W. Bush administration officials in exchange for all manner of “official” favors. His lawyers counter that Mr. Ring did nothing illegal and was simply doing his job as a lobbyist.

The jury seemed to struggle with this distinction and, in the note indicating it was deadlocked, asked Judge Huvelle to explain the difference between legal and illegal gifts.

Judge Huvelle, a 1999 appointee of President Clinton’s, said gifts from lobbyists to public officials are permissible if their purpose is to gain access or cultivate a relationship, but gifts are illegal if their purpose is to encourage the public official to do something corrupt.

“All lobbying is not illegal by any means,” Judge Huvelle said. “The case is about intent, ladies and gentlemen.”

The judge acknowledged that the case presents particular difficulties for the jury, which already has deliberated for two full days and is not scheduled to resume deliberations until Monday morning.

Mr. Ring’s second trial has already posed difficulties for prosecutors. First, the Supreme Court earlier this year narrowed the scope of key anti-corruption law — the often-charged honest-services fraud — ostensibly making it more difficult to win convictions on seven of the 10 charges Mr. Ring faces.

Then, on the eve of trial, a witness whom the judge called the prosecution’s “strongest” recanted. John Albaugh, who was chief of staff to Rep. Ernest Istook, Oklahoma Republican, said he no longer believes he gave favors to Abramoff clients in exchange for free meals and tickets.

Mr. Ring is the last remaining defendant in the Abramoff scandal and one of only a few involved to contest the charges in court. Friends say Mr. Ring’s decision to fight comes at a great expense, costing him as much as $2.5 million in legal fees.

The Abramoff scandal initially yielded outstanding results for the Justice Department as 19 people, nearly all of whom pleaded guilty, were convicted quickly. That included Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in 2006 and is serving the end of a four-year sentence on home detention while working at a Baltimore pizzeria.

But the Justice Department also has hit a snag in more recent cases stemming from the scandal.

In addition to failing to secure a conviction after Mr. Ring’s first trial, the department also agreed to allow a former high-level Labor Department political appointee during the Bush administration to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and receive probation after the case against him began to unravel.

Horace M. Cooper had been charged with taking thousands of dollars in gifts from Abramoff and faced 40 years. However, prosecutors dropped all but one of the charges after Judge Huvelle called the case “troubling” and asked them to produce more details about the charges.

The department further announced it would not seek charges against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas Republican who had been seen as the highest-profile and most powerful target of the Abramoff investigation.

Mr. Ring was among more than a dozen lobbyists who were members of “Team Abramoff” at the lobbying firms of Greenberg Traurig LLP and Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP.

• Ben Conery can be reached at bconery@washingtontimes.com.

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