Monday, September 8, 2008

Former Abramoff lobbyist, Hill aide indicted

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By ERICA WERNER, Associated Press Writer

A one-time congressional aide who went on to work with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff was arrested Monday and accused of conspiring to corrupt government officials including his former boss, current Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.

Kevin Ring, 37, pleaded not guilty to a 10-count federal indictment that accuses him of conspiring with Abramoff to win assistance from congressional and executive-branch officials by giving them things of value, and helping them skirt requirements to report those gifts.

He appeared in federal court unshaven, his hair rumpled, wearing shorts and a T-shirt and occasionally fighting back tears as he exchanged glances with his wife.

Ring's lawyer said that despite cooperating voluntarily for two years, Ring was not allowed to surrender himself.

"The prosecutors orchestrated the spectacle of arresting Mr. Ring in front of his wife and children this morning," attorney Richard Hibey said in a statement.

"While Mr. Ring had been cooperating with officials for over two years, he simply could not plead guilty to crimes he did not commit. From that point he was deemed uncooperative."

The indictment accuses Ring of obstructing justice by attempting to thwart a grand jury and congressional investigation, of lying about getting an alleged $135,000 kickback, and of engaging in a scheme to deprive citizens of the "honest services" of their elected officials.

The most serious charge, involving wire fraud, carries a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years. Ring faces six counts of that. He was released on his own recognizance on condition he not travel outside the D.C. metro area or have contact with potential witnesses.

Ring's indictment was the latest development in the long-running Abramoff investigation, which has netted 13 guilty pleas from former lobbyists and government officials and one former congressman, GOP Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, who was among those mentioned in court papers Monday as a recipient of favors from Ring. Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison just last week.

Prior to working as a lobbyist with Abramoff from 1999-2004, Ring worked for more than four years as a top aide to Doolittle. Doolittle has not been charged but remains under investigation, and is retiring from Congress at the end of this year partly as a result of the probe. He has repeatedly maintained he is innocent.

The 46-page indictment lists a long list of favors that Ring did for aides to Doolittle and for Doolittle himself, who is referred to not by name but as "Representative 5." These included free travel, meals, fundraising help and tickets to sports games and concerts by the Dixie Chicks and Faith Hill.

Abramoff also put Doolittle's wife, Julie, on his payroll to help with a fundraiser, and continued paying her even after the fundraiser she was hired to plan got canceled. Julie Doolittle got paid a total of about $96,000 from Abramoff.

Doolittle, in turn, helped out Ring and Abramoff, including by writing letters to the Interior Department to help their tribal clients, pushing for federal money for their projects and seeking support from his colleagues for legislation they were pushing.

At one point in 2000, Doolittle's then-chief of staff told Ring that Doolittle had said he felt like a "subsidiary" of Abramoff's firm, the indictment says.

The indictment quotes an October 2000 e-mail from Ring to Abramoff describing Doolittle as "such a good soldier, doing everything we asked of him," and suggesting Abramoff seek more campaign money for Doolittle. Doolittle later asked Ring for more help raising campaign cash, according to the indictment.

Doolittle's attorney, David Barger, defended the congressman in a statement Monday.

"It is clear that portions of the Kevin Ring indictment were designed to make gratuitous references to the congressman and his wife. This appears to have been done to titillate the public, with the foreseeable and therefore intended consequence of attempting to embarrass and pressure the congressman," the statement said.

"Not once in this document does the Department of Justice allege any sort of illegal agreement between Congressman Doolittle, on the one hand, and Kevin Ring or Jack Abramoff, on the other. To the extent the indictment can be read to imply such an agreement, the congressman continues to steadfastly maintain there was none and that he is innocent."

The indictment also details numerous favors exchanged between Ring and John Albaugh, a one-time top aide to former Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook. Albaugh pleaded guilty in June to a conspiracy to defraud the House. Istook is referenced in the indictment as "Representative 4" and is described getting help from Ring including fundraisers for which he failed to make the proper reimbursement.

Istook has not been charged. In June he said he was cooperating with the FBI, but had been told he's not a target of the investigation

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