During closing arguments this morning in the trial of former Jack Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, the defense strove to draw a bright line between Ring and his jailed lobbyist colleagues.
Referring to the prosecution's use of the phrase "Team Abramoff," Ring attorney Andrew Wise told the jurors that they've been hearing a case that has been "long on slogans" and "long on guilt by association."
Ring, who worked with Abramoff at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds and later Greenberg Traurig, is accused of handing out tens of thousands of dollars worth of high-priced tickets, trips and meals to congressional staffers in return for their help advancing his clients’ interests. He faces charges of honest services fraud, among other counts. The trial has run for about three weeks at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Leotta of Maryland quoted a witness calling Ring the “COO” of Team Abramoff. It was Ring’s job, the prosecutor argued, to make the alleged scheme to “groom” and “corrupt” politicians and their staffers run more efficiently.
“It wasn’t the kind of bribery where you put cash in a paper bag and hand it to a councilman on Friday and he votes for your bill on Monday,” Leotta said. “This was a long-term scheme.”
But Wise, a partner with Washington’s Miller & Chevalier, contended the prosecution was distorting Ring’s relationships with his lobbyist colleagues and with his contacts on the Capitol Hill. He said Ring always stayed within the law. He noted, for instance, that, unlike other lobbyists working with Abramoff, Ring declined to attend a Super Bowl trip he thought he couldn’t justify as a legitimate lobbying effort.
Wise pointed out that fellow Abramoff associate Neil Volz, who testified in the trial as part of a plea deal, joined Ring’s post-Abramoff lobbying group when Volz wanted to start a legitimate practice. He said that Todd Boulanger, another former colleague who testified after a guilty plea, had to wine and dine Hill staffers because he came to lobbying with few strong connections. Ring, on the other hand, never had that problem, Wise said.
Wise also argued that, while Ring did dole out meals and tickets to build and maintain relationships, his largesse didn’t buy decisions in Congress.
“The government is asking you to believe that people take action on $4 million appropriation bills, on $16 million jails, based on two tickets to the Wizards,” Wise said. “Common sense says that doesn’t square.”