The appeals court for the District of Columbia has upheld the conviction of Kevin Ring, a former associate of former Republican lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to fraud and bribery charges for ripping off Native American tribes of more than $80 million.
Ring was convicted in 2010 on five counts of providing illegal gratuities, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy. He had been fighting charges against him since 2008. His first trial ended in a hung jury in 2009, but a second trial led to his 2010 conviction. He was found to have given meals, event tickets and other things of value to government officials in exchange for actions favorable to his lobbying clients. Although the gifts Ring gave weren’t illegal per se, jurors concluded that Ring had intended to corrupt officials. After the public outrage that surrounded the Abramoff scandal, Congress passed legislation in 2007 making such gift-giving illegal.
The district court that convicted Ring had stayed his 20-month sentence while his appeal was pending but the January 25 decision now opens the way for Ring to serve his sentence.
In the 25-page opinion, Circuit Judge Tatel writes, “In 2004, a Department of Justice investigation into Jack Abramoff’s lobbying team unearthed evidence of corruption so extensive that it ultimately implicated more than twenty public officials, staffers, and lobbyists. Appellant Kevin Ring, once a prominent Washington lobbyist, was one of them. Exposing the dark underbelly of a profession that has long played an important role in American politics, this case probes the boundary between legal lobbying and criminal conduct. Ring was convicted of honest-services fraud, paying an illegal gratuity, and conspiracy relating to his provision of meals, tickets, and other gifts to public officials. On appeal, Ring argues that the district court’s instructions on the honest-services counts misstated the law, that the jury lacked sufficient evidence to find that an ‘official act’ underlay the illegal-gratuity charge, and that the district court ran afoul of Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and the First Amendment when it admitted evidence of his lawful campaign contributions. Although each of these arguments is weighty, we ultimately affirm Ring’s conviction.”
Abramoff pled guilty in 2006 to charges of tax evasion, mail fraud and conspiracy in connection with a deal with one of his former business partners, Adam Kidan. In their purchase of a casino fleet from a Miami businessman—who later turned up dead in a gangland-type slaying—the two partners used a phony $23 million wire transfer. Not long before this, Michael Scanlon, another former Abramoff partner, had admitted to conspiring with Abramoff to defraud Indian tribes as well as corrupt public officials.
Abramoff and Scanlon stole more than $82 million from six tribes between 2001 and 2003, according to the investigative report “Gimme Five,” issued by the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. The report found that Abramoff persuaded his tribal clients to hire Scanlon at exorbitant fees for “grassroots support” or access to high public officials, and that Scanlon then kicked back half of the money to Abramoff. Because they cooperated with prosecutors, Abramoff was sentenced to only four years and Scanlon was sentenced to 20 months. Both men were ordered to pay restitution to victims of $20 million each.
Justice Department prosecutors originally wanted Ring to receive a prison sentence of 17 to 22 years, according to the Washington Post “One reason for the astronomical sentence, according to the government: Mr. Ring was the only lobbyist who went to trial instead of pleading guilty and cooperating with the United States,” the WP said. The prosecutors reduced the recommended sentence to 50 months, but the district court judge rejected that request and set the 20 month sentence.