A former associate of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded not guilty today to corruption charges in the latest installment of the widespread influence-peddling investigation that has landed public officials and Washington power brokers behind bars.
Kevin Ring, 37, a former staffer for Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., who later worked at the Greenberg Traurig law firm with Abramoff, was indicted by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, obstruction of justice, honest services wire fraud and payment of gratuity charges.
The court unsealed the 10-count indictment today after federal agents arrested him at his Maryland home at 7 a.m. Ring appeared in federal court this afternoon wearing shorts and a T-shirt.
Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola, who ordered the indictment unsealed, asked whether Ring knew his rights to counsel, and said, "This is a serious criminal charge."
Ring entered a plea of "Not guilty."
In a written statement, Ring's defense attorney Richard Hibey said, "Since January 2006, Mr. Ring voluntarily met with federal prosecutors and agents of the FBI, Department of Interior and IRS over twenty times to discuss his work with Mr. Abramoff. During these estimated 100 hours of meetings, Mr. Ring was candid, forthright and honest regarding his relationships with Mr. Abramoff, Michael Scanlon and various public officials.
"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 prosecutors orchestrated the spectacle of arresting Mr. Ring in front of his wife and children this morning," Hibey's statement said.
The indictment alleges that Ring was a central figure in the lobbying scandal and that he worked as a liason between Abramoff's corrupt lobbying activities and the network of officials from Capitol Hill, the Interior Department and the Justice Department, who assisted them on various projects, ranging from items in appropriations bills, Indian casino gambling issues, immigration issues concerning the Northern Marianas Islands, and statehood for Puerto Rico.
According to court documents, Ring, Abramoff and others provided trips, meals, tickets to events and other things of value to several public officials in order to promote favorable treatment of their clients, which included several American Indian tribes with interests in gambling ventures.
Ring and his co-conspirators then allegedly added the costs of the lavish gifts to their clients' bills, without disclosing full details of the expenses.
From fundraising dinners at Abramoff's now-defunct Washington restaurant Signatures, to access to luxury suites at Washington's MCI Center and the Washington Redskins' home FedEx Field, to discussions of money requested through the House Appropriations Committee, Ring allegedly took part in a complicated web of suspect activity.
The Abramoff probe has ensnared numerous public officials, highly-placed Capitol Hill staffers, lobbyists and a former employee of the Justice Department. So far, 13 individuals have entered guilty pleas as part of the investigation.
Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, pleaded guilty as part of the probe in February 2007, and was released from federal custody last month. Last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., sentenced Abramoff to an additional four years in prison for his role in the scandal. He was already serving time in a separate Florida case.