Kevin Ring's Trial Has Begun: You won't hear about it from CNMI news sources...

...but the complaint and exhibits are over flowing with CNMI connections

September 13, 2009

Friday the Kevin Ring trial began in Washington, DC. I have a particular distaste for this former lobbyist who worked directly under Jack Abramoff conspiring with CNMI leaders and their appointed officials to block federalization and more. His name appears in the CNMI-Abramoff billing records over 250 times! Ring is charged with 10 felony counts.

Ring arrogantly choose to proclaim his innocence and opted for a jury trial. His schoolboy defense is basically that every other lobbyist did the same thing within a broken system, so he should be able to do so also.

Only one other person of the 16 charged so far in the Abramoff-connected conspiracy choose not to cooperate with federal officials and proclaim his innocence. That person, David Safavian, worked with Abramoff on the CNMI lobbying issues. Ring is the first person charged in the scandal to take his case before a jury. He could get as much as 20 years in prison.

The Washington Post reports that prosecutor Nathaniel B. Edmonds said that Ring, a frequent visitor to the CNMI, "was a lobbyist in name but a corruptor in reality."

Edmonds called him the "sugar daddy" who "gave out goodies over and over again." Ring reached into Abramoff's treasure chest of tickets continually to reward members of Congress, federal officials and staffers who followed the lobbyists' agenda pushing or blocking legislation to benefit their clients. There were sky boxes, tickets to sporting events and tickets to concerts featuring stars such as U-2, the Dixie Chicks and Paul McCartney.

That treasure chest was provided by CNMI's Willie Tan who gave Abramoff money for the bribes as is documented by an email between the two conspirators. On March 28, 2000 Abramoff sent Willie Tan an email requesting payment for suites at Camden Yards, MCI Center, and JKC stadium. The bill indicates that the total was $223,679 and Arbamoff was asking for the quarterly fee of $55,919.75. (See this post for more about the Abramoff-Tan-CNMI relationship.)

Santa Ring lavished loyal officials with expensive dinners at Abramoff's Signature restaurant, trips to sporting events like the U.S. Open in New York and trips to Super Bowl games. Edmonds said the gifts were given to "reward and influence." From the Washington Post:
At one point, Ring gave tickets to concerts and the Wizards to a Justice Department official in the hopes of boosting government funding for a client, an Indian tribe, that wanted to build a jail in Mississippi. It worked, prosecutors said.

Ring told other lobbyists to "thank your friends on the Hill and in the Administration."

"In fact, thank them over and over this week -- preferably for long periods of time and at expensive establishments," he added. "Thank them until it hurts -- and until we have a June bill that reflects the fact our client is about to get a $16.3 million check from the Department of Justice!!!"

In another e-mail, Edmonds said, Ring joked about the types of lobbyists that worked with him. "The ethics thing is a real turn off -- we like amoral pond scum," Ring wrote, according to Edmonds.

Ring's attorney said those e-mails and many others need to be taken in context. Some are hyperbole and others are jokes, if bad ones, Wise said. "Sending an e-mail is not a crime," he told jurors.
The AP reported:
At one point, some members of the packed courtroom snickered as the prosecutor read an e-mail from a congressional staffer requesting tickets to a series of heavy metal concerts.
Ring's lawyer, Andrew Wise, told the jury that they will be shocked by much of what they hear about how lobbying and government worked, but said the e-mails don't prove any conspiracy by his client, under the corruption laws that existed then.
"Kevin Ring played by the rules of lobbying and government in a broken and sometimes ridiculous system," Wise said. That doesn't make him a saint, that doesn't make him a victim."
Former House Reps. John Doolittle (R-Abramoff) and Ernest Istook (R-OK) are implicated in the scandal. John Albaugh, former chief of staff for Istook pleaded guilty June 2008 for his role in the Abramoff scandal and is cooperating with investigators. He is expected to be a witness in the Ring trial.

The AP reports:
An attorney in the federal corruption case of a lobbyist says former U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook collected money from lobbyists and then asked them what projects they wanted in a major spending bill.

Andrew T. Wise, attorney for lobbyist Kevin Ring, says the former Oklahoma congressman held 22 fundraisers in the first three months after becoming the chairman of a subcommittee that had control of highway spending.

Wise says Ring helped raise money for Istook and that now-imprisoned former lobbyist Jack Abramoff made the first donation to Istook's political action committee.
The corruption that will be revealed at that trial has venomous tentacles that stretch to the CNMI. Emails from Tan, Richard Pierce, Fitial and others are included in the 61-page exhibit list. (See this post, Kevin Ring Exhibits: CNMI connection exposed through emails.)

The 2001 billing records and email exchanges indicate that the lobbying team and CNMI government conspired to hide the security report written by the U.S. Attorney's Office of Guam and the NMI after the 9-11 attacks. It called for a federal takeover of the CNMI immigration. From an October 1, 2001 email exchange between Abramoff and Maya Kara discussing a DOJ report and how to hide it.
From: abramoffj
To: maya
Cc: govcounsel
Sent: Monday, October 01, 2001 10:18 AM

Subject: RE: Lobbying Contract

The other immediate (next two weeks) challenge is the Justice Department. Last week the bad guys who still work there (the ones who got that bad letter on Murkowski issued) started a drum beat that the CNMI had to be taken over, because it was a loophole in the federal immigration network, and that, as such, was a threat on terrorism. They have been spending a week or so telling everyone who will listen that the CNMI, if it is not taken over, will be a major entry point for terrorists. This, of course, is patently ridiculous, actually just the opposite, and we have been working to counter this, but they are not backing down. We had the COS of the Justice Department in our box at today's Redskins game and it seems that there might be a classified document floating in the department which deals with this matter. Making it classified, if that is indeed the case, was a good idea by our opponents, since that means we cannot get it. Hopefully Babauta has some connections there and can get a copy (perhaps at least on a redacted version), which he can pass on to you to draft a response. If this is at a stage where it is gaining momentum, he will need to leak into the press that they are considering this and how it is exactly the opposite of what should be happening. This is a real potential threat. It will require some major action from the Hill and a press attack to get this back in the bottle. He should just follow the example we have used in the past, where we get the press out front carefully and push the Administration back.

I am supposed to see the Attorney General next week (the Thursday after Simchas Torah) and Kevin was slated to play basketball with him before then. We will both mention this to him. The AG will be fine, but the underlings are a worrisome matter. I am not sure what to suggest on this one, other than well pass on what we get from the COS, and you guys should do your best to hook up with as many of the Asst AGs as possible and the political folks there. There are, I believe, some former travelers (folks who visited the CNMI during Froilans time) among them. Well hope that the higher ups will take some time to squash this on their own. If not, it could get to be a fire fight.
The scheme to obtain a classified security report and then keep it "squashed" (which is exactly what happened) is especially disturbing.

The Chief of Staff referred to in the email as COS is David Ayres who is now CEO of John Ashcroft's lobbying firm. Ayres said that he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights if he called to testify at the Ring trial. Here are some more Ring, Kara, Abramoff emails and also see this post for more on this topic.

If nothing else the Kevin Ring trial should define why transparency in government is essential. How disgusting that a person who has violated the public trust and has broken so many laws uses as his defense that "he used traditional tools of his lobbying trade to build influence." We live in a world where we see too many elected officials acting first to serve their own interests and second to serve the people who elected them. It's a world where lobbyists and special interest groups spend millions to manipulate the system to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the general public.

When is it ever acceptable for elected officials and their appointees to obstruct justice, manipulate law, trade things of value for votes and hide important public information? How dare Ring attempt to claim that he is following his profession when he conspired with clients and members of Congress and federal officials!

Who pays for the corruption? Every American taxpayer. When our local or state or commonwealth governments are hiring lobbyists to push their political agendas, we foot the bill. When health insurance companies hire lobbyists to defeat health care reform, we foot the bill in higher insurance rates. The people who could benefit from legislation that was intentionally blocked so a lobbyist's client could profit pay the price. Ask a foreign contract worker who was a victim of labor abuse.

It is not easy to stand up against those in power. I know from my own experience. Those whose power, positions or self-interests are threatened will stop at nothing to discredit anyone who wants to end corruption, uphold justice and promote transparency. They think that if they attack enough, lie enough, spin enough, that the ones who work to expose them will somehow wear down and disappear. Thankfully, some people cannot be worn down; cannot be bought; cannot be persuaded to abandon their principles. Rep. Tina Sablan is one such person and her fight for open government and transparency is essential, timely and courageous.

In the CNMI it has been common practice to hide public information even though there is a law that require disclosure. I know that OGA requests that I made in the 1990s were totally ignored. This email from Maya Kara to Kevin Ring sums up how CNMI officials typically view OGA requests:

-----Original Message-----
> From: Maya B. Kara [mailto:govcounsel@saipan.com]
> Sent: Monday, August 20, 2001 8:09 PM
> To: ringk@gtlaw.com
> Subject: Re: privilege memo
>
> Thank you. It would me most useful in defending any pesky open
> government requests.

> Maya
> ----- Original Message ---->
From:
> To:
> Sent: Monday, August 20, 200 I II :20 PM
> Subject: privilege memo

I just wanted to let you know that we have a couple of attorneys here working on a memo regarding attorney-client privilege as it relates to our non-attorney lobbyists. Jack said you asked for this information. Sorry for the delay.
Oh my, those "pesky open government act requests", such a bother. Over the years I have read a great deal of propaganda, lies and spin from the CNMI officials and lobbyists put forth to push their anti-federalization agenda. Promoting self-interest at the expense of innocent foreign contract workers is repugnant. To work to conceal a security report because it could jeopardize the CNMI's case to maintain control of their borders is despicable.

I believe that each conviction in the Abramoff scandal leads to others. I also believe the trail is leading to the CNMI.

I think it is fascinating that not one CNMI paper or news source is covering this trial; the emails between Governor Fitial, Willie Tan, Richard Pierce and Maya Kara and conspirator Kevin Ring; the fact that Willie Tan funded the treasure chest of bribes; or any of the other CNMI-related events pertaining to this trial and the evidence.

16 comments:

Saipan Writer said...

Wendy,

No matter how bad the conduct of the person charged with a crime, there is no shame and no reason for censure for demanding due process rights, including a trial by jury.

We may hope that public officials like Tim V. and James Santos give more regard to the public coffers and their duty as public officials, but exercising a right guaranteed by our constitution is not a reason for disdain.

Quite frankly, I'm surprised so many have pleaded out without trial. This is a complex matter and I can believe a jury could be easily confused. The line between what is legal and what is not is difficult to discern at times, even for some of us who abhor government corruption.

And it seems you are saying that Kevin Ring is accused, on trial, and not yet convicted. So I am confused by this sentence: "Ring is the first person convicted in the scandal to take his case before a jury." Perhaps you mean the first person arrested or charged?

As for the "pesky" open government requests--I love that you share this kind of detail with us.

Saipan Writer said...

Some other points of interest to me, relating to the e-mails between Maya Kara, Ring, and Abramoff:

1. The general tenor of the e-mails from Maya to Kevin Ring is negative, picky, aggressive, almost too formal, except in a few instances--imho.

2. The general tenor of the e-mails between Maya and Abramoff is very chummy and indicates a cordial working relationship at the least, and possibly a friendship.

3. There is a lot of work actually being done here by those in the CNMI. Sally Pfund's memo is excellent. Maya's availability is impressive. Also her attention to detail and tenacity is admirable--following up on the stateless children issue several times, reviewing the billings carefully and finding "mistakes."

4. There is a lot of shmooze and ooze from the lobbyists: Abramoff's claim of religiousity; his playing on Maya's interest in judaism and language; Ring's lengthy explanation about his "work" on the stateless children issue, wrapped around the basic fact that this was outside the scope of what the CNMI hired him to do, but smooth and empty...; the repeated references to "travelers" as CNMI friends; and Abramoff's claim to the French film company that his firm acts as "lawyers" for the CNMI. All very oily.

5. I found it rather shocking that the lobbyists were encouraging Maya to advise the governor in a particular way, as to what he "should" be doing. Generally, clients hire lobbyists to have lobbyists do what clients want--not the other way around. This was not an effort to educate a client about how to acheive an end, but rather an effort to select the end itself. This pitch and pull by the lobbyists makes it seem likely that there were other considerations, other loyalties at work. (Likely the donations/payments by Willie Tan?)

And then I have the basic questions--how are these e-mails public? They seem like they should be confidential. I found it interesting to read them; I'm glad to have that insight into what's been happening here. But a part of me thinks-whoa. So I'm curious, Wendy. Where did these come from?

Saipan Writer said...

Oh yeah. I like your point that this should be in the local papers.

Anonymous said...

According to press accounts a few years back, the e-mails came from an Open Government Request to the CNMI government.

Either Pamela S. Brown or Matthew T. Gregory, or both, released them.

Wendy said...

Thanks Saipan Writer, you are right. I hastily wrote this and it should be "charged", not convicted. I will fix that!

Actually, what surprises me is that Ring did not accept the plea bargain. It seems like more than any other person charged in this scandal there is so much evidence, so many witnesses and an abundance of related exhibits and others with far less charges and position accepted plea bargains. Maybe he truly believes he is innocent. Perhaps he will be found innocent. And you are right, every person has a right to a jury trial.

I find his defense offensive - that every lobbyist uses gifts to influence.

About the emails-- there are many more. Some were released by congressional committees, some were released by OGA requests. Some were given to me by people who got them from reporters who made OGA requests.

I agree with some of your assessment of the emails. Yes, it seems Abramoff was chummy with Kara -Offering to get her gifts from Israel and a book, etc.

It was odd that Abramoff would write about doing something like burying a report, leaking stories to the press, etc. and then he would talk about the Sabbath or his religious holidays. A little conflicting.

Not only was Abramoff telling Kara how to advise the governor, but he put down Washington Rep. Babauta and said positive things about Fitial.

The billing records are also telling. They really show that millions of dollars were wasted and that some (too many) public officials really put their self-interests ahead of public interest.

You are right that Kara, and others before her, questioned the billing records. I wonder if they thought that the government was being ripped off? It sure looks like they were if you read them.

Wendy said...

Yes, some emails were released from the CNMI through OGA requests, but the one concerning Willie Tan paying for the sky boxes and tickets actually came from Waxman's investigation regarding the White House and Abramoff.

Anonymous said...

at least one of the others (a legislative staffer?) pleaded guilty of failing to report the entertainment on disclosure forms.

This suggests that at least some officials or employees -- depending on their rank, government agency, amount of benefit, type of benefit (meals vs. entertainment vs. gifts), and identity of donor (lobbyist vs. client vs. non-profit) -- may have been allowed to receive some of this largesse lawfully, if not part of a quid pro quo for official actions.

In that case, it would be difficult to convict the supplier of these items, i.e., Willie Tan, unless it could be proven that he knew in advance they would be used wrongfully.

Anonymous said...

Tan knew what the money was being used for.

Anonymous said...

Nice to know that the president of the CNMI Bar wanted ammo to defend pesky open government act requests. Keep those dirty little secrets under wraps.

Anonymous said...

Tan had to know it would be used illegally, and that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unlikely, unless an insider rolls.

Anonymous said...

Tan had to know it would be used illegally, and that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Unlikely, unless an insider rolls.

Anonymous said...

Tan has already confessed to bribing Congress on TV and has been in hiding from Saipan for years.

Will his trial freeze TH's corporate funds?

Anonymous said...

No. A corporation has a separate legal existence from its owners. Only if the company were implicated in any wrongdoing would it be directly affected.

Saipan Writer said...

Another thing I found somewhat interesting in the e-mails was Kumoi's full endorsement of lobbying, Preston-Gates, and Abramoff. This contrasted sharply with Mametto U. Maratita's efforts at getting concrete information about the work done and the billings before consideration of contracts in committee meetings.

Anonymous said...

See also Susan Crabtree, "Memo defends Abramoff figure," The Hill, Wed. 09/16/09 06:05 AM ET (Memo disputing details in indictment of Horace Cooper, a senior aide to Rep. Dick Armey) available at http://thehill.com/homenews/house/58915-memo-defends-abramoff-figure .

Wendy said...

Anonymous 6:14 I saw that article and was thinking I would do a post on that. Right now I don't have time to do the research and fact check -maybe this weekend!