A former prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Public Integrity unit has called the case against Kevin Ring “an extremely problematic prosecution,” since the favors that Ring was accused of doing for public officials weren’t in themselves illegal.
A mistrial was declared in the case yesterday, after jurors deadlocked on the charges against the former Team Abramoff lobbyist.
Peter Zeidenberg, who while at DOJ worked on the case against Bush administration official David Safavian, told TPMmuckraker that he wasn’t surprised that prosecutors failed to convict Ring, because the meals, event tickets, and other goodies that Ring lavished on government officials did not represent crimes in themselves at the time. Rather, the Feds argued that, taken together, they amounted to a conspiracy to deprive the public of the honest services of public office-holders — a tough sell for a jury.
Zeidenberg, who has written about honest services fraud in the context of lobbying, said that things might have been different had a public official, rather than a lobbyist, been in the crosshairs. “If you’ve got a public official who’s elected by the people, and he’s stuffing his face at the trough, it’s more viscerally offensive to a jury…than when you’ve got a lobbyist,” said Zeidenberg. “What do you think lobbyists do?”
Ring and Safavian — who was sentenced today to a year and a day in prison for lying and obstruction of justice — are the only cases connected to the Abramoff scandal to go to trial.
Both Zeidenberg and Stan Brand, a Washington lawyer who has defended numerous public officials charged with corruption, also suggested that, in light of the Ring mistrial, some of the 17 lobbyists, Hill staffers, and government officials who accepted plea deals in connection with the Abramoff case may be kicking themselves. “It could certainly make some of these defendants think, maybe they should have pushed harder,” Brand told TPMmuckraker.
Brand called the mistrial “a setback for Public Integrity, in a line of other setbacks” — referring to the reversal of the conviction of former senator Ted Stevens, and the subsequent investigation into alleged prosecutorial misconduct during that case.