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Jury convicts ex-Doolittle aide in corruption case

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Forever linked to a lobbyist and former staff member now found guilty of corruption charges, retired Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, said Tuesday that Kevin Ring’s conviction on five felony counts is both a surprise and a disappointment. Kevin Ring, 40, lost his bid Monday to try to beat corruption charges by arguing he was only doing Washington business as usual. Ring worked for Doolittle for five years, rising to the post of legislative director. “Kevin Ring is a person of high integrity who has been hounded by the government for 6½ years,” Doolittle said. “He was only doing what lobbyists do – advancing the interests of his clients. I couldn’t imagine the jury finding Kevin guilty because I don’t feel Kevin was guilty.” A jury in Washington, D.C. convicted Ring of bribing public officials with meals and tickets. He was found guilty of five felony counts and not guilty on three others in a second trial, after a first jury could not agree on a verdict last year. The names of Doolittle and his wife, Julie, were featured prominently in the trial and linked to Ring, when the two were identified in court documents as unindicted co-conspirators on one of the counts against the lobbyist. The charge, which Ring was convicted of, involved what was described by Associated Press as a kickback to the congressman through convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff, who served a federal prison sentence on a corruption conviction, employed Julie Doolittle in what prosecutors convinced the jury was a $5,000-a-month “no work” job. Doolittle, who now works as a lobbyist, said there was no conspiracy and both his wife and Ring told investigators Ring was surprised to learn Julie Doolittle was working in Abramoff’s office. “The government has been defaming me and my wife for 6½ years,” Doolittle said. “Anyone who knows my wife knows she’s a person of high integrity, conscientious and a hard worker. Boy, for a “little work” I know she worked long hours. It’s amazing.” A political consultant who managed the campaign of the retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who challenged Doolittle twice in congressional elections as the Democratic Party candidate, said the conviction made it clear who elected officials sent to Washington by voters should represent. “We elect people to represent us – not K Street (a Washington center for lobbyists),” said Folsom's Todd Stenhouse. “The practices Kevin Ring was involved in were atrocious and undermined our democracy.” While Doolittle and his wife were never indicted or put on trial, their links to the Ring case show “at best, an alarming and shocking lack of judgment,” Stenhouse said. “What gets lost is that when Jack Abramoff’s disparate interests were first on the radar in Washington, it was taking place with a backdrop of 9-11, crucial economic policy decisions and troops going to Afghanistan.” Doolittle said he spoke with Ring after the conviction and it’s possible an appeal will be lodged. The toll on Ring has been a lasting one, Doolittle said, with Ring’s marriage broken up, his two parents dying in their 60s as the allegations continued, and attorney’s fees that have reached at last count, $2.3 million. “Julie was like the rock of Gibraltar right from the beginning,” Doolittle said. “This either brings you closer or drives you apart. We try to go forward with faith, knowing things are beyond our control.” Ring was the only lobbyist among a group known as “Team Abramoff” during a sweeping investigation who fought criminal charges against him in court. Abramoff and five other pleaded guilty in deals with prosecutors. Twenty people have been convicted in the investigation, including 11 congressional aides and officials from the Bush administration that Team Abramoff tried to influence. Former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, served prison time for taking bribes from Abramoff, including a lavish golfing trip to Scotland. One former Capitol Hill aide is awaiting trial. Ring, whose clients as a lobbyist included the city of Lincoln, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for conspiracy, two years in prison for payment of a gratuity and 20 years in prison for each of the three counts of honest services wire fraud. Sentencing is scheduled for March 1. Ring and his attorney Andrew Wise declined to comment outside the court Monday. Wise did not respond Tuesday to a Journal interview request. Justice Department prosecutors argued that Ring gave public officials expensive meals and exclusive event tickets so that eventually they would pay him back with favors for his clients. Their evidence included Ring’s boastful e-mails with other team members. In one e-mail, prosecutors quoted, Ring e-mailed a colleague sitting in a box seat at the NCAA championship basketball tournament with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief of staff, “Glad he got a chance to relax. Now he can pay us back.” In October 2000, Ring wrote Abramoff an e-mail describing Doolittle as “such a good soldier, doing everything we asked of him … I know you are great about making sure he gets his fair share of contributions, but if (client) is feeling generous, this would be a very opportune time to get something” to him, according to court documents. In two e-mails presented by prosecutors in court, Abramoff wrote to others asking about Julie Doolittle consulting services that she “not be overburdened with work” and that “I don’t want her to do too much … since she has responsibilities at home as a mother and wife.” Doolittle said there are also e-mails from Abramoff praising Julie Doolittle as a hard worker. Doolittle announced his retirement from Congress in January 2008. Stung by allegations, he had barely won the 2006 congressional race against Democrat Charlie Brown and faced an uphill battle for reelection in 2008, despite being in a conservative district. Stenhouse, Brown’s campaign manager, said he thinks all Americans want to move beyond the corruption scandals typified by the Ring conviction and move forward.. The government also presented evidence to show that Ring’s actions resulted in his clients receiving $14 million in congressional transportation appropriations and $7 million more from the Justice Department to build a jail. “Hopefully at this point, we’re closing a sad chapter in American history and getting to the business of solving the problems we now have,” Stenhouse said. Doolittle established his own lobbying firm this summer and recently secured a contract with the city of Colfax to work on its behalf in Washington on seeking grants to assist with wastewater issues. City Manager Bruce Kranz said the conviction and Doolittle’s ties to Ring have nothing to do with the city’s ongoing relationship with the former congressman. “The council has all the confidence in the world with John and his work helping us,” Kranz said. “And with the House changing hands, we have an opportunity here.” Doolittle said that both Ring and his attorneys were in shock when he called them and hadn’t formulated what their next steps would be. He said continued Justice Department pressure, including a search of his Virginia residence, had unfairly tarnished his reputation. Doolittle was informed through his attorney in June that the Justice Department had halted its investigation. “I know they hadn’t anything in the first place because we never did anything wrong,” Doolittle said. “All I know is what the truth is and I’m absolutely at peace with this and always will be.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.