Did Kevin Ring Get A Raw Deal In The Abramoff Scandal?

Federal prosecutor Nathaniel B. Edmonds stepped before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle on Wednesday morning and portrayed former lobbyist Kevin Ring as “second in command” to Jack Abramoff and said a 50-month sentence would “reflect the reality of Ring’s crimes.”

Ultimately, Huvelle sentenced Ring to 20 months in prison for providing, in the words of DOJ, an “illegal stream of things of value, including vacations, employment for a congressman’s wife, meals, drinks, and high-priced tickets to exclusive concerts and sporting events.”

It’s easy to feel sympathetic for Ring: he’s the sole caretaker for two young daughters, he didn’t really benefit from the Abramoff scandal financially and his legal bills have left him in a debt he says he “will never be able to dig out of.” But setting all that aside, did Ring deserve 20 months in jail given the scope of his role in comparison to the sentences received by others in the scheme?

Public watchdogs think it’s about right. They’re just upset that others sort of skated.

“That seems about right for what he did, but it has always seemed that Abramoff got off easily,” Meredith McGehee of the Campaign Legal Center told TPM in an email. “The scandal highlights how incompetent the Public Integrity section at DOJ is (remember the Stevens case) and how Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed seem to have emerged relatively unscathed.”

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Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) said DOJ’s original request for a sentencing range of 17 to 22 years was “outrageous” but said his ultimate sentence was on the mark. She’s just concerned about where the focus is.

“It’s not that they didn’t deserve prosecution,” says Sloan, “but the amount of effort aimed at the little fish while the big fish walked is frustrating.”

Sloan cited the fact that former Rep. John Doolittle — who received tickets and donations from Abramoff’s team over the years and whose wife got the $5000 per month job in question in Ring’s case — wasn’t prosecuted.

Huvelle struck that theme as well, saying that the breach of public trust should fall more on the shoulders of the public officials involved in the Abramoff scheme than the lobbyists themselves, commenting that Ring’s previous work as a congressional aide for Doolittle “may be his downfall in some way.”

Despite the government’s proclamation that Ring was the number two official in the case, that doesn’t quite square with the facts, according to Judge Huvelle. “We all know he was not at the same level of behavior as Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon,” Huvelle, who has overseen 13 cases tied to the Abramoff scandal, said Wednesday. “In a lot of ways he was not a top level leader as portrayed by the government.”

Huvelle was also concerned that as a practical matter, it’s difficult for a person to be remorseful for their actions — and get the likely sentencing reduction that goes with it — and still go to trial. “You basically lose your 5th amendment rights,” Huvelle said.

Others in the Abramoff scandal — including Abramoff himself and Michael Scanlon — worked out deals for themselves because they cooperated. Huvelle said she was concerned that in many corruption cases, the “first person in the door gets the best deal.” Abramoff got 48 months in prison while Scanlon (like Ring) got 20 months even though Scanlon’s involvement was much more significant and he defrauded Native American tribes out of tens of millions of dollars.

Overall, 20 people have plead guilty or been convicted of crimes in connection with the Abramoff scandal. One individual, former Tom DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy, is left to be sentenced.

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