National Journal is reporting that prosecutors and defense lawyers for Kevin Ring, an ex-associate of Jack Abramoff asked a federal judge to declare a mistrial Wednesday.
The judge, Ellen Segal Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, declined the requests and instructed the jury to continue deliberations, which have spanned nearly seven days now.
In a note to Huvelle, the jury wrote, ”We do not see how we can reach a verdict,” according to National Journal.
On Tuesday, jurors told the Huvelle they’d reached a verdict on one of the charges but were stuck on the other seven. (They jury did not reveal the nature of the verdict.) Ring is charged with conspiracy, doling out illegal gratuities and depriving taxpayers of the honest services of public officials.
According to National Journal, prosecutors and defense lawyers said enough was enough.
“Let them go…. Declare a mistrial,” Andrew Wise, Ring’s attorney, said. “This jury has been at it for an extended period.”
“Take the verdict [on the one count], declare a mistrial… and get another trial moving as quickly as possible,” prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds suggested.
Huvelle said that “given the length of the trial” — about three weeks — “the amount of evidence and the complications of the case,” the jury should continue deliberations.
Ring called for a mistrial last week, after a jury foreman alerted Huvelle to a barred exhibit the government mistakenly included in his evidence binder.
Ring is represented by Miller & Chevalier’s Wise and Timothy O’Toole. The team of prosecutors includes Edmonds, of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section; Michael Ferrara, of the Public Integrity Section; and Michael Leotta, Appellate Chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland.
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Henry Schuelke III has the awkward distinction of being both Justice Department witness and Justice Department bane. Today, he was the former, testifying about his investigation of Jack Abramoff and his team of lobbyists, including Kevin Ring, whose trial began Friday.
Schuelke, whom we profiled here over the summer, is also the court-appointed counsel investigating the prosecutors involved in the dismissed Ted Stevens case for criminal contempt. Depositions in Schuelke’s DOJ investigation appear to be a few months off.
Ring’s lawyers raised concerns about Schuelke’s dual roles in pretrial hearings, but U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said she didn’t see a conflict. One of the Stevens prosecutors, William Welch II, is the head of the Public Integrity Section, which is sharing the Ring case with the Maryland U.S. Attorney office and the criminal Fraud Section at Main Justice. Welch recused himself from the Ring case to end what he called “distracting” defense motions.
In 2004, Greenberg Traurig hired Schuelke, of Janis, Schuelke & Wechsler, to investigate Jack Abramoff and his work for the firm’s D.C. lobbying practice. Schuelke interviewed about 25 GT employees and several of Team Abramoff’s tribal clients, and he rummaged though thousands of emails and financial records. Ring, as it turns out, was the first lobbyist Schuelke interviewed.
Ring is accused of lavishing members of Congress, their staff and executive branch officials with meals and tickets to concerts and sporting events in exchange for helping his clients. Some of the counts carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
He is the first lobbyist to go to trial. The others members of the team, including Abramoff, have pleaded guilty. Abramoff is not a witness in the case, but two of his associates — Neil Volz and Todd Boulanger — are scheduled to testify.
Schuelke, the government’s first witness, described a loose culture in which congressional ethics rules were considered quaint. Schuelke testified that Ring told him “gift ban rules were widely ignored [by members of Congress] and it was Mr. Abramoff’s policy to likewise ignore the rules.”
The firm-wide head of the lobbying practice, based in Florida, was in charge “in theory,” Schuelke said, but Abramoff and his team enjoyed autonomy.
Schuelke’s testimony followed opening statements by Ring’s lawyers on Friday that called into question the government’s assertion that David Ayres, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief of staff, helped secure a $16.3 million grant for a jail for one of Ring’s tribal clients.
Last week, we reported here that the government believes Ayres in early 2002 helped secure a $16.3 million grant for a new jail for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians after another DOJ official, Tracy Henke, recommended less money. But Miller & Chevalier’s Andrew Wise in court Friday appeared to contradict the government’s assertion about Ayres. ”Tracy Henke made the decision. The evidence will not show that David Ayres overruled Tracy Henke,” Wise said on Friday.
Henke, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Justice Programs, now works with Ayres at Ashcroft’s consulting firm, The Ashcroft Group. Ayres has not responded to requests for comment.
Ring gave Ayres tickets in March 2002 to the March Madness NCAA college basketball tournament at the MCI Center, the government says. And in January 2003, his wife, Laura Ayres, asked Ring for “several expensive tickets” to a professional basketball game at the MCI Center, telling Ring they were a birthday gift for her husband, according to a government filing over the weekend. Ring gave the tickets to her, with Abramoff’s approval, the filing said.
Nathaniel Edmonds, a prosecutor in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section, said Friday that Ring gave Ayres the tickets with the intent of influencing him on future matters. He pointed to an email in which Ring wrote to an associate, “Glad [Ayres] got a chance to relax. Now he can pay us back.”
Ring’s lawyer said the email was a joke. Ring knew he couldn’t “bully” the chief of staff to the top law enforcement official in the nation, Wise said Friday.
David and Laura Ayres have indicated they will take the Fifth Amendment if called to testify. The government has refused to grant them immunity. Ring’s lawyers say they need the Ayreses as witnesses to prove the longtime Ashcroft aide never performed any officials act for Ring.
Ayers is not accused of any crime. His name surfaced in court documents last week in connection with the Choctaw jail. Ring’s lawyers have filed a motion asking Huvelle to compel the government to grant Ayres and his wife immunity to testify on Ring’s behalf. Huvelle is expected to rule on the motion later this week.
Prosecutors also say Ring plied Robert Coughlin II, the only Justice Department official to face charges in the Abramoff probe, with meals and tickets for his help with the Choctaw matter, among others. Coughlin pleaded guilty in April 2008 to a conflict of interest. Prosecutors, however, took Coughlin off their witness list last week after he accused the Justice Department of unfairly singling him out for prosecution and denied that he was ever influenced by Ring’s gifts.
Coughlin is a former lawyer in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison and was deputy chief of staff in the Criminal Division under then-AAG Alice Fisher. Ring referred to Coughlin as his prized contact in the Justice Department. The two are longtime friends.
Wise said Ring exaggerated Coughlin’s usefulness so he could use his expense account to pay for his friend’s meals.
“Lying to your boss about how you’re using your expense account is not a crime,” Wise said.