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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In a filing Sunday, the government said Robert Coughlin II, the only Justice Department official to face charges in the Abramoff probe, would not be called as a witness at trial. 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.
He was also Ring’s prized contact in Main Justice, helping the lobbyist with the Choctaw matter, among others, in return for free concert tickets, luxury seats at sporting events, meals and golf outings. Coughlin pleaded guilty to a conflict of interest charge.
But Coughlin told prosecutors during a mock cross-examination last week that he was unfairly targeted for prosecution and that “the things of value Mr. Ring gave him did not influence his official actions,” according to a government letter to Ring’s lawyers.
In their Sunday filing, prosecutors said Coughlin’s absence would strip “quite a bit” of substance from their case, adding that it amounted to a “windfall” for Ring. But the government still intends to use Coughlin’s out-of-court statements at trial. Ring’s lawyers have asked Huvelle to strike them.
The Sunday filing also appears to clear up a witness problem related Ann Copland, a former staffer for Mississippi Sen.Thad Cochran (R), who pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to commit honest services wire fraud. She told investigators back in January she “could not bring herself to admit that the things of value she received [from Ring] influenced her, even in part, in her performance of official actions,” according to a filing last week by Ring’s lawyers.
The government disclosed Copland’s statement to Ring’s lawyers last Wednesday. Ring has asked Huvelle to cordon off Copland’s out-of-court statements, arguing that her January interview shows she was never part of the Abramoff cabal.
But in a second meeting the with prosecutors and agents in February, this one at her request, Copland apologized for ”not being entirely forthcoming” and admitted tickets she received from Ring influenced her to advance his client’s interests, prosecutors said.
“Since then Copland has consistently told the truth: that she conspired with Ring and others to commit honest-services wire fraud,” the filing said.
There’s been a lot of turbulence this week in the government’s case against Kevin Ring, the former associate of imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff who’s accused of corrupting public officials.
On the cusp of trial, it appears both sides are having witness problems. David Ayres, who was chief of staff to Attorney General John Ashcroft, plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if the defense calls him to testify, Ring’s lawyers said in this Sept. 2 court filing. Jury selection begins Tuesday.
On the government side, potential witness Ann Copland, a former staffer for Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran (R), told investigators back in January she “could not bring herself to admit that the things of value she received [from Ring] influenced her, even in part, in her performance of official actions,” according to a Sept. 3 Ring filing, citing newly disclosed information from the government. Ring’s lawyers said the government disclosed Copland’s statement to them on Wednesday.
Copland’s statement is a bit of a surprise, considering Ring is accused of smothering Copland with gifts — while she was on Cochran’s payroll — to advance the interests of Team Abramoff. Copland pleaded guilty in March to accepting gifts in exchange for official acts, including helping one of Ring and Abramoff’s clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, secure $16.3 million for a new jail.
The government appears to be having second thoughts about another potential witness, Robert Coughlin II, a former lawyer in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison and deputy chief of staff in the Criminal Division under then-AAG Alice Fisher. Coughlin pleaded guilty in April 2008 to a conflict of interest between his DOJ job and his relationship with Ring. He admitted to helping Ring, his friend of two decades, with the Choctaw matter, among others, and to accepting free concert tickets, luxury seats at sporting events, meals and golf outings.
In meetings with prosecutors on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, Coughlin asserted that “the things of value Mr. Ring gave him did not influence his official actions,” according to a pre-trial letter from Public Integrity Trial Lawyer Michael Ferrara to Ring’s lawyers, who entered the government disclosure into the court record today.
“He opined that the decision to charge him with a felony was an abuse of prosecutorial discretion,” Ferrara said in the letter to Miller & Chevalier’s Andrew Wise and Timothy O’Toole. Coughlin also told DOJ interviewers he believes the government “unfairly singled him out for prosecution,” Ferrara’s letter disclosed.
(Coughlin is the only Justice Department official to become ensnared in the Abramoff probe, though other unnamed officials appear in court filings in his case and elsewhere. Click here for more background on Abramoff’s influence within the department.)
These disclosures, Ring’s lawyers argued in court filings, make clear that Copland and Coughlin “did not enter into an agreement to commit any criminal act, and that the government accordingly has no good faith basis” to use their email or hearsay statements at trial. Ring’s lawyers are pressing U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to strike them.
Also on Wednesday, prosecutors told Ring’s defense team they planned to call three additional witnesses, Daniel Bryant, Su Daly and Gregory Harris — all former Justice Department officials — presumably to substitute for Coughlin, Ring’s filing said. Ring’s lawyers argued the government should be barred from adding these late additions to the witness list. “Mr. Ring could have prepared and filed extensive briefing on why this sort of testimony would be improper. For now, he can simply point out that the lack of percipient knowledge of the witnesses and the impropriety of any opinion testimony that would purport to offer,” Ring’s filing said.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, as did Ring’s defense team.
Meanwhile, Ayres’s apparent refusal to testify raises questions about what potential liability he might consider he has. Ayres, who is now CEO of Ashcroft’s consulting firm, The Ashcroft Group LLC, did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
Ring’s lawyers want to put Ayres and his wife, Laura Ayres, on the stand to discuss event tickets they received from Ring in 2002 and 2003. The government intends to argue that Ayres took the tickets in exchange for an official act, Ring’s lawyers said in the filings. But they believe that “Mr. Ayres and Ms. Ayres each would provide critical exculpatory testimony regarding the circumstances of Mr. Ayres’ receipt of those tickets and regarding Mr. Ring’s contact with Mr. Ayres on relevant issues,” according to Ring’s court filings. It’s unclear what that exculpatory testimony might be. However, Ring and Ayres have known each other since the late 1990s, when both were on then-Sen. Ashcroft’s Senate staff.
The alleged official act likely circles back to Choctaw jail. Congress earmarked $16.3 million for the project in 2001, but Tracy Henke, then a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Justice Programs, thought the job could be done with $9 million.
Team Abramoff applied pressure, the government says, and eventually the Justice Department reversed itself, doling out the full $16.3 million. It’s still unclear who overruled Henke, if anyone — but that question will likely be answered during the four-to-six week trial. (Henke also works for Ashcroft’s consulting firm, as a principal.)
The Justice Department declined Ring’s request to grant David and Laura Ayres immunity against future prosecution, and they won’t testify without protection, Ring’s filing said. Ring’s lawyers argue that “the refusal to grant immunity and the blanket invocations of the Fifth Amendment privilege in response are unsustainable” because charges against the Ayreses would be time-barred. (Their testimony would be confined to events that occured in 2002 and 2003, beyond the statute of limitations.)
Ring has asked Huvelle to compel immunity or, failing that, to consider another remedy, such as disqualifying government documents or testimony.
Mary Jacoby contributed to this report.
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A former associate of imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff said in a recent court filing that Public Integrity Section chief William Welch redacted exculpatory information from documents given to his defense during the discovery process.
The motion by lawyers for former lobbyist Kevin Ring, who is slated to stand trial in September on public corruption charges before U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle in Washington, raised the question of whether Brady violations by Public Integrity are “serial in nature.”
While it isn’t clear from Ring’s May 29 filing what exculpatory evidence Welch is alleged to have redacted, clues emerged in a hearing before Judge Huvelle in April. FBI interviews with Abramoff that were provided to the defense were “fairly heavily redacted” by Welch, defense attorney Andrew Wise of Miller & Chevalier said.
Michael Ferrara, a lawyer in Public Integrity, confirmed during the court hearing that Welch, his supervisor, had personally redacted the Abramoff 302s, as the FBI interview summaries are known. “The defense is correct. Mr. Welch did that,” Ferrara said.
The little-noticed filing by Ring underscores a big challenge for Public Integrity, a unit that’s basically been in melt-down since U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in April ordered a criminal investigation into whether Welch and other DOJ lawyers intentionally withheld exculpatory information from the defense of then-Sen. Ted Stevens last year.
A DOJ review team found that government lawyers failed to hand over notes from an interview with their star witness that contradicted the witness’s sworn testimony at trial. At the request of Attorney General Eric Holder, Sullivan threw out the conviction and dismissed charges against Stevens for allegedly failing to disclose a gift in the form of home renovation services from a political supporter.
Then last week, the Justice Department quietly transferred two lawyers who’d worked on the Stevens case out of the Public Integrity Section, The Washington Post reported. The lawyers were Nick Marsh and Edward Sullivan. But there’s been no apparent action against Welch, prompting “grumbling” among criminal division and other DOJ lawyers that lower-level line-attorneys are being made to take the fall, the Post reported. Indeed, the DOJ continues to issue news releases like this one and this one noting that Welch is head of the Public Integrity unit — not exactly tail-between-the-legs behavior.
(Welch, by the way, had been angling to be named the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts - aspirations that were obviously dashed by the Stevens debacle.)
The move to transfer Marsh and Sullivan came after the DOJ asked an appeals court to release from prison two former Alaska state lawmakers who’d been convicted in the department’s long-running public corruption probe in Alaska — the same investigation that snared Stevens. The department said it had uncovered instances of possible Brady violations just as it had found in the Stevens case.
Moreover, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ordered in December 2008 that the government turn over more information from FBI interviews with Abramoff to David Safavian, a former chief of staff in the General Services Administration who was also charged in connected with the lobbying scandal.
The judge said a book about the Abramoff affair contained information that arguably should have been turned over to Safavian for use in his 2006 trial because it was “favorable or potentially favorable evidence.” The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned Safavian’s original conviction and ordered a new trial. Safavian was convicted on retrial. .
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An indicted former associate of lobbyist Jack Abramoff intends to ask a judge next week whether Henry F. Schuelke III, the special prosecutor investigating the Justice Department’s handling of the Ted Stevens case, has a conflict of interest, a lawyer close to the discussions said.
Among the prosecutors Schuelke is investigating in the Stevens matter is William Welch II, head of the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section. Welch also oversaw the indictment last September of former lobbyist Kevin Ring, who worked with Abramoff.
Among the charges against Ring is that he lied to an internal investigator hired by Abramoff’s former employer, the law firm Greenberg Traurig. That investigator was Schuelke.
That means Schuelke could be called to testify in a case that was supervised by the same DOJ lawyer Schuelke is also investigating for criminal contempt of court in the Stevens matter.
Lawyers for Ring wrote a letter to prosecutors on Monday asking whether they would continue to pursue two counts against Ring in which Schuelke could be called as a witness, said the lawyer familiar with the discussions. The prosecutors on the Ring case include Nathaniel B. Edmonds and Michael J. Leotta of the District of Maryland and Michael Ferrara of the Public Integrity Section.
A Justice Department spokeswoman, Laura Sweeney, said she could not comment on ongoing cases. Schuelke did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.
Ring’s lawyers asked the DOJ to explain Welch’s future role in the Ring case. They also asked for information on whether Schuelke intends to expand his investigation to examine Welch’s handling of other Public Integrity indictments, the lawyer familiar with discussions said.
At issue in the both the Stevens and Ring cases is the Public Integrity Section’s handling of potentially exculpatory material. Prosecutors are obligated under the Supreme Court’s Brady ruling to hand such material in their possession over to the defense.
The Justice Department earlier this month asked U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan to dismiss an indictment against the former Alaska senator and void his conviction last October on seven corruption counts.
The request came after an internal DOJ investigation revealed prosecutors had not given the defense notes from a key witness interview. The notes contradicted the witness’s testimony in court and could have been used by the defense to undermine his credibility.
On April 7, Sullivan granted the government’s request to dismiss and capped a dramatic two-hour court hearing by announcing he’d appointed Schuelke to investigate six DOJ lawyers for possible criminal contempt of court.
The lawyers under investigation include Welch; Brenda Morris, the lead Stevens prosecutor and Welch’s deputy in the Public Integrity Section, two other Public Integrity trial attorneys and two Assistant U.S. Attorneys in Alaska.
Ring defense lawyers Richard Hibey, Andrew Wise, Matthew Reinhard and Timothy O’Toole filed a motion in January to dismiss Ring’s indictment. U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle didn’t grant the motion at a hearing last week. She ordered another hearing for Monday, at which Ring’s team intends to raise the issue of Schuelke’s dual roles. A trial is slated for September.
As in the Stevens case, Ring’s lawyers have been pressing the government to release potentially exculpatory material for his defense. In a hearing before Judge Huvelle last Monday, the government indicated it had done so already. But Ring’s team believes there could be more material releasable under Brady, including copies of FBI 302 interview summaries of likely witnesses in the case, the lawyer close to the discussions said.
In their letter to prosecutors Monday, Ring’s lawyers also asked whether the government disclosed to Judge Sullivan that Schuelke could be called as a witness in the Ring case.