Sunday, October 12, 2008
Guest Blogger - Stephanie Martz, Senior Director, White Collar Crime Policy, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers -
Here’s an evergreen issue that was just brought to my attention – United States v. Kevin A. Ring, 1:08-cr-00274, assigned to D.C. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle as part of the Jack Abramoff series of defendants: an obstruction charge based on Ring’s alleged lying to private counsel retained to conduct an internal investigation. (By the way: Ring has moved for Huvelle to recuse herself on the grounds that having taking 13 guilty pleas in this case and presided over it for five years has compromised her ability to remain impartial.)
Ring was, among other things, a Greenberg Traurig lobbyist along with Abramoff and seems to have been the point person in the lobbying team’s contact with several Hill offices, including that of former Rep. Istook of Oklahoma (through his now ex-chief of staff, John Albaugh, who faces a stiff prison sentence thanks to a guilty plea).
Ring was indicted on charges that he conspired to bribe public officials (18 USC 201, 18 USC 371), committed honest services wire fraud, and violated both 18 USC 1512(b)(3) and (c)(2). The first two sets of charges are alleged through a series of emails which purport to show Ring promising and delivering tickets to everything from Tim McGraw to the Redskins to the Wiggles (this appears to have been changed to a horse event, but anyway) in exchange for various nods to clients in transportation appropriations bills.
The obstruction charges are very interesting, especially for those who have followed the Computer Associates indictments (U.S. v. Kumar, U.S. v. Richards) and the El Paso Gas indictment (U.S. v. Singleton). In those previous three cases, the defendants were all charged with violating 1512(c)(2), which forbids corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding any official proceeding, or attempting to do so. In Kumar and Richards, the government alleged that the defendants had all but real knowledge that their (false) statements would be turned over to the government by the lawyers who had been hired to conduct CA’s internal investigation, thus suggesting but not stating outright that the private lawyers were mere conduits for information to the government. In Singleton, the nexus between the lawyers conducting El Paso’s investigation and the government – and therefore the conduit of information—was more tenuous; there was no reference in the indictment to any agreement by the company that statements and information would be turned over to the government as part of a formal or informal cooperation agreement, and the suggestion was that Singleton should have assumed as much.
Here are some very interesting observations, in light of this, about the Ring indictment: First, there is the most specific and clear allegation that I have seen so far that paints a real nexus between a private firm and the government. According to the indictment, Ring was SPECIFICALLY told that his statements would likely be turned over to DOJ and/or the U.S. Senate Committee that was investigating the matter. If this is true, kudos to the lawyers who were ethical enough to admit outright this development in the culture of internal investigations, and to inform employees accordingly. As a result, my guess is that this indictment will send fewer chills through the corporate bar than Singleton, in particular.
Second, the Kumar, Richards, and Singleton indictments did not employ 1512(b)(3), which is the only obstruction provision that specifically criminalizes using an intermediary to commit obstruction, and does not require an existing proceeding. Georgetown Law Professor Julie O’Sullivan observed that this may be because (c)(2) carries with it a massive 20 year maximum, and was therefore a bigger hammer.
O’Sullivan also observed, though, that in bringing indictments like these, DOJ risks killing the goose that laid the golden egg. DOJ is happy to reap the benefits of a culture of cooperation in which enforcement agents and the private corporate bar are partners in crime-fighting, but these benefits will diminish over time as indictments are brought that turn the private bar into de facto government agents. The use of 1512(b)(3) in addition to (c)(2) might make a difference – or it might have the same chilling effect.
Ring Indictment - Download ring_indictment.pdf