Ex-Doolittle chief staffer pleads for Ring sentencing leniency

But Justice Department claims David Lopez too caught up in Abramoff web of corruption to be credible
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Former Rep. John Doolittle’s chief of staff says he’s proud to call Kevin Ring a friend, helped him deal with an alcohol problem, and the Ring he knew wasn’t the one portrayed at trial. Ring, a Doolittle staff member who went on to work for lobbyist Jack Abramoff, is facing a 5-year sentence in federal prison after being convicted of bribing public officials. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 26. “The Kevin Ring I know does not comport with the Kevin Ring portrayed in the media or, I am afraid, the one portrayed during his trial,” David Lopez said. But prosecutors say Lopez shouldn’t be taken seriously because he didn’t testify for his friend at trial. Instead, they suggest in pre-sentencing documents that he too was linked to the Abramoff scandal. Lopez, who served as Doolittle chief of staff from the late 1990s to 2005, wrote a letter to U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in advance of sentencing. He describes Ring as “genuine, good-natured and principled.” “In hindsight, Abramoff proved to be a horrible mentor for an idealistic young man like Kevin, just beginning his career as a client advocate,” Lopez said. “I believe Kevin knows this – and I saw Kevin struggle against those excesses over the years he worked for Mr. Abramoff.” In a separate memorandum that will be part of the record during sentencing, Justice Department prosecutors bring up what they say was evidence at trial that establishes Lopez as a less-than-innocent target in Ring’s effort to “spike the steady provision of things of value with high-priced items.” Prosecutors said that included an effort by Ring to secure a free Caribbean trip for Lopez and Doolittle, the long-time congressman for Placer County’s District 4. Doolittle chose not to run for re-election in 2008 and now works as a lobbyist in Washington. The Justice Department memorandum cites an e-mail exchange between Ring and Abramoff discussing the free trip, quoting Ring as stating “I don’t think they want to have too many scheduled visits or activities.” “They don’t need to have any scheduled activities,” Abramoff was quoted as responding. Neither Doolittle nor Lopez were indicted on corruption charges. Doolittle, in a separate letter also obtained by the Journal, is asking Segal Hubell to impose no prison time on Ring. Lopez makes no recommendation, other than to ask the judge to “consider the total effect this case has on Kevin and his family; his life is already changed forever.” Lopez describes in a four-page letter how his friendship with Ring grew over the years. That included buying gifts for Ring and his wife on the birth of both their daughters. Lopez said he fondly recalled Ring buying a new Bob Dylan CD for his disabled brother, who was a big fan of the singer-songwriter. “Perhaps no day better exemplifies our relationship – and few days meant more to me – than the day I received a call from Kevin at my home in California, telling me that he had a problem with alcohol and that, aside from his wife, I was the only other person he had shared this personal battle with,” Lopez said. “And he said ‘I know you will pray for me.’” Prosecutors object to letter Prosecutors singled out Lopez’ letter as one they object to, “because(he) appears to be denying any corrupt conduct occurred, describing Ring’s ‘honesty’ and other positive virtues.” Statements by Doolittle and Lopez are “entirely disingenuous” because they are inconsistent with evidence and aren’t subject to cross-examination, the Justice Department memorandum states. Addressing tickets obtained from the Abramoff firm for a Washington Capitals hockey game, Lopez said “on occasion I did venture out to an evening event with Kevin – and I believe, over 15 years, I could count those times on no more than two hands.” “It surely was not because I considered watching a hockey game some ‘prize’ as others might,” Ring said. “Anyone who knows me would know the last way I would enjoy spending an evening was at an athletic event. My purpose was to spend time, enjoying the company of my friend.” The Justice Department said Lopez could have chosen to testify during Ring’s trials “and stated unequivocally that he was not corrupted by Ring.” “Lopez also was involved in other questionable activities that would undoubtedly have put his own credibility into question, such as suspect relationships with other lobbyists, significant ‘gifts’, like household appliances, to Lopez from Congressman Doolittle paid for by campaign expenses, or thousands of dollars of ‘consulting fees’ paid to Lopez from Congressman Doolittle’s campaign funds,” the prosecution memorandum stated. Lopez’ letter portrays Ring as an effective advocate whose relationships ran deep with employees in the Doolittle office but didn’t cross the legal line. “Like any effective lobbyist, Kevin built relationships with members of Congress and their staff and I did not ever witness him abuse those relationships,” Lopez said. “He knew when to ask for support from an office – and, importantly, I believe he also knew when asking for help on a particular issue, was not appropriate, would not be well-received, or violated long-held principles of the member.”