WASHINGTON (AP) - A former lobbyist who was a rising star under Jack Abramoff's tutelage was sentenced Wednesday to nearly two years in prison for giving public officials meals and event tickets.
Kevin Ring argued up until his emotional sentencing hearing that he was operating in a corrupt Washington environment controlled by people with money and that he did not break the law.
"I found a ridiculous system full of gray areas and I manipulated it," a sobbing Ring told the judge in asking her not to lock him up.
It was the first time he spoke in court after three years of prosecution, including two trials in which he decided not to testify. The courtroom was filled to capacity with his friends and family.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle said Ring's conduct was not nearly as egregious as ringleader Abramoff or some of the others involved in a scandal that resulted in stricter lobbying rules in Washington.
But the judge gave Ring a sentence of 20 months, one of the stiffest terms among the 21 defendants in the investigation. Most others involved cooperated with prosecutors and got plea deals that avoided prison.
Huvelle said she had to order prison "to respect the jury's verdict and promote respect for the law."
Ring has 14 days to appeal his conviction or sentence. Huvelle said he could remain free pending the outcome of any appeal.
Ring, a 41-year-old father of two from Kensington, Md., was convicted after two trials of five felony counts including conspiracy, payment of a gratuity and honest services wire fraud. The first jury couldn't agree on his guilt so he had a second trial that led to his conviction in November 2010.
Prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds asked the judge for four years imprisonment, saying a sentence without jail would invite future offenders. He said Ring's showering of gifts on public officials "is not business as usual in Washington - that is a crime."
The Justice Department initially suggested a 17-year to 22-year sentencing guidelines range for Ring. Huvelle rejected that and suggested it appeared to justify Ring's suggestion that he was being retaliated against for exercising his constitutional right to trial.
Most other figures in the scandal cooperated with investigators and pleaded guilty in deals that spared them jail time for similar conduct.
Ring claimed in a letter to the judge that prosecutors charged him in a 10-count indictment after he refused to accuse his former boss, ex-Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif., of being corrupted by his gifts.
"Saying these things would have been a flat-out lie," Ring said in a letter to the judge in which he maintained his innocence while admitting he made many mistakes in his lobbying career in acting "unethically or just cowardly or stupidly."
Prosecutors deny he was pressured to lie and say he was offered a plea deal to admit his guilt without being required to testify against Doolittle or anyone else.
"Unfortunately for Ring, 12 jurors decided beyond a reasonable doubt that Ring did have the intent to corrupt public officials, including Congressman Doolittle," the prosecutors wrote in a 39-page memo pushing for a prison term.
They said Ring's choice to submit a letter of support from Doolittle in which Doolittle said he was never corruptly influenced by Ring "is particularly egregious" because the former lawmaker was the recipient of his bribes and could have testified during the trial and been cross-examined.