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Wilson denies wrongdoing with Abramoff associate

 Lawmaker’s office referenced in indictment of ‘rogue lobbyist’

Steve Terrell | The New Mexican

9/9/2008 – 9/10/08

U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson on Tuesday denied any wrongdoing related to a “rogue lobbyist,” who was a former Jack Abramoff associate.

Former lobbyist Kevin Ring was arrested and indicted this week on charges of conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice in connection with an alleged four-year scheme to give expensive gifts, tickets and trips to government officials in return for helping his clients.

Though not named in the indictment, a statement from Wilson on Tuesday acknowledges it’s her office referenced in the indictment, which includes e-mails relating to Sandia Pueblo, which hired Abramoff’s Greenberg Traurig lobbying firm in 2002 to help settle a land dispute with the federal government.

“I was completely unaware until today of any former staffer’s early 2003 e-mails — which appear to have been sent after Congress passed the final legislation on the Sandia Land Claim on February 13, 2003,” Wilson said in her statement. “I have not been contacted by the Department of Justice about this matter at any time.”

Wilson was defeated by Rep. Steve Pearce in the Republican primary for an open U.S. Senate seat. She since has emerged as a visible surrogate for GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

The indictment, as reported first in the blog TPM Muckraker, quotes several e-mails from a co-worker of Ring, one of which is to a congressional staffer, apparently Wilson’s. The lobbyist thanks the staffer for “hanging out” with tribal officials and says the staffer should be set to attend a Los Angeles Clippers basketball game.

Wilson in her statement didn’t identify the former staffer.

Another e-mail, forwarded by a Greenberg Traurig lobbyist the staffer, asked the lobbyist, “How did Kevin’ s meetings with the (New Mexico tribe) go? If you guys lose that contract I would be disappointed.”

Greenberg Traurig lobbyists also talk among themselves about the New Mexico representative. “I’m going to kill (the New Mexico tribe) with (its U.S. representative) if we don’t get hired,” one lobbyist said in an e-mail to Ring.

Another e-mail said the congressional staffer “is going to be in the meeting with (the New Mexico tribe) when they come to town. He’s going to give the ‘Are you guys staying with (Firm B) this cycle? They did a great job on . . . legislation . . . and really cleared the path for you guys . . . yadda yadda.’ He’s gonna gather as much intel as possible for us.”

Of those e-mails among the lobbyists, Wilson said in her statement, “regarding the March 2003 e-mails between two rogue lobbyists concerning whether they would continue to be retained by the Pueblo, I am not sure whether to be amused or offended that they were operating under the delusion that I would help them retain their contract, or that losing their contract would hurt the Pueblo’s long-standing relationship with me. As my constituents, I represent the Pueblo regardless of who they hire to represent them. At no time did I take any action on behalf of Greenberg Traurig with Sandia Pueblo.”

“We have very strict rules in our office on gifts — including tickets to events,” Wilson said. “We train our staff about House ethics rules and we enforce those rules up to and including dismissal.

“Mr. Kevin Ring hosted a fundraising lunch at Signatures Restaurant to benefit my campaign for re-election in May 2003 and contributed $1,000 to my campaign on June 2, 2003,” Wilson said. “When we discovered that Mr. Ring had not submitted a bill for the cost of the fundraiser to my fundraising consultant, our consultant sought to pay the bill and, when unsuccessful because the restaurant was no longer in business, my campaign made an equivalent contribution to charity as required by Federal Election Commission (FEC) rules.”

Wilson, following Abramoff’s guilty plead in January 2006, announced she would donate a $1,000 from Abramoff to the Boy Scouts of America. The Abramoff donation was an issue raised by Democrats in Wilson’s close 2006 re-election bid.

Abramoff was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in the extensive influence-peddling scheme. He agreed to cooperate with federal investigators.

Ring was indicted Monday on 10 federal corruption charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sandia is one of six tribes that paid Abramoff and his associates tens of millions of dollars to lobby on their behalf. Sandia paid $2.75 million to Abramoff his partner, Michael Scanlon, a one-time aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

The indictment details how Sandia Pueblo hired two Washington, D.C., lobbying firms, including Capitol Campaign Strategies LLC, to help it with a land dispute. Eventually, Congress passed legislation that created the T’uf Bien Preservation Trust Area for the pueblo on most of the west face of the Sandia Mountains.

The indictment accuses Ring of obstructing justice by trying to thwart a grand jury and congressional investigation, of lying about getting an alleged $135,000 kickback, and of engaging in a scheme to deprive citizens of the “honest services” of their elected officials.

The kickback was a result of Ring’s work to obtain a contract for Capitol Campaign Strategies with Sandia Pueblo for $2.75 million, according to the indictment. The New Mexico tribe never knew that 5 percent of its fee allegedly was paid to Ring, the indictment said.

Sandia Pueblo did not immediately return a phone message left Tuesday after business hours.

The most serious charges against Ring, involving six counts of wire fraud, carry a possible prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Ring’s indictment was the latest development in the long-running Abramoff investigation, which has netted 13 guilty pleas from former lobbyists and government officials.

The Associate Press contributed information to this report.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com.


Paul Weyrich

Richard Viguerie on Paul Weyrich: America’s Most Unsung Conservative Hero

Written by Richard Viguerie on 2008-12-18T13:56:04+00:00

Richard A. Viguerie, Chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, issued the following statement regarding the death of Paul Weyrich:

“Today, Paul Weyrich, a giant in American politics and public policy has died.

“Weyrich, along with Barry Goldwater, Bill Buckley, and Ronald Reagan, were the four people most responsible for the launching and the success of the conservative movement.

“Without Paul’s strategic brilliance, his determination, his character, and his leadership, many conservatives’ political, legislation, and public policy victories would have been lost.

“Through Paul’s mentoring and encouragement, thousands of conservatives became active in politics.

“Before Paul, there was no one who played his role and there is no one who can replace Paul.

“Paul Weyrich leaves a leadership vacuum that conservatives will greatly miss as we wander through the political wilderness in the Obama era.

“All who love freedom are deeply in Paul Weyrich’s debt.”