Prior to the the current boom, much of far eastern Montana was not bothered with by Washington D.C.. Critical projects such as flood plain mitigation in Dawson County were rebuffed and mostly rancher-run county commissions reported feeling somewhat powerless against the will of Washington. Two projects, however, were funded and have more recently been identified as being power players in allowing the region to have the capacity for the current boom. One, Highway 323 in Carter County, allows better trucking of supplies from the east and south and the other, the Dry Prairie Rural Water Authority in northeastern Montana, allows for increased capacity of residents migrating to the Mondak region because of the energy rush. Both projects were funded and completed after each jurisdiction hired a Washington lobbyist to get the attention of Washington lawmakers after other efforts failed. The two projects used the same lobbyist, Kevin Ring, who says he did what everyone else in Washington did – gave away high priced dinners and tickets to entertainment in order to get the attention of public officials with pull.
Ring was sentenced on Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle to nearly two years in prison. Ring says he did not break any laws and noted “I found a ridiculous system full of gray areas.” Ring was initially hired in 2000 for the water project in northeastern Montana because he had previously worked for California Representative John Doolittle who had chaired a committee in charge of funding water systems. Among the charges Ring was found guilty of arranging a high paying faux job for Doolittle’s wife. He was also found guilty of taking aides to John Ashcroft and Earnest Istook to Disney on Ice and The Wiggles as well as other concerts.
Judge 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, he is out on bond during that time period. The Justice Department asked for up to 22 years prison time which was rejected by the judge and she commented that the request confirmed Ring’s argument that he is facing retaliation for going to trial rather than pleading out his case. Twenty other defendants with similar crimes received little or no prison time. Three large cases involving millions of dollars (Abramoff, Scanlon and Ney cases) negotiated plea bargains. Their sentences were on par with Ring’s. Abramoff got 48 months, Ney 30 months and Scanlon, like Ring, also was sentenced to 20 months.
Prosecutor Nathaniel Edmonds said Ring’s crimes diverted millions in public money and made the public wary of government. Judge Huvelle retorted that other, larger factors caused that, referenced campaign contributions and indicated those who chose to accept such gifts had an element of resonsiblity.