Monday, January 23, 2006

Journal-Gazette & Star Pick Up on B&T's Abramoff Connection

The Ft. Wayne Journal-Gazette and the Indianapolis Star belatedly run stories on Barnes & Thornburg's ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The firm's Washington office hired three former members of Team Abramoff, Neil Volz, Kevin Ring and Edward Ayoob as lobbyists. The firm accepted the resignation of Neil Volz just three days after Abramoff's annonced indictment and plea agreement with the government.

Advance Indiana first reported on the firm's employment of lobbyists linked to Jack Abramoff on January 3. Last week, we reported that the firm had accepted the resignation of Volz, who served as Rep. Bob Ney's former Chief of Staff and who has been told by investigators that he may be indicted on bribery-related charges along with Rep. Ney and others. Indiana Daily Insight and the Indiana Law Blog also reported on Volz's resignation.

The Star and Journal-Gazette stories back up our January 3 report that B&T's D.C. lobbying arm "got greedy and wanted to get a piece of the Indian gaming business" and "brought [Ring and Volz] on board because of their extensive portfolios in this area." The Journal-Gazette reports:

Before hiring Volz, Ring and Ayoob, Barnes & Thornburg’s lobbying practice was a small operation – one or two lobbyists with modest revenues. But when the three lobbyists joined Barnes & Thornburg, the Hoosier firm’s lobbying revenues tripled. According to reports the firm filed with the Senate, it received $1.2 million in lobbying fees for the first half of 2005, the most recent reports filed. During the same time in 2004, Barnes & Thornburg’s lobbying arm took in $400,000. A major jump in the firm’s lobbying income was because of the clients that Volz and Ring brought with them, particularly a wealthy Indian tribe. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, for instance, paid Barnes & Thornburg $200,000 for three months of work last year.

As the stories note, the firm still employs Ring and Ayoob. In the case of Ring, he refused to testify before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that he had accepted fees in violation of his law firm's policies. The Journal-Gazette writes:

At a hearing before the Indian Affairs Committee last June, Ring refused to answer any questions about money he accepted from Michael Scanlon, a former Abramoff associate who has pleaded guilty to bribery. Each time Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., asked him questions about the money, Ring invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

According to the reports, none of the parties involved are doing much talking these days. Ring told the Journal-Gazette that he could not discuss the situation. “Given all that’s gone on, I’m not in a position where I can go on the record,” he said Friday evening. Volz did not return a phone message the paper reports.

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