Federal officials rush to shed ties to disgraced lobbyist
WASHINGTON -- The man at the center of a massive federal corruption
investigation that involves defrauding Indian tribes of tens of millions of
dollars has pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion
and mail fraud.
Jack Abramoff, 47, a former Republican "uber-lobbyist" and fund-raiser,
agreed on Jan. 3 to cooperate with federal prosecutors in an ongoing
influence-peddling probe that is sending shudders through the halls of
Dozens of public officials of both parties allegedly have been on the
receiving end of Abramoff's largesse in the form of campaign contributions,
gifts, free meals, tickets to sporting events and lavish trips abroad in a
quid pro quo exchange for official decisions favorable to his clients.
As the federal investigation moved closer to an indictment in recent
months, several officials have scrambled to return campaign donations they
received from Abramoff in an attempt to distance themselves from him.
Abramoff's plea agreement will guarantee his testimony against those
members of Congress and their aides who jiggled the law and official
decisions in exchange for favors from Abramoff or his clients.
In an appearance in Washington U.S. District Court Jan. 3, Abramoff pleaded
guilty to each of the three charges read by U.S. District Judge Ellen
Huvelle, and expressed remorse for his action.
"Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret
for all my actions and mistakes. I hope I can merit forgiveness from the
Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer," Abramoff said.
Abramoff faces 30 years in prison, a sentence that will likely be reduced
to around 10 years or less because of his plea-bargain agreement to
cooperate in the ongoing criminal investigation, Justice Department
Additionally, Abramoff will be required to pay $26 million in restitution
and $1.7 million in back taxes.
Abramoff's plead comes just over a month after his former partner, Michael
Scanlon, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to corrupt political
officials and defraud Indian tribes. Scanlon agreed in November to
cooperate with a federal task force in its investigation of Abramoff.
The two men are accused of bilking six American Indian tribes out of more
than $82 million between 2001 and 2004, and skimming two-thirds off the top
Scanlon is a one-time press secretary to former House Majority Leader Tom
DeLay who faces felony charges in Texas involving illegal campaign
donations. E-mails released during a Senate Indian Affairs Committee
investigation of the Abramoff scandal connect DeLay to Abramoff through a
lavish golfing trip to Scotland, meals at Abramoff's Washington restaurant
Signatures, and campaign contributions of at least $57,000 from Abramoff
and his tribal clients.
Recently released court documents detail a scam in which Abramoff or others
would convince his tribal clients to hire Scanlon's company, Capital
Campaign Strategies, at enormously inflated fees to perform public
relations work. Scanlon would then kick back half of the fees to Abramoff.
The money would be concealed from the clients and from regulatory and tax
authorities by being funneled through nonprofit organizations that Abramoff
The Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, for example, paid Scanlon "and related
entities" more than $30 million. About half of the profit -- approximately
$11.5 million -- was kicked back to Abramoff, the documents say.
Jimmy Faircloth, a Coushatta attorney, said the tribe was "outraged" at
being victimized by Abramoff and was "very satisfied" with his current
"The tribe believed Abramoff had the secret handshake to Washington and
they followed him down that path," Faircloth said.
The court papers also trace bribery and fraud activities involving public
officials. One of the officials, referred to as "Representative #1," has
been identified as U.S. Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, who took a 2002 golfing
trip to Scotland with Abramoff and others, and who placed two speeches into
the Congressional Record in support of Abramoff's efforts to obtain and
operate Sun Cruz Casino lines.
Last August, Abramoff and another former partner, Adam Kidan, were indicted
in Florida on conspiracy and wire fraud charges in connection with their
purchase of the Sun Cruz Casino fleet for $147.5 million from a Miami
businessman, who was later found murdered in a gangland-type slaying near
his Ft. Lauderdale home.
In a plea-bargain arrangement in early December, Kidan agreed to testify
against Abramoff. The case was due to go to trial on Jan. 9, but may be
rescheduled because of Abramoff's plea.
Abramoff's kickback schemes were not limited to congressional activities,
however. Doug Bandow, a columnist of the San Diego-based Copley News
Service and a senior scholar at the Cato Institute, resigned in
mid-December after revelations that he took around $24,000 from Abramoff in
exchange for writing columns favorable to his clients, including the
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.