BRADLEY, Mich. -- The chairman of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of
Pottawatomi Indians said he hoped that former super-lobbyist Jack
Abramoff's agreement to cooperate with federal investigators in a
wide-ranging influence peddling scandal will lead to "truth and justice" in
uncovering the events that have stymied his tribe's casino project in
Abramoff, a former top Republican lobbyist, fund-raiser and power broker,
pleaded guilty Jan. 3 to federal charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and
mail fraud in a year-and-a-half-long corruption investigation. Abramoff and
his former partner Michael Scanlon are accused of defrauding six tribes of
more than $80 million from 2001 to 2004.
The ongoing probe promises to ensnare dozens of congressmen and
decision-makers in federal departments and agencies who received money and
gifts from Abramoff in exchange for legislation and rulings favoring his
"We hope that Abramoff's plea agreement will finally shed some light on the
activities surrounding the 14-month delay of our land-into-trust process at
the Department of the Interior. At this point, the tribe has not received a
logical explanation for this unprecedented delay," said Tribal Chairman
D.K. Sprague in a news release a day after Abramoff entered his guilty
pleas in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The 300-member Mash-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band, known as the Gun Lake Tribe,
was federally acknowledged in 1999. The tribe submitted an application to
Interior to take 147 acres of land into trust for the development of a
casino and entertainment complex in Wayland Township.
The application was given preliminary approval with a "Finding of No
Significant Impact" document in February 2004 following the Environmental
Assessment. "The normal bureaucratic timeline is once the FONSI is issued,
the federal government quickly takes the final action of accepting the
tribe's land into trust and publishing the notice in the Federal Register,"
The application, which normally would have received official approval from
the secretary of the Interior within weeks, instead lay dormant for 14
The 14-month delay in processing the Gun Lake Tribe's land into trust "has
cost the tribe and west Michigan millions of dollars in income that will
never be recovered. It has delayed the creation of thousands of good-paying
jobs that would have provided a living for scores of unemployed people. Our
tribal members and the people of west Michigan deserve to know who was
responsible for this injustice," Sprague said.
The tribe estimates that its proposed casino will create 1,800 direct jobs
with an average annual compensation package of $40,000, 3,100 indirect
jobs, and more than $20 million per year in purchases of goods and services
from west Michigan businesses.
What came to light during the federal taskforce investigation and a
parallel Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation was that Abramoff
sought to block the Gun Lake casino because he believed it would threaten
the market share of the nearby Soaring Eagle Casino operated by his
clients, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe.
A former tribal council of the Saginaw Chippewa paid Abramoff and Scanlon
more than $14 million to prevent the development of competing Indian
casinos in Michigan, including the Gun Lake Tribe's proposed project,
according to the investigations.
Abramoff worked through Italia Federici, president of the Council of
Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that
promotes a pro-business approach to environmental legislation. CREA was
founded in the 1990s by conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and
current Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
Federici was a go-between for Abramoff, exploiting her friendship with
top-level Interior officials, including former Deputy Secretary Stephen
Griles, who left the department in January 2005 after being investigated by
the department's inspector general in a separate ethics probe.
The investigations also uncovered communications between Abramoff and Rep.
Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., that document Hoekstra's efforts to extend the
comment period of the tribe's application.
"Interestingly, no official comments were submitted during the approved
extension of the comment period, indicating that the efforts of Hoekstra
and Abramoff were solely aimed at delaying the Gun Lake project," Sprague
Hoekstra was one of dozens of elected officials who received campaign
contributions from Abramoff's former lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig. The
tribe is calling on Hoekstra to return the money or donate it to charity.
The tribe's land-into-trust application received final approval in May
2005. Almost immediately following the approval, an anti-Indian casino
group called Michigan Gambling Opposition filed a lawsuit challenging
Interior's approval. The lawsuit is pending in federal district court.