News and articles relating to the scandal surrounding Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

No More Free Lunch for this Jack


Did controversial super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff create a popular Washington restaurant just to make friends and influence people? Signatures, his gourmet trattoria on Pennsylvania Avenue, was renowned as a high-class feeding trough for politicians. Indeed, as Capitol Hill circulates a purported comp list from Signatures that includes eight Congressmen, TIME has obtained an e-mail showing that Abramoff offered a complimentary meal to a longtime ally who, like him, is in a lot of ethical hot water these days. His message, headed "Tom and Christine DeLay" and addressed to restaurant staff, is dated May 2, 2002, when Tom was House majority whip, and requests that a table be set for six and the meal "comped."

"We can find no record that this meal took place," a DeLay representative told TIME. "All restaurants comp patrons, and Signatures is no different," says a spokesman for Abramoff. Reps for both men note that House rules allow old friends to pick up dinner tabs. Confidential financial records examined by TIME show that Abramoff's eatery gave out meals worth only about 7% of its revenues--just above the national average of about 5%. But because his lobbying drew FBI and congressional scrutiny earlier this year, patrons have stayed away. As a result, restaurant-industry sources tell TIME, Abramoff is close to inking a deal to sell his once profitable restaurant to--surprise!--more Washington bigwigs.

Copyright © 2005 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

Reed is linked to a casino donation

Christian body says step didn't violate policy
By Michael Kranish, Globe Staff | July 6, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition's former national director and a political candidate in Georgia, has acknowledged that he helped the coalition's Alabama chapter receive an $850,000 contribution from an Indian tribe that operates casinos in Mississippi -- funneled through a Washington interest group -- to fight gambling initiatives in neighboring Alabama, according to an internal coalition report.

An investigation by the Alabama Christian Coalition, however, concluded that the contribution it had received from the Choctaw Tribe of Mississippi had not violated its own ban on accepting money ''directly or indirectly" from organizations with ties to gambling, the report found.

But Reed's role has become part of a federal investigation into Jack Abramoff, an influential Washington lobbyist, and his relationship with other tribes who had paid him to represent them on Capitol Hill.

The Choctaw, apparently worried about possible competition, gave the money to Americans for Tax Reform, one of Washington's most influential interest groups. That group then sent the money to the Alabama Christian Coalition to fight the pro-gambling proposals in Alabama in 1999.

At the time, Reed assured the Alabama Christian Coalition that the money had not come from gambling, according to the coalition. Reed now says he regrets not informing the chapter about the source of the funds.

''On reflection, and in abundance of caution, I should have further explained that the contributions came from the Choctaw," Reed said in a letter dated June 29 that was posted on the coalition's website on Friday. ''This has caused difficulty for the Alabama Christian Coalition, an outstanding organization dedicated to stronger families, which I deeply regret."

Reed has said that the money had not come from the tribe's gambling interests, and thus that the move was consistent with his anti-gambling beliefs. But Reed's critics said the main point was that casino gambling is among the Choctaw's main sources of revenue.

Reed's acknowledgment has become an issue in his campaign for Georgia lieutenant governor, and the federal government is examining Abramoff's work on behalf of the Choctaw and other tribes to check allegations that he had cheated them.

The tribes, which had gambling interests, paid Abramoff millions of dollars in lobbying fees; Abramoff, in turn, hired Reed as a subcontractor. Reed's letter also focuses attention on the way Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, runs his organization.

The Alabama Christian Coalition has a policy against accepting money, directly or indirectly, from gambling interests. In May, when The Boston Globe reported that the $850,000 donation had come from an Indian tribe with gambling interests, the coalition launched an investigation.

That inquiry, completed on June 29, includes Reed's acknowledgment that the money was received from the Choctaws. The internal report concluded that the Alabama Christian Coalition did not knowingly violate its policy, saying that the money came from the tribe's revenues outside of gambling.

James Bopp, the Alabama Christian Coalition lawyer who wrote the report, said he did not know why Reed had not come clean about the source of the money: ''You'll have to ask him," Bopp said. ''He obviously regrets it."

Reed declined to comment, but a spokeswoman, Lisa Baron, said Reed was pleased with Bopp's conclusion that the Choctaw money had come from revenues outside of gaming. But Reed has drawn some harsh criticism for taking the money from a tribe that runs casinos.

A former Alabama governor, Don Siegelman, who had advocated a lottery to improve education funding, ridiculed the Alabama Christian Coalition for clearing itself of violating its own policy. There were also legislative proposals for video poker and other forms of gambling at the time, all opposed by the Alabama Christian Coalition.

The internal report said the coalition's ban on gambling money ''does not prohibit the acceptance of non-gambling-derived money from groups who also have gambling income."

Siegelman said the branch of the Choctaw tribe that contributed the money made no difference. ''How can a lawyer say that [the coalition] didn't violate its own prohibition against taking money from gaming interests 'either directly or indirectly' when that is exactly what they did!" Siegelman wrote in an e-mail interview.

Johnston said he was ''shocked" that Reed had received money from the Choctaws. Citizens for Legalized Lottery no longer exists, and Johnston has not conducted an investigation of the source of the funds, although it appears to have also come from the Choctaws.

A spokeswoman for the Choctaw did not provide an immediate response.

Michael Kranish can be reached at

© Copyright 2005 Globe Newspaper Company

Choctaw Cash

A U.S. Senate investigation reveals new details on Jack Abramoff's Seattle ties.

by Rick Anderson (Seattle Weekly)

A stream of political money currently under U.S. Senate investigation quietly meandered south from D.C. in 1999–2000, but its headwaters turn out to have been in Seattle. A $121,000 expenditure—the initial funds used for a deceptive Deep South antigambling campaign run by religious right leader Ralph Reed—was authorized by top officers at Seattle's Preston Gates Ellis law and lobbying firm, for whom Reed worked as a subcontractor, according to new Senate documents. Eventually, as much as $1.3 million— apparently supplied by an Indian casino client—may have gushed through Preston Gates accounts in one month to kick start the campaign. That campaign and other Reed-managed antigambling drives are now part of a U.S. probe into the allegedly fraudulent practices of former Preston Gates D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who arranged the secret money flow, investigators say. Documents indicate Abramoff, during and after his Preston Gates years, steered more than $4 million in tribal gaming money to gambling foe Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition.

The effect was to wash the money, disguising gambling funds as antigambling support. On behalf of the Choctaw Indian tribe of Mississippi and other tribal clients of Abramoff, Reed drummed up support against proposed state lotteries and rival Indian casinos that would compete with existing tribal gambling operations.

Documents, including billings and e-mails subpoenaed or turned over to a Senate committee that is reviewing Abramoff's and Preston Gates' conduct, show that a onetime Preston Gates client, the Choctaw tribe, supplied much of Reed's antigambling money through the back channel. He ran campaigns first in Alabama, then Texas and other states from 1999 through 2003. Some funds initially passed through Preston Gates' accounts and then took other indirect routes, including a winding trip through the coffers of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), headed by Bush administration confidant Grover Norquist, then on to antigambling groups that turned the checks over to Reed. Norquist has publicly confirmed that the ATR pass-through plan was arranged by Abramoff.

In an April 1999 e-mail that signals the beginning of the antigambling campaigns, Abramoff wrote to Reed: "Ralph, I spoke with our [Preston Gates] managing partner and he has approved the subcontractor arrangement, but does not want the firm to be out big bucks on this, even as a cash flow, for long. So, it would be really helpful if you could get me invoices [on proposed campaign costs] as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks ASAP . . . " (Reed earlier requested the startup money be "fronted" to him). A few days later, an e-mail from the Seattle headquarters to its D.C. offices said: "We have been requested to pay a $121,000 invoice [to Reed] on behalf of the Choctaw Indians. . . . [Name deleted] has approved this unusually large disbursement."

A subsequent 1999 Preston Gates e-mail, responding to Abramoff's request to know how much "we" have sent Reed, shows $1.3 million was sent from April through May 6 that year. Preston Gates last week would not explain the expenditures or say how much tribal money may have passed through its accounts to subcontractor Reed. "The firm is unable to discuss the work it performed on behalf of clients," said D.C. managing partner Jonathan Blank.

Congress and the Justice Department are reviewing as much as $82 million in fees paid by six Indian tribes to Abramoff and another former Preston Gates lobbyist-turned-consultant Mike Scanlon using a scheme Scanlon dubbed "Gimme Five," which kicked back inflated fees to pal Abramoff. Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., said the scam included, for example, a fabricated $1 million invoice Abramoff sent the Choctaw from Scanlon's consulting company. Abramoff split some proceeds with Scanlon and kept a portion for his own private charity. The story of Gimme Five, McCain said, is about "more than contempt, even more than greed. It is simply and sadly a tale of betrayal."


Charity Case

New Senate documents show Seattle radio host Rabbi Daniel Lapin was more than just a friend and fellow religious conservative to embattled D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff (see: "Meet the Lapin Brothers," May 11). Lapin was also on the payroll of Abramoff's D.C. charity, Capital Athletic Foundation. According to Abramoff's e-mails, CAF was sometimes used as a money conduit to avoid paying higher income taxes.

At one point, the e-mails state, Abramoff proposed using Lapin and another person on CAF's payroll to create a "research" project as a tax write-off, but Abramoff's accountant worried the IRS would see it as a "sham transaction," and the idea was apparently dropped. Abramoff also proposed using Lapin's Mercer Island charity, Toward Tradition, as an apparent money pass-through to help fund Ralph Reed's antigambling drives (see main story), then learned the charity didn't have the correct IRS status.

There is no indication Lapin, who would not comment last week, was aware of the schemes. Abramoff is a board member of Lapin's charity, and Lapin was one of four people who collectively earned $20,000 a month at Abramoff's D.C. charity, according to Senate documents.

Democrats Challenge GOP on Ethics

New Ads Target Six Republicans

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 6, 2005; A04

Democrats took their first formal step yesterday toward trying to nationalize next year's midterm House elections around the issue of ethics, buying ads in the local papers of six Republican lawmakers calling on them to "start working for us" instead of special interests.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending $36,000 on the ads -- a virtually meaningless sum, by itself -- but calls it the beginning of a campaign to fuel an anti-incumbent fever like the one that swept its party out in 1994.

"There's a question about the conduct and the culture that goes beyond the individuals," said Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the committee's chairman. "The speaker's gavel is supposed to open the people's house, not the auction house."

Even White House officials have begun to fret about the large number of senior Republicans being tied to questionable travel and relationships with lobbyists. On Friday, federal agents raided the San Diego area home of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, one of the ad targets. The search followed news reports that he had sold a house to a defense contractor, who immediately put it back up for sale and took a huge loss.

Republicans contend that Democrats are making the mistake the GOP did in 1998, when the party made its main message about President Bill Clinton instead of a positive agenda. Republicans say Democrats face numerous ethical issues of their own. Rep. Jack Kingston (Ga.), vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, asserted that Democrats are "stepping into their own Venus' flytrap."

The ads are customized for each district, with a large photo of a lawmaker accompanied by critical headlines. The one in the Fort Bend Sun, which circulates in the House majority leader's suburban Houston district, asks, "What's Happened to Tom DeLay?"

An ad in two Ohio papers singles out the House Administration Committee chairman by blaring: "Bob Ney's work in Congress is generating headlines . . . on his ties to lobbyists, his foreign trips, and his fight for Indian casinos."

Political consultants agree that a message needs to be repeated so that voters can absorb it. But Democrats have struggled to recruit candidates and hope the ads will help generate an aura of vulnerability around some GOP leaders.

Carl Forti, communications director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, called the ads "a waste of money." "Clearly, their intention is more to draw headlines inside the Beltway than to move votes," Forti said.

Shannon Flaherty, DeLay's spokeswoman, said Democrats are "relying on a strategy of smear tactics and personal attacks in a feeble attempt to win back seats."

The other targets are House Resources Committee Chairman Richard W. Pombo (Calif.), Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.) and Rep. Charles H. Taylor (N.C.).

Justice Department Is Asked to Widen Inquiry of Lobbyist

WASHINGTON, July 5 - Criminal investigators at the Justice Department have been asked by a House committee to consider broadening their corruption investigation of a Washington lobbyist whose ties to Tom DeLay, the House Republican leader, and other prominent lawmakers are the subject of inquiries throughout the government, Congressional officials disclosed on Tuesday.

The request about the investigation of the lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, was made in a letter last week to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales from the Republican chairman and the senior Democrat on the House Resources Committee.

The letter, dated June 30, cited a flurry of accusations of wrongdoing involving Mr. Abramoff's multimillion-dollar lobbying on behalf of the Northern Mariana Islands, a small American commonwealth in the Pacific, and said that "any allegations of criminal matters of this sort are best addressed to the Department of Justice."

The Justice Department has refused to discuss details of its investigation of Mr. Abramoff, which began more than a year ago. Congressional officials who are trying to monitor the investigation say that it has focused until now on accusations that Mr. Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes who paid him millions of dollars in lobbying fees on behalf of their gambling operations.

The Resources Committee request could suggest new scrutiny for Mr. DeLay, because he worked closely with Mr. Abramoff for years to block Washington from imposing the federal minimum wage on large clothing factories in the Northern Marianas. Human rights groups have long criticized the factories, which employ mostly migrant Asian workers.

On a trip to the islands with Mr. Abramoff in 1997, Mr. DeLay told a meeting of local officials that the lobbyist was among "my closest and dearest friends" and promised to continue to defend the islands' interests in Congress. Mr. Abramoff's billing records show that he frequently met with Mr. DeLay and his top aides to discuss the Northern Marianas. In a 2001 e-mail message to the islands' general counsel, Mr. Abramoff described Mr. DeLay as "our biggest supporter on Capitol Hill."

Mr. DeLay is facing other ethics accusations involving ties to Mr. Abramoff and has asked the House ethics committee to review the propriety of lavish trips to Britain and Russia that Mr. Abramoff organized for Mr. DeLay, his wife and his aides.

The letter, from Richard W. Pombo, the California Republican who is chairman of the Resources Committee, and Nick J. Rahall II of West Virginia, the panel's ranking Democrat, is the first known request by a Congressional committee for prosecutors to review accusations of criminal conduct in the lobbying activities of Mr. Abramoff, who was one of the most powerful and best-paid Republican lobbyists in Washington.

A copy of the letter was provided to The New York Times by the office of Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is a member of the Resources Committee and who has led efforts in Congress to try to improve labor conditions in the Northern Marianas.

Mr. Miller, who has been calling for months for the committee to investigate Mr. Abramoff and his lobbying for the islands, said in an interview that Mr. DeLay should be worried by the possibility of a criminal investigation of Mr. Abramoff's activities on behalf of the Northern Marianas.

"I wouldn't be comfortable if I were him," Mr. Miller said of Mr. DeLay. "Clearly we're talking about a close relationship with Abramoff." He said Mr. DeLay had been instrumental in blocking Congressional efforts to end labor abuses in the islands.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Bryan Sierra, said Tuesday that he was unaware of the committee's request but said that "whenever we receive a letter like this, it is forwarded to the appropriate entity at Justice." Lawyers for Mr. Abramoff said through a spokesman that they had no comment. A spokeswoman for Mr. DeLay had no immediate comment.


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