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

Friday, September 02, 2005

ICT [2005/09/02]��Interior official implicated in Abramoff dealings

Posted: September 02, 2005
by: Gale Courey Toensing / Indian Country Today

WASHINGTON - A federal task force is investigating indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's claims that he offered a job to a deputy secretary of the Interior Department who had promised to stop an Indian casino that would compete with one of the lobbyist's tribal clients.

Abramoff sent e-mails in 2002 to Italia Federici, the head of a Washington conservative group, urging her to convince her friend J. Steven Griles, then the Interior deputy secretary, to stop the Gun Lake Tribe of Pottawatomi Indians' plans to open a casino near Grand Rapids, Mich., according to a report in The Washington Post.

Abramoff claimed that Griles was ''committed'' to blocking the Gun Lake tribe's casino efforts.

He later told two associates that he was trying to hire Griles to work for his firm, Greenberg Traurig, LLP. The associates spoke on condition of anonymity because they are being investigated, the Post reported.

The task force is determining whether conflict of interest laws were violated. Government officials in decision-making positions are prohibiting from considering job offers from potential employers who may be impacted by the officials' decisions.

The Gun Lake casino was given the go-ahead by Interior in May after months of unexpected delays.

Tribal Chairman D.K. Sprague has called for a ''thorough investigation of these serious allegations. We have been denied our federal rights, economic self-sufficiency and jobs that will benefit our community,'' Sprague said.

The Gun Lake tribe, officially called the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawtomi Indians of Michigan, is financed by Station Casinos, a Las Vegas-based publicly traded gaming company.

Griles left Interior in January of this year to form a consulting firm. A representative at Griles' company said ''he never had anything to do with the Gun Lake casino issues,'' the Post said.

Abramoff's representatives declined to comment.

The Interior public affairs spokesman who is handling with the Abramoff issue was ''on travel'' and could not be reached for comment by press time.

Abramoff is a GOP lobbyist and major fund raiser once described by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as one of his ''dearest friends.''

The conflict-of-interest investigation is the latest strand in an ever-widening web of intrigue involving investigations of Abramoff's activities as a lobbyist for Indian tribes for which he and his public relations executive, Michael Scanlon, were paid $82 million. Abramoff and Scanlon were indicted Aug. 11 on federal wire fraud and conspiracy charges on allegations they defrauded two lenders out of $60 million in a casino boat deal with a man who was later found shot to death in a gangland-type slaying near his Fort Lauderdale, Fla. home. The murder remains unsolved.

According to the new report, Abramoff sought to block the Gun Lake casino because it would siphon off business from the nearby Soaring Eagle Casino operated by his clients, the Saginaw Chippewas.

On Dec. 4, 2002, Abramoff received an e-mail from Saginaw Chippewa representative Chris Petras, saying Interior approval of the Gun Lake casino was expected soon, following approval of the tribe's Environmental Impact Statement.

''This is a disaster in the making,'' Abramoff said in an e-mail sent the same day to Federici.

''This is the casino we discussed with Steve and he said that it would not happen. It seems to be happening! The way to stop it is for Interior to say they are not satisfied with the environmental impact report. Can you get him to stop this one ASAP? They are moving fast. Thanks Italia. This is a direct assault on our guys, Saginaw Chippewa.''

''I will call him asap,'' Federici responded.

Federici, the head of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, met with Griles in his office two days later, according to a copy of Griles' schedule released to the Post under a Freedom of Information request.

According to the Post, the CREA was founded in the 1990s by conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and current Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Abramoff directed his tribal clients to donate $225,000 to CREA from 2001 to 2003, the Post said.

In a Dec. 12, 2002, e-mail, Abramoff told Petras that Federici's meeting with Griles ''went well. We have a lot to do but we'll get there.''

Scanlon suggested other ways to derail the Gun Lake casino proposal.

''Hey, I think a real quick way to blow this Gun Lake thing out of the water is to have BIA reject the land into trust, or lay some stipulation on their application that would buy us some time. Any words from Griles on this?'' Scanlon wrote to Abramoff on Dec. 16.

''I thought the way to do this is to have them reject the EIS, which I believe Griles has committed to do,'' Abramoff wrote back.

In mid-July 2003, the Department of Justice's Indian law section raised concerns about the Gun Lake proposal and asked for an EIS.

The Justice department's task force, which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service, is investigating that decision, according to the Post report.

Abramoff and Griles allegedly worked together in late 2003 to stop another casino proposal - this one by the Jena Band of Choctaws in Louisiana, the Post said.

The Jena are rivals of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, another Abramoff client.

Griles, who was not usually involved in Indian issues, brought a binder of legal arguments and congressional letters of opposition to the Jena casino proposal to Interior officials last March, sparking a clash with some department officials, the Post said.

Interior approved the Gun Lake tribe's casino plans in May, but the decision was appealed by the Michigan Gaming Opposition, a group backed by Grand Rapids business interests.

Gun Lake has filed as interveners in the pending lawsuit in order to be at the table and present its side of the story, Jim Nye, a tribal spokesman, said Aug. 31.

''It's a tale of greed; and also a tale of what that does to tribes when they forget about the inter-tribal connections and relationships and the traditional ways, and it all becomes all about the money,'' Nye said.


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