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

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lobbyist's Role in Hiring Aides Is Investigated - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Dec. 1 - With a federal corruption case intensifying, prosecutors investigating Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist, are examining whether he brokered lucrative jobs for Congressional aides at powerful lobbying firms in exchange for legislative favors, people involved in the case have said.

The attention paid to how the aides obtained jobs occurs as Mr. Abramoff is under mounting pressure to cooperate with prosecutors as they consider a case against lawmakers. Participants in the case, who insisted on anonymity because the investigation is secret, said he could try to reach a deal in the next six weeks.

Many forces are bearing down on Mr. Abramoff. Last week, his closest business partner, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to conspiracy in exchange for cooperating in the inquiry, being run by an interagency group, into whether money and gifts were used in an influence-peddling scandal that involved lawmakers.

Despite charging Indian tribes that were clients tens of millions of dollars in lobbying fees, Mr. Abramoff has told friends that he is running out of money. In a new approach that could contribute to the pressures, prosecutors are sifting through evidence related to the hiring of several former Congressional aides by a lobbying firm, Greenberg Traurig, where Mr. Abramoff worked from 2000 to last year, according to people who know about the inquiry. That course could impel a new set of Mr. Abramoff's former associates to cooperate to avoid prosecution.

Investigators are said to be especially interested in how Tony C. Rudy, a former deputy chief of staff to Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, and Neil G. Volz, a former chief of staff to Representative BobNey of Ohio, obtained lobbying positions with big firms on K Street.

The hiring pattern is "very much a part of" what prosecutors are focusing on, a person involved in the case said. Another participant confirmed that investigators were trying to determine whether aides conducted "job negotiations with Jack Abramoff" while they were in a position to help him on Capitol Hill.

Prosecutors are trying to establish that "it's not just a ticket to a ballgame, it's major jobs" that exchanged hands, the participant in the case said. Also under examination are payments to lobbyists and lawmakers' wives, including Mr. Rudy's wife, Lisa Rudy, whose firm, Liberty Consulting, worked in consultation with Mr. Abramoff, people involved in case said.

What began as an inquiry into Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Abramoff's lobbying has widened to a corruption investigation centering mainly on Republican lawmakers who came to power as part of the conservative revolution of the 1990's. At least six members of Congress are in the scope of the inquiry, with an additional 12 or so former aides being examined to determine whether they gave Mr. Abramoff legislative help in exchange for campaign donations, lavish trips and gifts.

It may be difficult for prosecutors to translate certain elements of the case into indictments. Bribery, corruption and conspiracy cases are notoriously difficult to prove. But the potential dimensions are enormous, and the investigation, at a time of turmoil for the Bush administration, threatens to add a new knot of problems for the party heading into the elections next year.

Several people involved in the case, insisting on anonymity because of the plea negotiations, said they anticipated that Mr. Abramoff would try to reach an agreement with the prosecutors in a rapidly closing window of time before he is scheduled to stand trial in a separate federal case in Florida.

Mr. Abramoff and another business partner, Adam Kidan, were indicted in August on charges of wire fraud and conspiracy for reportedly defrauding their lenders as they sought to buy a company in Miami, SunCruz Casinos, that operated a fleet of gambling boats.

That trial is to begin on Jan. 9.

A lawyer for Mr. Abramoff in the case, Neal R. Sonnett, declined to comment on whether his client is conferring with prosecutors, indicating that he is moving ahead as though there will be no plea agreement.

"I'm preparing for trial," Mr. Sonnett said.

After more than a year of slow progress in what initially appeared to be a case of lobbying excess, the larger scope of the inquiry started to come into view toward the end of September with the arrest of David H. Safavian, chief procurement official in the administration.

Mr. Safavian is accused of lying to investigators and of obstruction of justice. He is pleading not guilty, his lawyer has said. Prosecutors contend that Mr. Safavian did not disclose to investigators business that Mr. Abramoff had before his agency at the time of a golfing trip to Scotland arranged by the lobbyist.

The focus also expanded from Mr. Abramoff's work for Indian tribes with the end of hearings by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The hearings set out to examine whether the tribes, which paid $82 million to Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon, had been defrauded. The panel, headed by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, avoided looking at the ties between the lobbyists and specific lawmakers, leaving that to the inquiry's interagency group.

The Senate hearings uncovered many patterns of Mr. Abramoff's activities, including his offering favors to officials while making deals on government work. In one case, a former senior Interior Department official, J. Steven Griles, testified that Mr. Abramoff had offered him a position at Greenberg Traurig while Mr. Griles was in a position to affect decisions involving Mr. Abramoff's Indian clients. Mr. Griles said he reported the offer to his department's ethics division and rejected it.

Prosecutors are trying to determine whether Mr. Abramoff made similar overtures to other well positioned government workers, especially former aides to Republican leaders in of the House and Senate. Such gestures could be considered as bribery or a conflict of interest, especially if the interests of the two parties were entangled.

Of particular interest, according to several people involved in the case, are how Mr. Rudy, who left Mr. DeLay's office in 2001 to join Greenberg Traurig, and Mr. Volz, who left Mr. Ney's office in 2002 for that firm, obtained their positions. Investigators believe Mr. Abramoff may have solicited help from both men and their supervisors on Capitol Hill while helping arrange for high-paying positions, people familiar with case said.

Mr. Rudy now works for the Alexander Strategy Group, a lobbying firm run by Ed Buckham, another former senior aide to Mr. DeLay. Alexander Strategy is also under scrutiny for its ties to Mr. Abramoff and for putting Mr. DeLay's wife, Christine, on its payroll for several years.

As investigators try to unravel the web of relationships between the lawmakers and the lobbyists, they are considering spouses' roles, people involved in the case said.

Neither Mr. Rudy nor Mr. Volz returned calls and e-mail messages seeking comment on Thursday.

Hiring patterns offer a rich and complicated field for investigators. Congressional staff members routinely leave for the private work, with the sole prohibition a one-year ban on lobbying their former supervisors. Mr. DeLay is so renowned for funneling his skilled staff members into lobbying firms across Washington that his political network is known as "DeLay Inc."

Although Mr. DeLay was reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee in the late 90's for pressuring a lobbying firm to hire a Republican, the practice has become so standard in an era of Republican dominance that partisans have given it a name, the K Street Project.

What investigators seek is evidence of a quid pro quo between Mr. Abramoff and the lobbyists he helped hire, lawyers and others involved in the case said. They are especially interested in evidence that Mr. Abramoff discussed hiring Mr. Rudy, Mr. Volz or other staff members before they left the government or around the time they or their bosses were doing favors for Mr. Abramoff's clients.

Print Story: Abramoff Investigator Aided Mashpee Tribe on Yahoo! News

By JOHN SOLOMON and SHARON THEIMER, Associated Press Writers

The top Senate Democrat investigating Jack Abramoff's Indian lobbying met several times with the lobbyist's team and clients, held a fundraiser in Abramoff's arena skybox and arranged congressional help for one of the tribes, records show.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (news, bio, voting record), D-N.D., acknowledges he got Congress in fall 2003 to press government regulators to decide, after decades of delay, whether the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts deserved federal recognition.

Dorgan met with the tribe's representatives and collected at least $11,500 in political donations from Abramoff partner Michael D. Smith, who was representing the Mashpee, around the time he helped craft the legislation, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The senator didn't reimburse the Mississippi Choctaw for the use of Abramoff's skybox in 2001, when the tribe threw him a fundraiser there, instead treating it as a tribal contribution. He only recently reimbursed the tribe for the box, four years later, after determining it was connected to Abramoff.

Dorgan says he sees no reason to step down from the Abramoff investigation, which he and Sen. John McCain (news, bio, voting record), R-Ariz., are leading. He said he had no idea at the time that any of the transactions were connected to Abramoff or the alleged fleecing of tribes.

"I never met Jack Abramoff but I am appalled by what we have learned about his actions," Dorgan said Thursday. "So I have never felt there was any conflict in my helping to lead that investigation. I think Sen. McCain would agree our investigation has been relentless and that neither of us will be diverted."

Dorgan's contacts, donations and fundraisers involving Abramoff tribal clients and lobbying associates, as well as those of other lawmakers, have not been examined during the Senate hearings into the lobbyist's roughly $80 million in charges to the tribes.

The senator didn't volunteer the information, although he did disclose his donations in campaign reports over the years.

Larry Noble, the government's former chief election enforcement lawyer, said Dorgan should have considered stepping aside from the inquiry and at the very least should have disclosed all his own intersections with Abramoff's associates and tactics.

"I think any way you look at it he had an obligation to disclose," Noble said. "It is hard for anyone not to see a conflict when you're investigating the same activity you yourself were involved with."

Over the last month, the AP has reported that about four dozen lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, collected donations from Abramoff's tribal clients and firm around the time they wrote letters to the Bush administration or Congress favorable to the tribes.

Congressional ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in performing official duties and accepting political money. The Justice Department is investigating whether Abramoff, already charged with fraud, won any undue influence through donations and favors.

Dorgan on Monday sharply criticized the AP for reporting last week that he collected $20,000 from Abramoff's firm and tribes in the period when he wrote a letter urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund a school construction program that Abramoff's clients and other tribes wanted.

The senator said he long supported the program, and the letter and donations had no connection. And he asserted that he never took any action or received any campaign help that knowingly involved Abramoff.

Dorgan, however, benefited from the very arena skybox that has become a symbol of Abramoff's controversial efforts to win Washington influence, records show.

The Choctaw tribe, an Abramoff client that was a primary focus of the Senate hearings, sponsored a fundraiser March 28, 2001, for Dorgan's political group, the Great Plains Leadership Fund. The event treated Dorgan and his donors to a bird's-eye view of a professional hockey game from a skybox Abramoff leased in Washington's MCI Center, while lobbyists got the chance to bend his ear.

Dorgan knew the fundraiser was sponsored by the Choctaw and that two Abramoff lobbyists attended, but at the time he didn't know they were connected to Abramoff, his spokesman said. "He was told the skybox was the Choctaws," Barry Piatt said.

Dorgan didn't reimburse the tribe, instead reporting the event as an "in-kind" $1,800 tribal contribution without specifying it involved a fundraiser.

Piatt said reporting it that way was legal and normal. The senator reimbursed the tribe $1,800 for the skybox earlier this year when he learned from reports that it was connected to Abramoff, Piatt said.

Documents the Senate released show Abramoff charged the Choctaw $223,679 to underwrite use of the skybox in 2001, the year of Dorgan's fundraiser, even though the tribe "very rarely" used it. Dorgan has denounced the fees as outrageous.

Dorgan and his staff met several times with Abramoff's lobbying team, according to the lobbying firm's billing records.

Smith, the Abramoff associate who represented both tribes and the Northern Marianas Islands, billed for at least four meetings with Dorgan or his staff in 2001. He billed for two hours on the day of Dorgan's skybox fundraiser for a discussion with the lawmaker on "minimum wage legislation," the records state.

Dorgan's office acknowledged he met in 2003 with representatives of the Mashpee, the Massachusetts tribe that Abramoff signed as a client and Smith represented. The tribe was trying to persuade the U.S. government to rule on its decades-old request to be formally recognized.

The senator used his position as a member of the joint House-Senate committee that approved the final Interior Department spending bill for 2004 to craft a provision that pressed the agency to "complete its review of the Mashpee petition as expeditiously as possible."

"Absolutely he was involved. The tribe asked him to be involved and the Massachusetts senators supported it," Piatt said. "They had 29 years of waiting. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do."

Piatt said he didn't think Dorgan's help was significant, because the action didn't order Interior to make a specific conclusion, only urged it to act more quickly.

But the Mashpee say the lobbying paid off because Dorgan's provision prompted Interior to speed its decision-making process. The tribe credits Dorgan and one of his colleagues, Sen. Conrad Burns (news, bio, voting record), R-Mont., another frequent recipient of Abramoff tribal donations, for the provision.

"Both Sen. Burns and Sen. Dorgan were helpful," Mashpee spokesman Scott Ferson said.

New money flowed into Dorgan's political coffers just before and after the legislation.

In the summer before, Smith sent three donations to Dorgan totaling $1,500 while a separate Abramoff client, the Saginaw Chippewa, sent Dorgan a total of $10,000. The Saginaw were interested in a second provision in the same Interior spending bill, inserted by Burns, that provided the tribe $3 million in school construction money.

The spending bill was finalized Oct. 27, 2003, with both the Saginaw and Mashpee provisions.

Six weeks later, Smith donated $5,000 to North Dakota Senate 2004, a joint fundraising committee set up to help Dorgan's re-election. Smith made a second $5,000 donation to the same Dorgan committee in February 2004, campaign reports show.

Texas groups seek Ralph Reed casinos probe


AUSTIN, Texas -- Three Texas watchdog groups asked a county official Thursday to investigate former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, who was hired by lobbyist Jack Abramoff to run an anti-gambling campaign.

Texans for Public Justice, Common Cause of Texas and Public Citizen filed their complaint with Travis County Attorney David Escamilla.

They said Reed failed to register as a Texas lobbyist in 2001 and 2002, when he received an estimated $4.2 million from Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon to push for the closure of casinos operated by the Tigua tribe of El Paso and the Alabama Coushatta tribe near Livingston in East Texas.

A Reed spokeswoman said Thursday she had not yet seen the complaint.

Reed, now running for lieutenant governor in Georgia, has said that he knew Abramoff's firm was getting money from tribes but that he always assumed none of it was going to his consulting firm.

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee has been investigating Abramoff and Scanlon, who collected more than $80 million between 2001 and 2004 from six Indian tribes with casinos. Reed discussed his efforts against the casinos in e-mails released by the committee.

Scanlon pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to bribe public officials. He was ordered to pay restitution totaling more than $19 million to Indian tribes that he admitted had been defrauded while he and Abramoff represented them.

Watchdog groups push for investigation of Reed

AUSTIN ? Three Texas watchdog groups asked a Texas county official Thursday to investigate former Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, who worked with lobbyist Jack Abramoff to press state officials to shut down two Texas tribal casinos.

Texans for Public Justice, Common Cause of Texas and Public Citizen filed their complaint with Travis County Attorney David Escamilla.

They said Reed failed to register as a Texas lobbyist in 2001 and 2002, when he received a reported $4.2 million from Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon to push for the closure of casinos operated by the Tigua tribe of El Paso and the Alabama-Coushatta tribe of Livingston in East Texas.

The groups cited a rule issued by the State Ethics Commission, which is responsible for enforcing state campaign finance laws, that a person who receives more than $1,000 in a calendar quarter as compensation or reimbursement to lobby must register as a lobbyist.

A Reed spokeswoman said Thursday she had not yet seen the complaint. Escamilla was not immediately available.

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee has been investigating Abramoff and Scanlon. In e-mails released by the committee Reed, discussed his efforts against the casinos. Investigators have alleged that Abramoff and Scanlon defrauded their tribal clients of some $80 million.

Last week, Scanlon pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe public officials to assist clients. As part of his plea agreement, he'll pay $19 million to tribes he admitted to defrauding and is cooperating with investigators.

Abramoff and Scanlon were hired by the Louisiana Coushatta tribe in 2001 and worked to prevent the Alabama-Coushatta and another Louisiana tribe from opening competing casinos.

Reed rallied the religious community against the casinos, fed information he said he obtained from Sen. John Cornyn's staff when he was Texas attorney general to Abramoff and Scanlon, and lobbied state lawmakers to kill a bill that would reopen the Tiguas casino, according to his e-mails.

After the Tigua and Alabama-Coushatta's casinos shut down, Abramoff and Scanlon persuaded the Tigua to hire them to lobby Congress to change federal law so they could reopen their casino. They also tried to press the Alabama-Coushatta tribe to hire them.

The Raw Story | Abramoff, lobbyists linked to troubled multibillion-dollar Homeland Security contract

Abramoff, lobbyists linked to troubled multibillion-dollar Homeland Security contract
11/30/2005 @ 4:01 pm
Filed by John Byrne

It was supposed to be ?the deal of the century.?

The Transportation Security Administration awarded a $1 billion contract to Unisys to devise a cutting-edge computer network linking hundreds of airports to the TSA?s state-of-the-art security centers. The contract was ideal, they argued, because if the company failed to meet its goals, Unisys would pay money back to the agency.

It didn?t turn out that way. In October, the Washington Post revealed the Pennsylvania-based information services company had overcharged the government for a whopping 117,000 hours -- billing $131 an hour for employees who were paid less than half that amount. Officials now see the project costing taxpayers as much as $3 billion.

Unisys? prime lobbyists? A team from the Greenberg Traurig lawfirm led by Neil Volz, former chief of staff to Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) -- which included indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

RAW STORY has found that Unisys acquired the contract, said riddled with fraud, in a process that included backroom dealings and almost no competitive bidding, and former Abramoff associates say his lobbyists had a hand in the deal. The investigation also found that the man who brokered the TSA deal, a company president, was later a buyer of Abramoff?s posh Washington restaurant.

According to campaign finance filings, Volz?s team included seven staffers ? among them individuals now under scrutiny in various probes, including Abramoff. Two Senate committees are currently investigating Abramoff, an erstwhile conservative superlobbyist who was indicted in Florida for conspiracy and wire fraud.

Details of Volz?s role are vague. Washington Business Forward reported that the firm listed Unisys as a client in October 2002. The TSA contract was awarded in August of that year.

Unisys, however, did not register Greenberg Traurig as a lobbyist until January of 2003, six months after the TSA contract. Corporations are not required to register if they are lobbying executive branch agencies below the level of political appointees.

Associates say Abramoff firm lobbied for contract

According to former associates, Volz and his team were charged with acquisition of government contracts and not with legislative work. One associate confirmed that Greenberg lobbyists had helped Unisys acquire the TSA contract but asserted that there had not seemed to be anything 'suspicious' about Abramoff's work. Another denied Abramoff had a role but was less confident about the role of Greenberg's other lobbyists.

Greenberg Traurig declined to comment.

Unisys paid Greenberg Traurig $596,000 in 2003 and 2004; Greenberg is the highest-paid lobbying firm the company has retained since 1998. A spokesman for Abramoff declined to comment.

Unisys spokesman Guy Esnouf told RAW STORY the firm had decided not to disclose the dates they retained Abramoff?s firm or any information regarding their interaction.

?I wouldn?t be able to comment at all,? Esnouf said.

This September, Unisys publicly lauded Greenberg for their lobbying work ? an anomaly in the post- Abramoff climate. According to Influence Magazine, the firm remains a ?satisfied customer.?

The lead broker of Unisys' TSA bid, now-president of Unisys' public sector division Greg Baroni, bought a share of bought Abramoff?s Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant, Signatures, when the lobbyist sold it in July of this year. He was promoted to corporate vice president by the company?s board in 2004.

A sweetheart deal

A report at the time stated some of the TSA?s decision making in awarding the contract involved ?backroom negotiations.? The deal was not awarded using traditional competitive bidding.

Instead, the project was awarded from a pool of pre-qualified corporate ?partners? selected under Information Technology Omnibus Procurement II, a government-wide General Services Administration acquisition contract. Only fourteen companies were qualified for the work under the terms of the task order.

As Information Technology partners, Unisys and Electronic Data Systems Corp. were the only firms to compete. According to an article in, a government watchdog, ?insiders said Unisys had the inside track.?

Unisys was awarded the contract in August 2002. Celebrations were muted, however, since TSA was mired in a budget dispute. Two weeks earlier, the Office of Management and Budget had frozen funding for various technology projects. So a week later, according to GovExec, officials from ?TSA and the White House met on a Sunday night in Baroni's office.? Within 48 hours, administration officials had given the green light to unfreeze TSA's budget.

At the time, the chief of staff to the General Services Administration was David Safavian, a former Abramoff colleague and later chief of federal procurement who was arrested in September for obstructing an investigation into the Abramoff's attempts to buy government property.

Safavian?s attorney, Barbara Van Gelder, said her client had no interaction with Unisys and was not in a position to unfreeze TSA's budget.

Lobbying reports compiled by the Center for Public Integrity show Unisys paid Greenberg $480,000 in 2003 and $116,000 in 2004.

A troubled history

Unisys has a history of legal trouble with regard to federal contracts. In 1991, Unisys pled guilty in U.S. District Court to using fraud, bribery and illegal campaign contributions to obtain billions of dollars in defense contracts. An investigation the Justice Department started in 1986 known as Operation Ill Wind resulted in the prosecution of seven companies, nine government officials and 42 individuals; Unisys' fines and penalties totaled up to $190 million.

Nine Unisys employees were indicted and pled guilty to using fraudulent practices to obtain government contracts. The company and its predecessor, mainframe computer manufacturer Sperry Corp., billed the government $17 million in consulting fees, diverted money to offshore accounts, and used the money to bribe Pentagon officials.

The product of a 1986 merger between Sperry Corporation and Burroughs, Unisys maintains offices in nearly every U.S. state and more than 60 countries. They say they're happy with Greenberg's work, now that the lobby shop has dismissed Abramoff from their stables.

"As long as they terminated the relationship [with Abramoff], that was my principal concern," Unisys vice president of government relations David Pingree told Influence Magazine.

According to the Center for Public Integrity, the Fortune 500 company has accrued some $10.7 billion in federal contracts since 1990, and has worked with the CIA, the EPA and the Navy, among myriad other government agencies.

Jason Leopold contributed reporting for this article.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. Intoxination has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is Intoxination endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)