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

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Lobbyist's old eatery stirs the pot - The Boston Globe

By Nina J. Easton, Globe Staff | December 25, 2005

Lobbyist's old eatery stirs the pot

In the minds of its owners, Signatures was one of Washington's ''most exciting restaurants," with a renowned Ivory Coast chef serving up goat cheese beignets and spice burnt waluu. But now some leading Republicans fear the allure of Chef Morou Ouattara's award-winning cuisine could be the downfall of some lawmakers.

Signatures was owned by Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now the target of criminal and congressional investigations. Media attention has focused on questions involving his lucrative dealings with Indian tribes and sponsorship of overseas junkets for Congress members such as Texas' Tom Delay.

But those are complex scandals, and there's growing fear over the fallout of a cleaner plot line: Lawmakers routinely violating a congressional rule banning gifts over $50 by accepting free lavish meals and expensive bottles of wine at a lobbyists' restaurant blocks away from Capitol Hill.

''It's going to be this restaurant," predicted one top GOP strategist. ''If it's five people, that's one thing. If it's 35, that's a big deal." The big question in the New Year, this strategist said, is whether Abramoff will turn over lawmakers' names to investigators.

Overlooking the Navy Memorial on Pennsylvania Avenue, Signatures boasted playing host to recognizable political figures, royalty, Hollywood stars, and sports legends.

''While dining at Signatures, you can also enjoy our historic artifacts and rare political memorabilia, which are available for purchase if you so desire," the restaurant's web site offered.

But if you were hoping to get a taste of this Washington landmark, you're out of luck. The ''What's New" option on its elaborate website features three simple words: Signatures is Closed.

An investment group that included former Representative Bob Livingston of Louisiana, who made headlines when he resigned as the newly installed House speaker during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal after his own adultery was revealed, took over the restaurant from Abramoff last summer and quietly closed it four weeks ago.

One of the new investors told The Washington Business Journal that they had concluded that Abramoff's eatery was a money-losing proposition.

Old ideas: once more, with feeling

With his State of the Union speech just weeks away, President Bush is trolling for Big Ideas, inviting think tank chiefs and other public intellectuals to the Oval Office for advice.

Among these guests is the compassionate-conservative crowd, who haven't been front and center since the early months of the administration. Those who have met with Bush in recent weeks include Manhattan Institute scholar Myron Magnet, education reformist Chester E. Finn Jr., and John Bridgeland, founding director of USA Freedom Corps.

Refusing to break a White House-imposed cone of silence, no one is talking about what advice they're offering. But hints can be culled from recent writings and remarks.

Finn favors ''substantial" changes to No Child Left Behind, more school choice, and efforts to ''keep neglected subjects (history especially) from staying neglected." Magnet has championed privatizing Social Security as the part of a continued dismantling of a welfare state that he fears promotes dependency.

And Bridgeland, a proponent of volunteerism, has recently worried that ''we are too polarized" and that ''the gap between rich and poor is widening."

Still to come: An early January meeting with John J. Dilulio Jr., the former head of Bush's faith-based office who was exiled to the White House doghouse when he castigated the president for favoring politics over policy, describing Bush's staff as ''Mayberry Machiavellis."

'Holiday' moment for Romneys, too

Like the current Oval Office occupant, potential presidential aspirant Mitt Romney sent out ''holiday season" cards that don't mention the word ''Christmas." Conservative Christian groups have been up in arms over the disappearance of specific references to Jesus' birthday from holiday greetings as retailers and others attempt to be more inclusive.

Instead, like the Bushes', the Romneys' offered an Old Testament psalm (100:5). But a busier photo graced the cover: In contrast to the Bush family's two dogs and one cat, the Romney card featured Mr. and Mrs. Governor with their five sons, five daughter-in-laws, and eight grandchildren -- all told, a cast of 20.

For Alito, an arsenal of ads

Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s supporters concede: They're facing a closer Senate confirmation vote than John G. Roberts Jr. enjoyed. But they're still betting Alito will make it through without a filibuster, and that only one Republican -- Rhode Island's Lincoln D. Chafee -- will jump ship.

Last week, liberal opposition to Alito ramped up in advance of the Jan. 9 start to his confirmation hearings, with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club joining the fray. A Stop Alito coalition of 56 groups is launching a full-bore media battle to block his confirmation.

But Alito's Republican supporters have what they call a ''turn-key" battle plan to counter opponents: Advertisements in the bucket -- ready to air on a moment's notice -- designed to pressure conservative Democrats in red states. | 12/25/2005 | Motive behind SunCruz affair: good old greed

BY FRED GRIMMfgrimm@herald.comIn pulp fiction, only a femme fatale could lure such a motley bunch into something as sordid as the SunCruz affair.
Only some mysterious woman could entice lobbyists, congressmen, con-men and mobsters into a bogus deal, political scandal and criminal conspiracy, which, like all noir novels, came with the taint of murder.
Real life proved less romantic. SunCruz's mystique was mere money. Great gobs of money derived from an unregulated gambling operation. Without much outside scrutiny, millions could be diverted from casino boats to entertain politicians or to be looted by its owners.
''Big Tony'' Moscatiello, whose SunCruz affiliation netted him a murder rap, offered Fort Lauderdale police a succinct explanation of the casino boat allure. ''It's a company doing 147 million a year,'' Big Tony told the cops. ``If you can't skim a few dollars off 147 million a year, ha-ha you shouldn't be in the business.''
No doubt Jack Abramoff, one-time king of Washington's lobby corps, would express himself more elegantly than Big Tony. But the same sentiment lured him into a partnership with a well-known scoundrel named Adam Kidan. (The attraction of Kidan, a former New York lawyer disbarred for looting his family's estate, to the unregulated riches of the casino boat industry was pretty obvious.)
Abramoff and Kidan put together a sham financial package to buy the 11-boat SunCruz armada from Gus Boulis in 2000. They were $20 million light. Gus was not pleased. He raised a ruckus. So Abramoff, king of the lobbyists, prevailed on a U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, to insert a statement in the Congressional Record attacking Boulis. Why would a Republican congressman from Ohio take an interest in Florida casino boat fleet? It's all about that SunCruz mystique, of course.
Despite being pummeled by Abramoff's congressional supplicant, Boulis wouldn't shut up. Not until Feb. 6, 2001, when he was gunned down in Fort Lauderdale.
SunCruz was only a temporary diversion for Abramoff, whose real job to lobby very powerful friends among the Washington Republican hierarchy. But federal prosecutors charge that he was sinking into yet another criminal morass these last few years, taking millions (on false pretenses) from Indian tribes who made their money from barely regulated reservation casinos.
Different casinos. Same mystique.
Moscatiello and a couple of second-rate mobsters were charged with the Boulis murder in September. Ten days ago, Kidan entered a guilty plea to wire fraud and conspiracy in connection with the deal he and Abramoff concocted to buy SunCruz.
Kidan already had his own bizarre connection to South Florida. His mother was gunned down in 1993 when mobsters invaded her New York home looking for $200,000 supposedly stashed there by her husband (Kidan's stepfather), the owner of the Sensations sex shop chain. Six years later, Chris Paciello, the semi-celebrity owner of the Miami Beach nightclub Liquid, famous for cavorting with starlets, was arrested on a fugitive warrant. He plead guilty to his part in killing Kidan's mother.
But the SunCruz mess spread beyond South Florida and has metastasized into a national disgrace, leaving Kidan just a bit player. He copped a plea and is expected to testify against Abramoff. Last month Michael Scanlon, Abramoff's former lobbying partner, entered a guilty plea to a charge of bribing a public official. He too is expected to testify against Abramoff -- unless Abramoff makes his own deal.
Washington's powermongers are beside themselves, wondering who Abramoff can implicate, how many congressmen he tainted with all that SunCruz mystique.
They worry that South Florida's casino scandal will devour Washington.


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