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

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

SACRAMENTO / Rep. Doolittle awaits fallout in lobbyist case / GOP stalwart's links to Jack Abramoff drawing scrutiny

Sacramento -- Despite representing a northeastern California district that breaks nearly 5 to 3 Republican to Democrat, conservative Rep. John Doolittle's bid for re-election next year to the seat he has held since 1990 could face complications.

The lawmaker's name has surfaced in the federal investigation into Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a friend of the congressman who is at the center of a scandal that has shaken the House of Representatives. The Washington Post reported last month that Doolittle is one of several representatives who have come under scrutiny as investigators probe Abramoff's dealings with lawmakers.

"They say the FBI is looking at 20 congressmen. If Doolittle's in there and Abramoff cuts a deal where he is giving damaging testimony and Doolittle gets caught in that, it's conceivable if the charges against him are serious enough he could lose. But the timing has to be right," said Bruce Cain, director of the University of California's Washington Center.

Abramoff is the target of a federal investigation into whether he bilked Indian tribes as he lobbied on their behalf and whether he made illegal contributions to lawmakers. His former partner, Michael Scanlon, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe public officials and agreed to return $19 million to Indian tribes. Abramoff is reportedly considering a deal in which he would plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors.

"The congressman has not been subpoenaed or questioned by the Justice Department," said Laura Blackann, a spokeswoman for the representative. Doolittle declined a request to be interviewed for this story.

Abramoff, whose clients operated casinos, gave Doolittle, an opponent of casino gambling, use of his skybox at a Washington, D.C., arena for a fundraiser in February 1999. Doolittle has since paid Abramoff for the use but failed to report the in-kind contribution it represented until February of this year, after news reports about the fundraiser.

In 2002, Doolittle was one of 27 lawmakers who signed a letter urging the Bush administration to reject a proposed Louisiana casino opposed by Abramoff's casino-operating clients on the grounds that gambling is societal evil.

Two months later, Abramoff's Indian casino clients contributed $16,000 to Doolittle and an additional $15,000 by the end of the year. Abramoff's restaurant also catered a Doolittle campaign event.

Doolittle's wife, Julie, who owns an event planning and fundraising firm called Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions, was hired by the law firm Abramoff worked for.

U.S. Justice Department investigators have subpoenaed some of her company records.

"Sierra Dominion complied fully with the subpoena given to it. It has no objection to the Justice Department disclosing those records should it determine to do so,'' said William L. Stauffer Jr., Julie Doolittle's lawyer.

Bespectacled and boyish looking, Doolittle, 55, has been an elected official the past 25 years and has often been a lightning rod for his conservative policy views, but he has forged alliances with Democrats over internal and administrative issues.

This fall, Doolittle broke ranks with his party -- and California's governor -- to side with liberal Democrats to oppose Proposition 77, an initiative to redraw legislative district lines to make seats more competitive.

Doolittle said the new reapportionment plan could cost Republicans three California congressional seats.

Cain said Doolittle is weakened by being linked to Abramoff. But in examining previous scandals over the past 30 years, Cain said, voters tend to give their representatives a grace period.

That may explain why Doolittle's connection to Abramoff doesn't appear to be hurting him yet in his district, which runs along California's eastern edge through Lake Tahoe and Lassen and Modoc counties. The population center is fast-growing Placer County, which includes Doolittle's hometown of Rocklin.

Doolittle has a primary opponent, Mike Holmes, a 65-year-old retired Navy captain who plans to run a grassroots campaign -- often a synonym for being short on campaign funds. Doolittle has no such problem.

"He may not have broken any law, but it seems to me there are some serious questions," said Holmes, who said he was asked to run by a group of disgruntled Doolittle constituents.

"He portrays himself as having high moral values and against casino gambling, but he takes money from Indian tribes who operate casinos," Holmes said.

Democrats Lisa Rea, a former state legislative staff member who runs a nonprofit, and Charles Brown, a retired Air Force colonel, have also declared their candidacies.

"I don't think people are buying it. People know John," said Ken Campbell, a dentist and member of the Placer County GOP central committee. "He's going to win with a huge margin again."

Elected to the state Senate at 30 by bumping off a longtime Democrat, Doolittle advocated stiffer criminal penalties, widespread AIDS testing and free market economics.

Opposing a 1984 bill banning job discrimination against gays and lesbians, Doolittle said the bill "is going to make an affirmation that the state endorses homosexual conduct." If passed, he said, gays could be "hired to work with your children."

But once elected by his caucus to the Senate Rules Committee, the body responsible for the upper house's staffing and organization, the flexible insider emerged.

"He was very conservative ideologically, but he could broker deals, especially in the administration of the house," said David Roberti, the Democratic leader of the state Senate at the time. "He was a 'player' and was very easy to work with unless there was an ideological issue. We were pleasantly surprised."

Bill Campbell, the state Senate's GOP leader when Doolittle was first elected, described Doolittle as bright and genial.

"He was very flexible on Rules and agreeable on member prerogatives. He made friends of a lot of Republicans and Democrats being on that committee," Campbell said.

Doolittle was elected to Congress in 1990.

In late 2002, he became secretary of the Republican Caucus, the sixth-ranking GOP leadership slot in the House of Representatives. Coupled with his seat on the Appropriations Committee, that makes Doolittle a formidable presence on the Hill.

During his first term in Congress, Doolittle was one of 10 newly elected Republican lawmakers who worked on internal reform of the House in the wake of a scandal involving its bank.

But at the same time, in his first month as a representative, he and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, sent a letter to the chair of the House Administration Committee advocating adoption of many of the perks the two had enjoyed as state lawmakers.

Among the proposals in the three-page letter was permitting fundraising calls from Capitol offices, buying an automobile for each member, hiring staff members to drive representatives to and from airports and allowing campaign funds to be used to buy equipment or office furniture as well as lunches in the House restaurant. The recommendations were rejected by the House leadership.

In 1994, Doolittle carried legislation to re-establish federal recognition of the United Auburn Indian tribe, which is within his district.

Doolittle has said the tribe told him at the time it had no plans to build a casino, it wanted federal recognition only for various benefit programs.

The tribe now operates Thunder Valley, a 200,000-square-foot casino near Lincoln (Placer County).

He has long advocated a second dam on the American River above the one in Folsom but pledged to the late Rep. Bob Matsui of Sacramento -- and his wife, Doris, who succeeded him -- to support improvements in Folsom Dam's ability to channel water.

"John could have said Bob's no longer here, I didn't make an agreement with Doris, but that's not the way he's acted," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold Run (Sacramento County). "He has stayed with his commitment."

The power of attraction --


December 27, 2005

The Glen Cove man who has become a key figure in the burgeoning investigation of possible corruption on Capitol Hill says he got immersed in the scandal through his close friendship with prominent lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the heady lifestyle it led to in South Florida and Washington.

"I wish I had never met Jack," Adam Kidan said in an exclusive interview this weekend with Newsday, the first he has given to the media since pleading guilty to fraud charges two weeks ago.

Kidan, 41, admitted in Miami federal court on Dec. 15 that he had participated in the $60 million fraud that bankrupted the South Florida-based SunCruz line of casino boats in 2001. He agreed to testify against Abramoff -- his partner in SunCruz and his buddy since college days -- and also to cooperate with federal investigators probing influence peddling and lobbying on Capitol Hill.

In giving a unique insight into a seductive, yet fraudulent netherworld, Kidan acknowledged that he was not duped, but that he was a willing participant in his and Abramoff's alleged activities.

'I looked the other way'

"I played with the big boys and this is the result -- sometimes you go into a business and the upside potential is so great that you close your eyes and look the other way," Kidan said in the telephone interview. "I looked the other way and the other way has come back to smack me."

Kidan says he is separated from his wife and cares for their 2-year-old daughter three days a week as he prepares to cooperate with federal and state prosecutors.

Kidan declined on the advice of his attorney, Joseph Conway of Mineola, to discuss the criminal cases in which he is involved, or his dealings with any members of Congress, other politicians, their staffs or families.

Abramoff's attorneys, who declined to comment yesterday, have consistently denied that their client has done anything illegal, although they are reportedly trying to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors to head off his trial on the SunCruz fraud charges, which is scheduled to start next week. Kidan would be a key witness in such a trial.

Kidan, who could face up to 30 years in prison for the SunCruz fraud, said, "I got seduced by the corporate-jet lifestyle of South Florida -- a Sidney Sheldon novel come true," with its six-figure salary, a posh condo, a corporate jet and an armored Mercedes for transportation.

Now, Kidan said, "I look forward to cooperating" and getting on with his life. If federal and state prosecutors agree that Kidan has given them substantial help, he could get as little as a year in prison, or less, for his criminal activities.

While awaiting Abramoff's trial and his own sentencing, Kidan said he is "struggling in business as a consultant" for clients he declined to identify.

The clients are aware of his legal situation but have hired him because of his managerial skill, he said.

Kidan took exception to his portrayal in the media as a failure in the business and legal professions. He did concede once filing for bankruptcy and did acknowledge surrendering his license to practice law, but said that both instances were actually business tactics.

While he had a private practice as an attorney in Manhattan in the early 1990s, Kidan said he helped start two successful bagel stores in the Hamptons.

"I had a summer share in the Hamptons like every yuppie" and there wasn't anyplace to get good bagels, so he saw a business opportunity, Kidan said.

After several years, he sold his interest in the stores at a profit to concentrate on a Dial-A-Mattress franchise in the D.C.-suburban Maryland area, Kidan said. He had been an attorney for Dial-A-Mattress.

Kidan said while in Washington, he kept up his close friendship with Abramoff, whom he had known since the early 1980s when they were active in the Young Republicans. They had met when Kidan was an undergraduate at George Washington University and Abramoff was at Georgetown Law School, where he became the national head of the College Young Republicans.

Kidan said he had always been a staunch Republican, inspired by Ronald Reagan, while growing up in Mill Basin and attending John Dewey High School in Brooklyn.

Abramoff's 'safety valve'

As Kidan tells it, Abramoff was totally immersed in lobbying and Republican politics. As Abramoff's only friend who had other interests, Kidan said he became a kind of safety valve with whom Abramoff felt comfortable talking about his life and his political activities. "We were golfing buddies and he would basically kvetch to me," Kidan said.

A dispute in the late 1990s over who had the rights to sell all Dial-A-Mattress products in the Washington area led him to declare bankruptcy "as a business tactic" to get a better settlement, Kidan said. At this point, Abramoff asked him to get involved in taking over SunCruz.

SunCruz was to be the base of a gambling conglomerate that he and Abramoff hoped to operate, Kidan said. "The original plan was [to use SunCruz] to run casinos for Indian tribes" and other gambling ventures, he said.

In the end, though, Kidan and Abramoff could not get financing legally, according to prosecutors. The fraud indictment said they created forged documents indicating that they were worth millions to serve as collateral for the $60 million they were loaned to take over SunCruz.

Reflecting on how he has become a central player in what could be a major political scandal, Kidan said, "It's not the history I want to be in."
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.


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