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

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Cincinnati Post - Boehner has big ambition

WASHINGTON - Lobbyist Jack Abramoff's decision to squeal on some of his buddies in Congress could be bad news for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

But what, if anything, does it mean for Ohio Congressman John Boehner?

Boehner, the West Chester Republican, has made no secret of his desire to get back in House leadership. DeLay was forced to step down temporarily after he was charged with conspiring to violate campaign finance laws in Texas, and his departure could provide the opening Boehner has been waiting for.

If DeLay is wounded further by his ties to Abramoff and is unable to reclaim his leadership post, it's widely assumed that Boehner will go after the job.

Yet Boehner may have problems of his own.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boehner received $32,500 in political contributions from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff, who pleaded guilty this week to bilking his tribal clients out of millions of dollars.

No one has suggested that Boehner did anything illegal or improper. In fact, Boehner's aides point out that not only were the contributions legal, there is no evidence that they were in any way tied to Abramoff.

Regardless, Boehner's tribal bounty is impressive.

Only 12 other members of Congress got more donations than Boehner, according to the center. He raked in more than several congressional heavy-hitters, including DeLay (who got $30,500), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid ($30,500), former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle ($26,500), and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott ($22,000).

Hoping to avoid even the hint of scandal, several lawmakers who received donations are returning the funds or giving them to charity. But Boehner plans to keep the money unless he finds out that the donations were made via Abramoff, his office said.

And that may be where Boehner runs into a problem. If House members conclude it's time to dump DeLay permanently and choose a new leader, they'll probably want to make a clean break from the whole Abramoff mess.

Boehner's tribal contributions - and his decision to keep the money - might cost him the leadership job that he has wanted for so long.

Turns out Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning got more campaign money from Abramoff and his clients than originally thought.

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the Southgate Republican had received $1,000 from Abramoff. But a review of campaign records by Bunning's office uncovered an additional $12,090 from Abramoff's firm and Indian tribes that he represented.

Bunning said he would give all of the money to St. Elizabeth Medical Center's new inpatient hospice program.

"Even though these contributions were handled legitimately and within the law, they are tainted by a guy who is simply bad news,'' the senator said.

And, finally, if you're one of those drivers who fear your life is on the line every time you get behind the wheel and head for the interstate, here's a bit of news that might cause you even more anxiety:

Ohio and Kentucky are among 34 states with serious gaps in their traffic safety laws, according to a new report by a national advocacy group that works to prevent highway deaths and injuries.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety graded states on the progress they have made in passing what it calls 14 "essential'' traffic laws addressing drunken driving, occupant protection, child safety and teen driving.

Ohio and Kentucky are among the states the report says need to upgrade their laws.

Both states have passed eight of the 14 laws that the Washington-based group recommends. Neither, however, has a primary enforcement seat-belt law; a booster seat law applying to children 8 and under; a mandatory motorcycle helmet law applying to all riders; a prohibition on unsupervised driving by teen motorists between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.; or restrictions on the number of teenage passengers who may accompany a teen driver without adult supervision.

Michael Collins is The Post's Washington bureau chief. His e-mail address is

Telegraph | News | British lawyers linked to $1m payment for favours at US Congress

By Philip Sherwell in Washington and David Harrison in London
(Filed: 08/01/2006)

A British law firm is at the centre of the investigation into America's biggest influence-buying scandal in decades.

The London-based solicitors, James & Sarch, channelled $1 million (£565,000) into a conservative United States pressure group linked to Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist.

The firm, which was dissolved in 2000, made the payment by a single cheque in June 1998 to the US Family Network, a now-defunct organisation that had close ties to the embattled Republican Congressman, Tom DeLay, and was largely funded by groups associated with Abramoff.

The revelations that the $1 million is thought to have originated from Russian oil and gas executives seeking to shape US legislation have fuelled pressure for a shake-up in the Republican leadership in Congress.

Abramoff, until recently the most prominent Republican operative in the lucrative lobbying industry, pleaded guilty last week to fraud and conspiracy charges after agreeing to work with federal prosecutors.

The deal has sent shock waves through Washington and is expected to lead to further charges against prominent political figures.

Christopher Geeslin, the then president of the US Family Network, has said that he was told by Ed Buckham, who was the group's organiser and who was Mr DeLay's former chief of staff, that the $1 million was paid on behalf of Russian energy entrepreneurs.

They were, Mr Buckham reportedly said, seeking Mr DeLay's support for legislation backing an International Monetary Fund bail-out of the Russian economy. The Congressman denies any wrongdoing. Mr Buckham did not return a request to comment.

The role of James & Sarch in the transfer of funds is believed to have been handled largely by its former partner, David Sarch, who died aged 57 in May 1998, a month before the payment was made.

The $1 million payment to a small advocacy group from a foreign source, although not illegal, is "extremely unusual" and "would raise several red flags" for investigators, according to Marcus Owens, a senior former US Internal Revenue Service official.

The Law Society in London said it had no knowledge of the payment. "It is a large amount and would certainly raise eyebrows and cause questions to be asked," a spokesman said.

Mr Sarch became a solicitor in 1963 and was a senior partner at James & Sarch from at least 1970.

"It was not a firm that had come to our attention or given us any cause for concern," the Law Society spokesman added.

The list of contributors to the US Family Network, which was obtained from tax records by The Washington Post, is understood to have been studied by federal prosecutors investigating how Abramoff sought to dispense favours to influence votes in Congress.

The payment through James & Sarch is the biggest single entry on the network's donor list. The original source of the donation is not recorded.

Mr DeLay, Mr Buckham and Mr Abramoff met Russian gas and oil entrepreneurs before and after the payment. But the Congressman's spokesman insisted that he made decisions only "based on good policy and what is best for his constituents and the country".

Philip McGuirk, a former partner in James & Sarch, declined to answer any questions when contacted by the Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Sarch's previous work reveals a link to the Abramoff circle. In the early 1990s he worked on a case with Julius Kaplan, a well-known Washington lawyer and lobbyist who received payments from a firm that helped organise Mr DeLay's visit to Moscow in 1997.

Other contributors to the US Family Network included textile owners from the Pacific island chain of the Marianas and the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans. Mr DeLay, who was charged with money laundering in an unrelated case last year, spoke out in favour of both groups during legislative battles.

He denies the money-laundering charges and insists that his speeches were never influenced by contributions from interested parties. There is no suggestion that he gained personal benefit from his links to the group.

Mr Abramoff, 46, was at the forefront of the campaign by Republican activists to take over Washington's powerful lobbying industry in the 1990s.

From his position in Congress, Mr DeLay was a strong supporter of this so-called "K St project" - named after the street that is home to lobbying firms. The number of registered lobbyists has more than doubled in the past five years to nearly 35,000.

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A Tribe Takes Grim Satisfaction in Abramoff's Fall

Desire to Protect Casino Revenue Made Coushattas Receptive to Lobbyist's Pitch on Access

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 7, 2006; A01

ELTON, La. -- The dizzying downfall of lobbyist Jack Abramoff means more than just another Washington political scandal in this rural outpost of tin-roofed homes and fraying trailers.

It is a measure of vengeance.

Led on by what they say were his false promises of political access, leaders of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, which is based here, paid Abramoff and his partners about $32 million for lobbying and other services -- more than $38,000 for each of their 837 tribal members. By their accounting, they got very little in return.

It was thievery, tribal members said, that echoes the historic losses of Native Americans to European settlers.

"Abramoff and his partner are the contemporary faces of the exploitation of native peoples," said David Sickey, a member of the tribal council. "In the 17th and 18th century, native people were exploited for their land. In 2005, they're being exploited for their wealth."

The money the Coushatta Tribe and other tribes with casino interests paid to Abramoff helped him spread favors and gain access in the nation's capital -- the subject of speculation about a widening political dragnet. But even more rankling to many Coushattas is the knowledge that Abramoff had, in released e-mails, referred to some of his Native American clients as "monkeys," "troglodytes" and "morons."

"That hit a nerve," Sickey said, frowning and pausing. "That really hit a nerve."

It was in part the revelations of Coushatta Tribe members about the exorbitant sums Abramoff was commanding that drew attention to his multifaceted operations and led to his guilty plea to charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and tax evasion this week. But the origins of the scandal are in some ways much broader, the product of the competition for the government gambling permits that has led to the spread of Indian casinos and waterfront operations across many rural parts of the country.

Those casinos have made many tribes rich, and some, like the Coushatta Tribe, have used their money to try to buy clout to squelch any potential competitors. As their gambling revenue grew, the tribes began to make political contributions, targeting mostly Democratic lawmakers. But when Abramoff came calling, it was not hard for him to persuade the tribes to start spreading the wealth to Republicans.

In some instances, the Coushattas got what they paid for: Abramoff was able to help quash a rival tribe's proposed casino, protecting the Coushatta Casino Resort.

The casino, about 20 miles north of Lake Charles and Interstate 10, is a vast complex of hotel rooms around a cavernous hall of slot machines and game tables.

Compared with the clusters of shuttered storefronts or half-demolished barns that line many roadsides here, it is a lavish spectacle, with a giant flashing sign by the road.

Since it opened 11 years ago, it has drawn gamblers, mostly Texans, and markedly changed the lives of the Coushattas.

Revenue from the operation is estimated to be about $300 million a year, and each tribal member is given a quarterly sum from the profits. Tribe finances are not disclosed publicly, but estimates of those checks per member have ranged from $30,000 to $40,000 annually. Members also receive free medical care and education, as well as financial aid to buy a home. Many have used the money for better cars and better homes. The per capita prosperity has also kicked off a baby boom, tribal leaders said, and today 342 of the tribal members are under the age of 18.

"We all stuck together this long, and now everything is a whole lot better than we ever had," said Curtis Sylestine, 51, a tribe member who works on the reservation's maintenance operations. He chuckled ruefully when asked about the Abramoff money.

"It's like the old days -- they're still robbing us blind," he said.

In conversation, many Coushattas compare the casino to "the golden goose" and say they were naturally defensive about other groups, Indian or non-Indian, seeking to open casinos that might cut into their market.

Abramoff and partner Michael Scanlon promised to ward off the competition by blocking their government approvals, using their political access to prevent the Interior Department from approving a casino for a rival Indian group, the Jena Band of Choctaws, and trying to stifle the approval of other state-controlled licenses.

Abramoff did provide some lobbying. To ward off the Jena Band, for example, Abramoff called on support from senior senators and congressmen, the deputy secretary of the interior, and evangelical leaders James Dobson and Ralph Reed.

But there are a number of other instances where, tribe members say, the services that were provided were unclear and some of the money simply went to the coffers of Abramoff's allies. The guilty plea this week will help them try to recover their money from Abramoff, Scanlon and the law firm Greenberg Traurig, with which Abramoff was working, lawyer Jimmy Faircloth said.

Because Abramoff has admitted to a conspiracy, "the only issue now is the amount of the damages," Faircloth said.

Coushatta and other Native American leaders say they and their casino operations probably have been hurt politically as well, because of Abramoff's close ties to the tribes. There is already considerable political and moral unease over the spread of gambling. Many of the highway billboards promising the excitement of gambling also ask, in smaller type, "Gaming Problem?" and recommend a toll-free number for counseling. A billboard facing Texas-bound travelers leaving the Coushatta resort is simpler: "TIRED OF LOSING?" it asks. "TRY JESUS CHRIST."

Even before the money in the scandal came to fund Abramoff's work in Washington, it belonged to people such as Marie Buckler and Walter Elliott, a retired couple from the Houston area, who arrived at the Coushatta resort this week on a bus with other retirees. Neither seemed terribly troubled about losing the money.

"Is that where our money went?" Buckler asked with a chuckle.

"It's just about getting away from the house," Elliott said.

Native American groups frame gambling as an issue of personal freedom.

"We're not putting a gun to anyone's head and say give money to the Indian people," Sickey said. "It's a personal decision."

For now, the Coushattas are simply hoping to win their money back, maintain their casino profits in the face of competition, and hold on to their customs.

Many speak their native language fluently, and the tribe is particularly noted for the baskets some weave from pine needles.

Most significantly, they are trying to prove to themselves that they can manage the riches that come with the casino. The old tribal council, which entered into the agreements with Abramoff and Scanlon, has been swept from power. Many voters said they were disappointed with the former council members but doubted that they had enriched themselves.

"He cheated us. He deceived us. And he shouldn't get away with it just because he's big in Washington politics," Sylestine said.

"We want justice," Kirk Langley, a tribe member who works at a millwork shop, said during a cigarette break. "And we want our money back."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company - Fellow Republican: Ney likely to be indicted

Gannett News Service
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, is likely to be indicted in an ongoing public corruption scandal, according to a fellow Republican congressman, Jim McCrery of Louisiana.
Ney has been linked by prosecutors to Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist who pleaded guilty to charges this week that include mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. He also is linked to Abramoff's associate, Michael Scanlon, who pleaded guilty in November to conspiring to bribe a member of Congress and other public officials.

"He'll probably be indicted," McCrery speculated Friday.

Ney's spokesman Brian Walsh said Ney maintains that he has done "absolutely nothing wrong" and that prosecutors have not told him that he is a target of the investigation.

"The congressman from Louisiana is certainly welcome to voice his opinion," Walsh said. "I would point out, however, that he has no firsthand knowledge of the issues involved here, and I would further note that the constituents in Congressman Ney's district recognize ... that one is innocent until proven guilty."

No legal action has been taken against Ney, who chairs the House Administration Committee. However, Abramoff's and Scanlon's plea agreements accuse Ney, identified as ''Representative 1'' in court documents, of accepting travel, campaign contributions and sporting event tickets in exchange for official acts.

The Justice Department also subpoenaed Ney in connection with the Abramoff probe.


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