Monday, November 22, 2004

More Tales of The Prairie

Originally uploaded by elston.
Our friends on K Street are circling the wagons.

I will try to tell the tale as best as I can, but you must understand that I am new to the ways of blogging and have yet to fully develope my research skills, and so I must allow for many voices to help me tell my tale.

The game is Political Machine. Because DeLay helped kill a tax bill against Indian casinos, Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, says the Texas Observer, knew they could use their friendship with him to attract Indian Casino clients. As a matter of fact the Coushatta tribe of Louisiana gave most of their campaign contributions to Tom DeLay. Because DeLay is friends with Abramoff and Scanlon he is now a person of interest to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. DeLay moved to center stage after 3 of his fundraisers were indicted on the TRMPAC Texas Legislature matter. That little peccadillo has given Mr. DeLay 3 admonishments from the Ethics Committee.

The Texas Observer says that the whole Norquist to Coushatta paper trail shows how easy it was for Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon to funnel money to Republican political interests as well as enrich themselves. By engineering the downfall of Indian casinos and masquerading as their saviours they could fool the tribes into thinking that through them the tribes could buy political influence and reopen their casinos. Of course exorbitant fees and contributions were "required". Despite that, the Indians would get nothing. And so according to some, Abramoff, Scanlon, and Ralph Reed enriched themselves and helped their cause and their friends at the Native American's expense.

Grover Norquist wields a great deal of influence on K Street in Washington DC. On top of being head of Americans for Tax Reform, he is the manager for the K Street Project, whose goal some say, is to force corporate special interests to hire only Republican lobbyists for their business before Congress and the Executive. A kind of feudalism is in place. In such a situation it is wise to be grateful to those who befriend you. Abramoff and Scanlon understood this very well. Any net profits they had were compounded with contributions to right-wing Republican PACs and candidates. Abramoff himself became a Bush Pioneer and gave to DeLay's PACs $40,000. Scanlon, only a few years after paying off his college loans, gave $500,000 to the Republican governor's fund. And all of this was included with the money that they got from their Indian clients according to the Observer. This was what would interest the Indian Affairs Committee. The pipeline would last for 3 years, and Abramoff and Scanlon were the middlemen. The Observer states that there were emails regarding the ATR, and meeting politician's requests for money with Indian casino contributions.

The Observer states that Abramoff was an ideologue. He came to Washington DC from Hollywood where he worked as president of the right-wing Regency Entertainment, a very "politically incorrect" film production company. He went to college with Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, and Norquist. All knew each other from the College Republicans in Georgetown Lawschool. Norquist even worked for Abramoff on the College Republican National Committee. From college through Hollywwod to Washington, Abramoff worked for Ronald Reagan. He also took time for the International Freedom Alliance. Then he came back to the Potomac in Washington DC.

His friendship with DeLay began when he was introduced by Rabbi Daniel Lapin with whom he founded Towards Tradition, a Jewish-Christian interreligious understanding group. Soon he was helping Delay run for whip in the House of Representatives. DeLay's victory was very much Abramoff's doing. When the Republicans took over the House in 1994, lobbyists who knew Republican representatives were very valuable. Abramoff's first lobbying job was at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds. He soon was to do better.

Again the Texas Observer:

"At a 1998 New Year’s dinner at the Saipan Hyatt Regency, held in honor of the Chinese owner of Saipan’s largest worker compound, DeLay recognized Abramoff as “one of my closest and dearest friends and your most able representative in Washington, D.C.” The two men, bound together by ideology and mutual hires, were a team. Abramoff later told a crowd of cheering College Republicans that “Tom DeLay is who we all want to be when we grow up.” The Marianas account brought in more than $6 million for Preston Gates, and the company seemed to go into mourning in 2001 when Abramoff was lured away by Greenberg Traurig, and Scanlon moved on to start his own public relations shop. It was Preston Gates’ good fortune that the two men moved on before they started working the Indian casino circuit."

Scanlon's rise was faster than Abramoff's. Once again the Observer states that Scanlon went straight out the army to a job as a Republican staffer. He joined the National Republican Congressional Committee. Then he became Tom DeLay's communications director. During the impeachment he headed up DeLay's war room. He was such a partisan that despite DeLay's promise not to whip the impeachment vote, Scanlon unofficially continued a rogue whipping operation.

It looks like Abramoff wanted to make use of Scanlon to make millions. It seems that a plan slowly hatched where Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon would make their own chances to scam relatively innocent but money-laden Indian casinos by cynically entrapping them by shut downs, and then offering their services and their access to Tom DeLay for a small fee, plus a few contributions to the G.O.P., and a few "foundations" and "charities". A total of $34 million in the case of the Coushattas. It would be a way to enrich themselves, and enrich their party. To create the situation that they could exploit, they needed someone who had the creditentials to create a grassroots anti-gambling movement. They needed someone whose reputation could persuade you that he was an anti-gambling crusader in earnest. That person was Ralph Reed.

As the former executive chairman of the Christian Coalition, he made a name for himself as a person who could get things done, and could use his influence to push the political agenda of the religious right. According to the CRNC:

"As Executive Director of the College Republican National Committee in from 1983-1985, Ralph assisted in managing one of the largest grassroots efforts in the history of the committee. Ronald Reagan’s reelection effort in 1984 saw more college students voting and working for a Republican in modern memory. Ralph founded Students for America after leaving the College Republican National Committee and immediately found success. The organization grew to one of the largest grassroots groups in the nation seemingly overnight.

As Executive Director of the Christian Coalition, he built one of the most effective grassroots organizations in modern American politics. During his tenure, the organization’s budget grew from $200,000 in 1989 to $27 million in 1996. Its support base grew from two thousand members to two million members and supporters."

Afterward, he went into the lobbying business after being set up for it by Karl Rove who was trying to recruit him for the upcoming Bush Jr. presidential campaign. Rove connected Reed to Enron. According to The Nation:

"Reed's involvement with the casino effort followed his departure from the Christian Coalition in 1997 and his reinvention of himself as a corporate lobbyist and campaign hatchet man. One of his first clients was the Enron Corporation--a deal arranged by Karl Rove when George W. Bush was starting to think about running for President in 2000. Rove wasn't ready to put Reed directly on a campaign payroll but presumably wanted to cultivate good will from Reed toward the coming Bush candidacy. Enron paid Reed's Century Strategies more than $300,000 to generate support for energy deregulation. In the 2000 GOP presidential primary, Reed justified his big Enron fee by helping to smear John McCain during the South Carolina primary. "

Most agree that he was just the man to help set up the hapless suckers for Abramoff and Scanlon.

An example of how the scam would work is the tale of the Tigua Indians of Texas. The story goes that in 2002, Reed worked to close down the Tigua's Speaking Rock casino. Attorney C. Bryant Rogers referred them to Abramoff who then brought in Scanlon. Now if a tribal council was reticent about hiring them, it's alleged that Abramoff and Scanlon were not above fixing the elections, although it hasn't been mentioned that this happened with the Tiguas. After being "hired" by the new council, Abramoff told them that he would work for free until the Tiguas received federal recognition and could open the casino, but persuaded them that Scanlon must be paid $4.2 million, and Abramoff's work must be secret.

After the "hiring" the fleecing began.

They asked the tribe to take out life insurance policies on tribal elders with death benefits going to the Eshkol Academy founded by Scanlon. More on that place later. The Tiguas were then asked to pay for a golf trip to Scotland for them and (unknown to them), Ralph Reed. The tribe refused. That junket would be the Choctaw's problem. Abramoff and Scanlon then got the Tiguas to contribute to various PACs and politicians.

Afterward it would be time to go through the motions. When Senator Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) and Representative Robert Ney (R- Ohio) were sponsoring the Help America Vote Act. Abramoff asked Ney to sponsor an amendment opening the Tigua's casino. He told Ney that Dodd supported such an amendment. In fact according to the Washington Post:

"Dodd issued a statement saying he never agreed to help the Tiguas. Ney, who has been close to Abramoff but now says he was duped by him, said he agreed to help the Tiguas only because Abramoff told him it was something Dodd wanted. The two men were chairmen of a House-Senate conference committee finalizing the election reform bill."

Ney denies any culpability. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

"Ney expressed outrage about the whole affair.

He issued a statement Wednesday saying that he felt 'duped' by Abramoff, whom he had known since the 1970s when both were active in Republican circles during college.

'Jack Abramoff repeatedly lied to advance his own financial interests. I, too, was misled, and I regret that I put faith in the representations that he made to me.'

Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance and lobbying watchdog group, said it is not unusual for lobbyists to suggest that clients make political donations to lawmakers they hope to influence.

But the fact that the scheme went this far shows that Ney presumably 'would have been perfectly happy taking money from the tribes and trying to shepherd their provision through,' Noble said. 'This is not the way people like to think that legislation is done, but the reality is that it is all too common.'"

The online magazine went to state that Ney's former staffer Ned Volz worked with Abramoff, and now has a job at Greenberg & Traurig, Abramoff's old firm.

Needless to say, the Tiguas still don't have an operating casino today.

And this appears to have happened over a period of 3 years to five other tribes, all using the same formula. For instance, when they encountered opposition to their employment from a few members of the Coushatta council, the story is that they manipulated the elections and got a council that hired them. The Observer states that Bertney Langley, a council member who was suspicious of Abramoff and Scanlon lost an election:

"Langley believes the two D.C. lobbyists made him a lame duck. He was defeated in 2003, after serving two terms. He suspects that Abramoff and Scanlon manipulated the election to keep their majority on the council. 'Seventeen candidates ran in that election,' Langley said. In past tribal elections, he said, four to six candidates would vie for the open seats. 'They were diluting the vote by running all those candidates.' Another member of the tribe observed that several members of the same family were on the ballot: 'We’re a small tribe and we usually get together and decide which member of a family will run.' Documents released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee include detailed accounts of Abramoff and Scanlon running other tribal elections to install administrations they could control. ('Last night was amazing,' Abramoff writes in an e-mail sent the day after the Saginaw Chippewa 2001 election in Michigan. 'The slate of 8 kicked ass…We had less than three weeks to take 8 guys we never met before and get theme (sic) elected.')"

Now the money of the tribes was dealt with by 2 individuals on the council: Chief Lovelin Poncho and William G. Worfel. The other member, Leonard Battise usually voted with them. As said earlier, the Coushattas approved the contribution of $1 million to the Eshkol Academy, Scanlon's Yeshiva-like prep school that folded soon after Greenberg & Traurig asked Abramoff to resign.

Not including contributions almost $34,000,000 were paid to Abramoff and Scanlon. $24,000,000 was taken from vital services. $1,000,000 were given in questionable loans. The Observer said that Langley brought this to the attention of the council. Nothing came of this other than Langley gaining an ally in David Sickey a new council member.

Next came the issue of the Mississippi Choctaws being asked to refinance their casino the Golden Moon. According to the Clarion-Ledger, Council members Mack Jimmie and Alvin Ben opposed it, but Chief Phillip Martin said that there would be no consequences.

The Clarion-Ledger goes further:

"Jimmie and other tribal members petitioned the Tribal Election Committee for a referendum on the new loan but were turned down. An appeal of that ruling was rejected by the Choctaw's Supreme Court on Oct. 18. But challenges to Martin aren't expected to stop.

Melba Smith, president of the Pearl River Development Club, wrote Martin last month asking why Abramoff was hired without the tribal council's permission.

In her letter, Smith also asked what Choctaw programs would have been affected if the Golden Moon had not been refinanced. "How much of the tribal and tribal council's salaries (would) be cut?" Smith asked. She said she did not receive a reply to her letter."

Next, according to the Ledger, the Choctaws were asked to pay the $50,000 that the Tiguas wouldn't for the golfing trip to
Scotland, which they did.

And then Abramoff's and Scanlon's and maybe DeLay's and Reed's luck turned sour.

The Coushatta tribe's comptroller's memo got into the hands of of a reporter from Louisiana's Lake Charles American Press, and months later the Washington Post broke the story nationally.

According to the Observer the story of excessive lobbying and PR fees was confirmed by invoices from Capitol Campaign Strategies. Each invoice has very little information just the amount, date, and it was for "professional services":

American Press accounts of excessive lobbying and PR fees are confirmed by a set of Capitol Campaign Strategies invoices obtained by the Observer, which total $7,155,000—for a period between January and October of 2002:

"Capitol Campaign Strategies is the public relations firm owned by Scanlon; however, the company’s address—611 Pennsylvania Avenue SE—is a mail drop. As a public relations firm it is not subject to disclosure laws that would have pertained to Abramoff, a registered lobbyist. Each CCS invoice, four approved by Poncho and one by Worfel, is as stunning in its lack of itemized detail as in its amount. Entered on each invoice is only the date submitted, the description “professional services,” and the amount owed. The largest single billing, dated March 13, 2002, is $3,405,000.00. When Abramoff’s monthly retainer of $150,000 is added to the total, the Coushattas paid $8,655,000 for ten months of lobbying and public relations. To put that figure into perspective, General Electric paid two dozen lobbying firms $30.4 million, according to federal records compiled by The Washington Post, over the same three-year period that the Coushattas contracted with Abramoff and Scanlon, . In the ten-month period for which we found records, the 813-member Coushatta tribe was paying approximately the same amount of money for lobbying as one of the world’s largest corporations. At the end of their three-year relationship with Abramoff and Scanlon, the Coushattas actually outspent GE by about $3 million."

That the Indian casinos were being used for the benefit of the swindlers and their party is illustrated by the story that most of the "charities" and "foundations" that the tribes were asked to contribute to that were other than Republican political organizations, were basically front organizations. Says the Observer, everyone would get paid from these venues;

"The Coushattas had done considerably better with the lobbying firm of former Louisiana Senator Bennet Johnson, which charged them approximately $152,000 a year before Abramoff took over. The portly former senator also stuck to the basics of lobbying, avoiding the redistribution of wealth brought in by the $300 million-a-year casino operation that attracted Abramoff and Scanlon to the tiny sovereign nation in southwest Louisiana. If (Coushatta's lawyer) Kent Hance’s accountants never find the $1 million reportedly sent to the Eshkol Academy, they and the forensic accountants working for the federal task force in D.C. will find many other questionable entries. Some of the checks drawn on the Coushatta accounts are written to organizations that make Abramoff and Scanlon look like a regular Washington laugh riot.

When I asked Hance about the $566,000 'contribution' to the American International Center, he said it is probably considerably larger “perhaps more than one million.” The center was a “think tank” housed in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in a house owned by Scanlon. It was operated by a former yoga instructor and a former lifeguard, both beach buddies of Scanlon. It apparently served as a conduit to move money from Scanlon to Abramoff, with at least $1.5 million in Indian client money moving through the center to Greenberg Traurig. A separate $2.4 million in Indian gaming lobby fees was passed through the center to Ralph Reed, the political consultant who once directed the Christian Coalition. Reed was also hired by Abramoff and Scanlon. To keep these huge sums off the lobbyist disclosure pages in the Senate clerk’s office, Scanlon’s PR firm did the billing then moved half the money to Abramoff, through companies or non-profit foundations they controlled."

So the fronts were used not only to fleece the money from the marks, but to launder the money and get it to the scam partners.

At least $2.4 million went to Ralph Reed, and though I'd give Greenberg & Traurig the benefit of a doubt because they at least behave as if they weren't aware of Abramoff's shenanigans by firing him, they supposedly got $1.5 million. Abramoff is said to have made so much money out of the Coushattas that in an embarrassing email to his accountant he couldn't explain $5 million.

Tom DeLay says the Observer. In a $283,000 list of "Coushatta Requests" approved by chief Poncho, $32,000 went to DeLay's two PACs TRMPAC and ARMPAC, though Abramoff later voided the TRMPAC check and it went to America 21 of Tenessee.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation is headed by outgoing Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and by Senator John McCain, the same John McCain that was smeared with the help of Ralph Reed, and also bears a grudge on Tom DeLay for opposing his campaign reform bill. Abramoff's and Scanlon's emails are said to be in the Committee's hands, and they are singing an opera!

The victims of this fraud were preyed upon in 3 ways. First they were attacked by a false shut-down intended to set them up. Then they were fleeced, and the lifelines of otherwise impoverished tribal economies were destroyed, and their infrastructures greatly crippled. The total monetary damage is said to be $66,000,000.

Texas Observer - "K Street Croupiers"

Las Vegas Sun - Indian lobbying mess thickens in Louisiana

Mississippi Clarion-Ledger - Senate committee probes lobbyist's ties

Gambling Magazine - Rep. Ney Says He Was 'Duped' By Abramoff

College Republican's National Committee - Alumni


Anonymous said...

Hellish game they are playing!

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