Friday, September 5, 2008

Washington Lobbyist Who Bilked Indian Tribes Sentenced To Four Years

By Ken Davison
Feather News

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced yesterday to 48 months in prison for his part in a corruption scheme that included conspiring to defraud four Indian tribes in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Michigan out of millions of dollars.

In a book that Abramoff has been writing while in prison, he accuses U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain and McCain's Senate committee invesigation for his downfall. Presidential candidate John McCain was chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee that investigated Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff pleaded guilty in 2006 to tax evasion, fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials in connection with defrauding Indian tribes and encouraging former congressional officials to violate their one-year lobbying ban. The judge ordered Abramoff to pay over $23 million in restitution to his former tribal clients.

Abramoff admitted that he and former associate, Michael Scanlon, devised a kickback scheme that defrauded casino-rich Indian tribes by convincing them to hire Scanlon's public relations firm at hugely inflated prices so the two men could later split the proceeds. Both men admitted that the secrecy of the kickback arrangement was crucial to the success of their scheme and concealed the arrangement from their tribal clients. Scanlon and a dozen others have been convicted as a result of the Abramoff investigation, which is still ongoing.

Abramoff eventually joined the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where he and other lobbyists signed Indian tribes on as clients. One of those tribes was the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Michigan. Bernie Sprague of the Saginaw Chippewa told Judge Ellen Huvelle yesterday that Abramoff's actions cost his tribe millions of dollars and emotional heartache. "It totally destroyed our tribe. All he was worried about was Jack. Jack has to get his next big check. . . . That was the only thing on his mind."

Court papers describe how Abramoff and other lobbyists supplied gifts, trips, meals and "a stream of things of value to public officials in exchange for a stream of official action." He then told Huvelle that he was sorry for his crimes, adding that he was no longer the person "who happily and arrogantly engaged in a lifestyle of political corruption and business corruption."

At last night's Republican National Convention, Sen. McCain told the audience what observers of Indian Country have known for a long time: "I've fought lobbyists who stole from Indian tribes," Sen. McCain noted.

Note: Sen. McCain's wife, Cindy McCain, is on the board of trustees for an agency that the Feather News editor, Ken Davison, worked for in Afghanistan.