Jack Abramoff faces sentencing tomorrow in federal court in Miami for his admitted fraud in the purchase of the Sun Cruz Casinos. 260 letters, some from prominent persons, including Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, have written letters on his behalf. The list of letter-writers is here (pdf.)
Let’s take a look at the beautiful friendship between the two men:
– Rohrabacher enjoyed free dinners at Signatures, Abramoff’s high-end restaurant, once or twice a month.
– Rohrabacher took one of Abramoff’s “Standard Operating Procedure”-style trips, visiting the Northern Mariana Islands while Abramoff was working to convince Congress keep factories in a U.S. territory free from complying with fair labor laws. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 28, 2005]
– Rohrabacher helped Abramoff score a $60 million loan to buy the SunCruz fleet of casino boats in Florida by allowing the lobbyist to list him as a personal reference. (Abramoff added a faked $23 million wire transfer to Rohrabacher’s reference to close the sale.)
The letters, along with the filing by the defense in Miami, sought to portray Mr. Abramoff as a man devoted to his family and to his faith who, while acknowledging that he defrauded Indian tribes and other clients of millions of dollars, deserved leniency because so much of his money had been given to charity.
As Abramoff's troubles unfolded, starting in late 2003, he and his defenders put forth the view that his need for money was driven by a desire to give to charity. "I have spent years giving away virtually everything I made,'' he said in an interview last year with The New York Times Magazine. ''Frankly, I didn't need to have a kosher delicatessen. That was money I could have bought a yacht with. I don't live an extravagant lifestyle. I felt that the resources coming into my hands were the consequence of God putting them there." A Business Week interview with Abramoff's criminal lawyer, Abbe Lowell, noted that Lowell had met Abramoff because of their common interest in Jewish charitable causes.
Unfortunately for Abramoff, his own e-mails, subpoenaed by federal investigators, left a different impression. "Can you smell money?!?!?!" he wrote in one. "I'd love us to get our mitts on that moolah!!" he wrote in another, even as he was deriding his Indian clients as "morons" and "troglodytes." In other e-mails, Abramoff directed an associate to represent Eshkol Academy as a "front group" and "conduit" for their lobbying activities.
"Media attention regarding Mr. Abramoff, from newspaper editors to late-night comedy monologues, has made him into a caricature and has distorted a lifetime of accomplishments," the defense lawyers said in their brief. "As large a figure as he has been painted in the media, he is an even larger figure in matters of family, faith, generosity and remorse."
The Senate hearings revealed emails between [Rabbi Daniel] Lapin and Abramoff, wherein Lapin was asked to create academic awards for Talmudic studies --complete with letters and plaques -- to help Abramoff gain admittance to the Cosmos Club, an exclusive Washington, DC organization. (Washington Post, 6/23/2005.)
"I hate to ask your help with something so silly, but I have been nominated for membership in the Cosmos Club," Abramoff wrote. He noted that the club has "Nobel Prize winners, etc. Problem for me is that most prospective members have received awards and I have received none. I was wondering if you thought it possible that I could put that I have received an award from Toward Tradition with a sufficiently academic title, perhaps something like Scholar of Talmudic Studies? …Indeed, it would be even better if it were possible that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I think you see what I am trying to finagle here!"
Lapin responded via email and the two apparently talked by phone. Finally Lapin e-mailed, "I just need to know what needs to be produced... letters? plaques? Neither?" Abramoff replied: "Probably just a few clever titles of awards, dates and that's it. As long as you are the person to verify them [or we can have someone else verify one and you the other], we should be set. Do you have any creative titles, or should I dip into my bag of tricks?".
Subsequently, Abramoff listed two 1999 awards from Toward Tradition and the Cascadia Business Institute on his official bio on the Greenberg Traurig website.
The Miami Herald has details of the biography his lawyers have written for him. If you want to see great, creative lawyering, read the defense sentencing memo (pdf.)
In a footnote, they add:
In his overly determined pursuit of helping people and charities, Mr. Abramoff spent virtually all of the funds he earned in his various business dealings.
Erstwhile Washington power broker and 10,000-pound elephant in the (Congressional and Executive branch) room, Jack Abramoff knew how to get deals done in the City that Truthiness Forgot. He also knew that part of being said power broker meant having a fitting chariot in which to do his big-ass pimping business — that is, a 2002 BMW 745Li with more than $48,000 in mods. Here’s a partial list:
• Tinted windows (natch): $450
• Custom-built, 15.2-inch manual flip-down video monitor with cordless headphone transmitters, capable of displaying DVD, Game and computer graphics/video signals: $19,995
• Hands-free cellular system with antenna amplifier: $7,390,
• Seat-back tables (duplicates of a vintage Rolls-Royce design): $6,495
• DVD player and console: $4,495.
In the first nine months of 2002, Abramoff collected $12.2 million in fees from Indian tribes and additional sums from the General Council for Islamic Banks and other clients. He spent $232,000 on his personal travel, mostly by chartered jets, and $69,000 for a Passover family vacation.
As a Bush "Pioneer," Abramoff also raised more than $100,000 for the president's reelection in 2004. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was "a very close friend," according to Abramoff's description, as well as a participant in costly trips to Moscow and Scotland arranged and partly subsidized by Abramoff or his clients.
Abramoff played host to other lawmakers and congressional staff members at four luxury sports-stadium skyboxes he leased for $1 million a year, and he provided free fundraisers for lawmakers at Signatures, a Washington restaurant in which he had a financial stake.
He has no real assets beyond their home and its contents. Determined to help others, and confident that he could always earn more money if needed, he ignored the guidance of his financial advisors and accountants who repeatedly warned him that he needed to put funds aside into personal savings. Now, Mr. Abramoff is broke. He is tormented daily that his wife will not be able to support the large family on her own and chagrined that, instead of being a provider and source of aid for his community, he will now see his own family needing financial assistance.
Until the power lobbyist's downfall this year, Abramoff spent about $1 million annually in funds largely provided by his tribal clients to lease four skyboxes -- two at FedEx Field and one each at MCI Center and Camden Yards. Season after season, he kept them brimming with lawmakers, staffers and their guests, part of a multimillion-dollar congressional care and feeding project that even the brashest K Street lobbyists could only watch with awe or envy.
Abramoff used Signatures - best known for its presumably succulent $74 steak - to conduct his lobbying business at a corner table he kept reserved on the second floor and, it seems, to curry favors by handing out free meals to important guests. (Restaurant records show that during at 17-month period in 2002 and 2003 Signatures gave away $180,000 of food and drinks, including Abramoff's $65,000 tab.)
Capital Athletic Foundation, a charity run by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff now at the center of an influence-peddling investigation on Capitol Hill, told the IRS it gave away more than $330,000 in grants in 2002 to four other charities that say they never received the money.
The largest grant the foundation listed in its 2002 tax filing was for $300,000 to P'TACH of New York, a nonprofit that helps Jewish children with learning disabilities.
"We've never received a $300,000 gift, not in our 28 years," a surprised Rabbi Burton Jaffa, P'TACH's national director, told the Austin American-States- man. "It would have been gone by now. I guess I would have been able to pay some teachers on time."
Federal investigators have not contacted P'TACH about the grant, Jaffa said. Representa- tives of three other nonprofits that supposedly received Capital Athletic money also said they have not been contacted.
Abramoff and his wife created the Capital Athletic Foundation in 1999 as a limited-liability company. He initially listed his home as the foundation's principal office, and in September 2002 he filed an operating agreement with the state of Maryland that said "all profit or loss shall be allocated to Abramoff," as well as any cash remaining at the end of each year.
In 2000, the foundation's purpose was described in tax documents as providing "gifts to schools in the Wash DC area in order to provide and enhance academic and athletic programs for children." Its Web site said the foundation would make lifetime Spirit of America awards, issue certificates of achievement to schools that emphasized athletics and appoint national ambassadors of sportsmanship.
There is no indication those things happened. Abramoff was the foundation's sole donor that year, giving $12,850, and the Yeshiva of Greater Washington was the sole grant recipient, getting $11,824.
In 2001, the foundation's reported income rose to more than $1.24 million, largely on the strength of a $1 million donation by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, a $177,415 donation made in Abramoff's name and a $50,000 donation by Foxcom Wireless, an Israeli-financed telecommunications company seeking the House Administration Committee's approval to install cell phone antennas throughout House office buildings. The firm Abramoff worked for, Greenberg Traurig, registered as a lobbyist for Foxcom in 2003.
Catherine Zatloukal, president and chief executive of the company, which is now named MobileAccess Networks, did not respond to questions about the firm's donation to the foundation.
As to the Coushattas' donation, Abramoff and Scanlon told them "where to send money" in Washington, said Roy Fletcher, a spokesman for the tribe. Fletcher and tribal lawyer Kent Hance said tribal leaders concluded eventually that the money was being used to pay for a luxury box at FedEx Field, where Abramoff would lobby for them during Redskins games.
For all its new wealth, the foundation recorded just two major grants that year. It paid a Web designer $50,510 to create an Internet presence for the Eshkol Academy, and it spent $115,930 on a Judaic studies home-schooling program that Abramoff created.
In 2002 the foundation, which on the Web site listed as its address a mail drop on Pennsylvania Avenue, collected more than $2.56 million from nine donors, including $991,749 from Abramoff. Other major donors, according to tax records, included three Indian tribes and the National Center for Public Policy Research.
By that time, the Eshkol Academy had leased office space to use for classes and enrolled several dozen students, some of whom paid annual tuition of more than $12,000. The Capital Athletic Foundation contributed more than $1.85 million to the academy that year, enough to pay a handful of teachers and a dean. The school also bought two Zamboni ice-cleaning machines, even though it did not own a hockey rink.
In 2003, the foundation took in more than $2.15 million, including a $250,000 donation from the National Center for Public Policy Research, a $400,000 donation by Abramoff, a $950,000 donation from Scanlon's consulting firm and a $500,000 donation from the International Interactive Alliance, an Internet casino group that employed Abramoff as a lobbyist, according to tax records. The foundation gave $2.13 million to the Eshkol Academy that year.
E-mails at the time showed Abramoff pushing for more money for his enterprise. He sent an e-mail to Scanlon in February 2003 stating: "Please make sure the next $1M[illion] from Coushatta for me goes to Eshkol Academy directly. Please tell them that we are 'using the school as our conduit for some of activities.' " The e-mail added that "if that won't fly with them, use CAF," referring to the Capital Athletic Foundation, or the National Center for Public Policy Research.
Abramoff repeated the request in e-mails in March and April. The Eshkol Academy "is our front group," the first e-mail said. The second said: "I really need to get those funds into Eshkol asap. Let me know what we have to do."
"Mr. Abramoff is active in his community and has been very supportive of a number of efforts, including being a primary donor of funds used to sustain the Eshkol Academy," spokesman Andrew Blum said in a statement.
In 2004, he thought the school would be a prime place to make money off the lives of tribal elders. Abramoff recommended that one of his clients, the then-broke Tigua tribe, retain him at no cost. At the same time, he suggestioned they allow Eshkol Academy to “buy term life insurance policies on tribal elders and receive the benefits upon their death, with the money then channeled back to Abramoff.” According to the Washington Post, some of the money that went into the school was used to buy “two Zamboni ice-cleaning machines, even though it did not own a hockey rink.”
A Montgomery County judge has temporarily frozen the assets of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his wife, Pamela, in connection with a lawsuit over unpaid wages filed by employees of a religious academy that Abramoff founded.
Circuit Judge Eric Johnson issued an order this week barring the Abramoffs from transferring or depleting their assets other than for normal living expenses or to pay attorneys' fees. He did so at the request of 13 former employees of the now-defunct Eshkol Academy, who have sued the school and the Abramoffs. They contend that they were wrongly deprived of one-quarter of their annual salaries when the school closed in May.
The Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish school in Columbia that received most of its funds through Abramoff's efforts, was a casualty of the controversy resulting from Abramoff's lobbying practices. Abramoff was ousted by the Greenberg Traurig law firm this spring after disclosures that he and an associate charged tens of millions of dollars in fees to Indian tribes seeking to protect their gambling wealth. A federal grand jury is investigating their contracts with the tribes.
The Eshkol employees, who include nine teachers and the principal, contend they are owed $149,000. Johnson granted a temporary restraining order securing the Abramoffs' assets late Wednesday, pending a full hearing.
Abramoff's lawyers have told the teachers' lawyers that the Zambonis, school buses and other Eshkol assets have been sold, "but we haven't seen a dime," Rubin said. "We don't know where that money went." Similarly, Abramoff has sold a house in Silver Spring that he bought to use as a dormitory for Eshkol's boarding students, but the teachers haven't seen any of that money either.
The school was founded by Jack Abramoff. The dean was Rabbi David Lapin, brother of Toward Tradition's Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
According to emails revealed during the US Senate hearings into the Abramoff-Reed Indian Gambling Scandal, David Lapin was paid $20,000 a month, through Abramoff's Capital Athletic Foundation.
Abramoff also directed the Marianas government to give David Lapin a $1.2 million contract for "ethics in government" trainings.
Years ago, [Daniel] Lapin introduced Abramoff to DeLay. "It was just, 'Jack? Meet Tom'—very informal at a D.C. dinner," says a Lapin follower...
Abramoff's Marianas connection, of course, has been in the news for a long while. But recently his involvement there has circled back to Lapin—David Lapin, that is, Daniel's brother, a Los Angeles businessman. David Lapin had a $1.2 million no-bid Northern Marianas government contract that was arranged by Abramoff during his Preston Gates days, to conduct ethics-in-government programs there. But near as anyone in the Marianas can determine today, David Lapin failed to provide any services, The New York Times reported April 28.
So the money he spent on charity wasn't spent on charity and wasn't his money, but he did have a really nice car and his friends ate good.
Also, raise your hand if you think this guy doesn't have money hidden overseas.
In other news, I had no idea I was an external link for the Wikipedia entry on the Capital Athletic Foundation. My fifteen minutes apparently happened some time last year and I missed it.