updated 11/17/2004 10:16:01 PM ET 2004-11-18T03:16:01

In what could be his final words to the Senate panel he heads, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the Senate’s only native American, told a Washington consultant Wednesday that he represented the kind of people who have been defrauding American Indians for four centuries.

Michael Scanlon replied with seven assertions of his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself. His refusal to speak came at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on allegations that he and a companion bilked Indian tribes out of tens of millions of dollars while representing them on casino issues.

The hearing came hours after the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana filed a lawsuit in a state court against Scanlon, Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Abramoff’s former law firm, accusing them of overbilling, negligence, fraud, taking tribal money for personal use and unfair trade practices. The tribe paid Scanlon and Abramoff $32 million to prevent another tribe from opening a competing casino nearby.

A federal grand jury in Washington is also investigating deals under which Scanlon and Abramoff received some $66 million from the Coushattas and five other tribes to lobby for their casino and other interests.

Wednesday’s hearing focused on the $4.2 million the Tigua, or Yselta del Sur Pueblo, tribe of Texas paid Scanlon to help it win back a license to operate a casino.

Senators heard testimony that Scanlon and his business partner, in addition to falsely promising they had been assured the license would be slipped into legislation moving through Congress, had been working the same year with former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed to lobby the Texas legislature to close the Tigua’s casino in El Paso.

You are the problem’
“For 400 years people have been cheating Indians, so you are not the first one,” Campbell, R-Colo., told Scanlon. “But you are the problem with what’s happening to American Indians.” Campbell is retiring at the end of this congressional session.

“They went to El Paso selling salvation and instead delivered snake oil,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who will succeed Campbell as chairman of the committee. Speaking in a crowded hearing room including many Indians, McCain asked Scanlon if he felt remorse. Scanlon took the Fifth.

Abramoff also refused to testify when he appeared before the committee in September. Scanlon didn’t testify then because U.S. marshals were unable to serve him with a subpoena.

Carlos Hisa, the lieutenant governor of the Tigua, said he was outraged when he learned Scanlon was paying money to Reed’s anti-gambling group and then billing himself as the key to helping the tribe get its casino back. “A rattlesnake will warn you before it strikes. They did everything behind our backs.”

White House connections
Scanlon is a former press secretary for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Abramoff boasted of his friendship with President Bush, White House political adviser Karl Rove and members of the House leadership.

According to the testimony, the Tigua contacted Abramoff in February 2002, when they were having to close down their casino. He introduced Scanlon, who accepted $4.2 million to lobby for federal support for restoring the tribe’s gambling license. Scanlon paid half of that to Abramoff, who told the tribe he was working pro bono in exchange for a future contract with the tribe.

Scanlon and Abramoff told tribal officials they would attach the legislation to a major election reform bill, and had the support of two of the chief sponsors of that bill, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

But Ney, in a statement, said he backed the Indian measure only after being assured by Abramoff that Dodd supported it. Dodd said neither Abramoff nor Scanlon ever contacted him on recognition of the Tiguas.

“I, like these Indian tribes and other members of Congress, was duped by Jack Abramoff,” Ney said.

Golfing in Scotland
Marc Schwartz, the tribe’s public affairs representatives, told the hearing that the tribe had been asked to take term life insurance on tribal elders, with death benefits going to a private academy near Washington that Abramoff supported. They were also asked to pay for a $50,000 golfing trip to Scotland that included Ney, Reed, Abramoff and Scanlon. Another tribe did contribute: Ney said he never knew Indian tribes were involved in the financing.

In both cases the Tigua refused, but it did make $300,000 in contributions to political action committees at the business partners’ urging.

As in the September hearing, the senators introduced e-mails between Abramoff and Scanlon in which the two made derogatory remarks about Indians. “I wish those moronic Tiguas were smarter in their political contributions,” Abramoff wrote in one e-mail. “I’d love to get our mitts on that moolah.”

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