Video: Lobbyists investigated

updated 6/22/2005 7:27:46 PM ET 2005-06-22T23:27:46

Jack Abramoff and a lobbying partner used tax-exempt groups and phony invoices to bilk tribal clients out of millions of dollars, using a scheme they called “gimme five” to divert proceeds to themselves and their pet causes, newly released documents show.

At a hearing Wednesday on Abramoff’s activities, Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John McCain urged the Justice Department to take a close look at Abramoff’s tribal billings and his movement of the money, suggesting the lobbyist may have committed mail and wire fraud.

“Today’s hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed. It is simply and sadly a tale of betrayal,” said McCain, R-Ariz.

Correspondence between Abramoff and others, released by the committee, outlines a plan Abramoff and lobbying partner Michael Scanlon referred to as “gimme five” and used to maximize tribal payments while skimming off a share of the proceeds for themselves.

Eventually, the Mississippi Choctaws’ payments to Scanlon’s companies reached roughly $15 million, and Scanlon gave Abramoff a $5 million cut, McCain said.

Light-hearted, heavy-handed skimming
The documents portray Abramoff as continually seeking more money from casino-rich tribes, yet taking a lighthearted view of his activities.

“I’m just surprised I am not under ‘dead, disgraced or in jail,”’ Abramoff joked to a colleague in an e-mail exchange about an alumni directory put together by his former employer, the Preston Gates lobbying firm.

The documents show continuing efforts by Scanlon and Abramoff to convince tribal officials that their lobbying efforts were far more extensive and expensive than they actually were.

“I think you should call her and tell her that we have turned the corner but you are pouring it on to make sure we win. Tell her as of now you are finally willing to say that we will win this, but laughingly say ‘I don’t know how I am going to get back all the money I had to dump into this. I hope the Golden Moon (casino) turns out to be real golden!”’ Abramoff suggested to Scanlon in an e-mail. “That will set her up for a discussion about payments.”

One e-mail obtained by the Senate committee shows that Abramoff and Scanlon charged the Mississippi Choctaws $7.7 million for projects in 2001. Of that, Scanlon spent $1.2 million on lobbying work, and he and Abramoff split the remaining $6.5 million.

'Impossible position'
Abramoff spokesman Andrew Blum said the fees Abramoff earned were justified when compared with the economic benefits the tribes incurred as a result of his efforts.

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“With an ongoing political investigation being directed by the U.S. Senate and an investigation at the Department of Justice, Mr. Abramoff is put into the impossible position of not being able to defend himself in the public arena,” Blum said in a statement Wednesday.

The documents detail efforts to route Abramoff’s and Scanlon’s share of tribal lobbying payments in ways that would avoid taxes. Abramoff channeled much of his tribal money into his tax-exempt Jewish foundation, for example.

One exchange suggests the destination of at least some of Abramoff’s tribal profits was the Cayman Islands, well-known for bank secrecy laws that attract the proceeds of tax-avoidance and money laundering schemes.

Offshore accounts?
“Let’s run some of the non-caf (Capital Athletic Foundation) Choctaw money through them to the camans,” Abramoff e-mailed Scanlon, referring to another foundation that money could be moved through.

McCain said Abramoff sent the Mississippi Choctaw an invoice fabricated by Scanlon’s office for a $1 million contribution to the National Center for Public Policy Research, the group that financed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s trip to Britain and Scotland in 2000.

The money instead went to other groups, including Abramoff’s private charity and Scanlon’s media relations consulting business and to pay off the personal loan of a friend of Abramoff, McCain said.

The hearing is the committee’s third on Abramoff’s activities. A federal grand jury is also investigating.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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