Indicted former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff was secretly hired by Guam to fight a proposal in Congress to reorganize the Pacific island's judicial system, according to an audit just released by Guam's public auditor.
Abramoff received payments of nearly $325,000 for his lobbying efforts. The disclosures about the payments to Abramoff came in an audit of the Guam Superior Court's Judicial Building Fund. The court's building fund was the source of the money that was channeled to Abramoff.
The audit, first reported in the Los Angeles Times, looked at transactions from Oct. 1, 1999, through Sept. 30, 2004.
Abramoff has been indicted and charged with five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy in another matter — the 2000 purchase of a fleet of SunCruz Casinos' Florida gambling boats. Investigators are also looking into efforts Abramoff allegedly made to funnel money and favors to members of Congress, staff members and the wives of some members to support causes of interest to his clients, notably Indian tribes. Abramoff took a 2002 golf trip to Scotland with, among others, former Bush administration top procurement official David Safavian; Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio; and Neil Volz, a former Ney chief of staff who was then working for Abramoff. Abramoff is reported to have sought to have Indian gaming clients pay for the trip.
According to the Guam audit, in 2002, Guam Superior Court officials sought the assistance of Abramoff, who was known for his ties to GOP congressional leaders, to block legislation before Congress that would have given the Guam Supreme Court control over the Superior Court.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Abramoff was successful in efforts to block the court reorganization bill in 2002. But, the restructuring of Guam's courts was eventually approved two years later by Congress.
The audit also found that the Superior Court failed to file required reports on the payments with the Internal Revenue Service.
According to the audit, payments to Abramoff, which totaled $324,000, were made in 36 checks issued to California lawyer and lobbyist Howard Hills. He, in turn, sent the money to Abramoff, the audit said.
Guam Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks wrote, "Howard Hills' payments consisted of an initial $20,000 retainer paid in 1998, 47 $9,000 payments paid from February 2001 to July 2002, and one $36,000 paid in May 2001. Procurement by sealed bid was required for purchases over $10,000 under the Prior Procurement Policy. It appears that Howard Hills was paid in $9,000 increments to circumvent the sealed bid requirement."
According to the audit, Superior Court officials initially engaged Hills to lobby against the bill. Hills, in turn, hired Abramoff. The audit noted that required lobbying reports filed by Abramoff's firm to the U.S. Senate identified Hills as its client, even though the payments ultimately came from the Guam Superior Court.
The Superior Court paid a total of $479,000 to lobby against the measure, and according to the audit, hired Hills for "legal research and advisory consultation." The audit stated that the contract between the Superior Court and Hills "was ambiguous and did not contain elements of a well-written contract, such as the start and completion date, a description of the legal services to be provided and the rate or basis of compensation."
The audit also said. "The agreement that the Superior Court entered with Howard Hills was vaguely defined and did not disclose the true intent of the lobbying effort."
Findings from the audit include:
• The Superior Court paid $479,000 to lobby against the measure. The Superior Court hired Hills for "legal research and advisory consultation." Hills was the conduit to pay Abramoff. According to Hills, of the $479,000 he received, $324,000 was transferred to Abramoff's firm.
• The lobbying registration filed by Greenberg Traurig LLP, Abramoff's firm, named Hills, not the Superior Court, as its client.
• Procurement by sealed bid was required for purchases over $10,000 under the Prior Procurement Policy. It appears that Hills was paid in $9,000 increments to circumvent the sealed bid requirement.
• The audit disclosed that $564,039 was spent from local appropriations to lobby a congressional measure regarding Guam's judiciary. Although the Judicial Building Fund was not utilized to pay for the lobbying, neither the Superior Court nor the Supreme Court solicited requests for proposals. Unlike the executive branch, the judiciary's procurement policy allows for discretionary procurement of professional services and does not require advertisement regardless of the amount.
• In addition to chastising the Superior Court, Brooks' report faulted the Guam Supreme Court for allowing a lobbyist it had hired to support the reorganization bill to begin work before the contract was formally approved.