WASHINGTON – In a widening scandal on Capitol Hill, the government charged a partner of lobbyist Jack Abramoff on Friday with conspiracy to defraud American Indian tribes of millions of dollars in a scheme that lavished trips, sports tickets and campaign donations on a member of Congress.
Michael Scanlon, an ex-aide to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, is headed to federal court Monday on a single count contained in a criminal information, which typically is a prelude to a guilty plea and cooperation with government investigators.
The eight-page information says Scanlon and a person identified only as "Lobbyist A" provided "a stream of things of value" to a member of Congress, identified only as "Representative No. 1," to aid an effort to pass legislation.
It has been a matter of public record for more than a year that Scanlon and Abramoff had a fee-splitting arrangement and represented several American Indian tribes.
Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, was identified by his lawyer late Friday as Representative No. 1.
"I've talked to the Department of Justice on this and he's not part of this conspiracy," said Mark Tuohey, a Washington attorney representing Ney. "Yes, he did perform certain acts — his office did — and there was certain other wining and dining situations like other people do, but he's the victim. He was misled."
Ney's name surfaced almost a year ago in a Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigation as having extensive dealings with the two lobbyists and their tribal clients. Abramoff and Scanlon were paid more than $80 million between 2001 and 2004 by six American Indian tribes with casinos.
"One thing I have learned here from our grandparents and our elders is patience," said Carlos Hisa of the Texas Tigua tribe that hired Abramoff. "You just sit down and wait. Give them a little bit more rope, as they say, and they will hang themselves."
Ney early this month started a legal defense fund. He has denied any wrongdoing and says he was duped into backing Abramoff's clients.
Abramoff's lobbying network stretched far and wide in the halls of Congress. The Associated Press reported Thursday that nearly three dozen lawmakers pressed to block an American Indian casino in Louisiana while collecting large donations from the lobbyist and his tribal clients.
DeLay, R-Texas, is among those facing scrutiny for his associations with Abramoff, including a trip to Scotland and use of Abramoff's skybox at a Washington sports arena. DeLay relinquished his leadership post after his indictment on state felony charges in Texas.
In addition, the Bush administration's former top procurement official has been indicted for not telling investigators that Abramoff had business before the official's agency when the official went on a golf trip to Scotland — a trip outlined in the court papers on Scanlon.
In the Scanlon case, prosecutors say that the former DeLay aide and the lobbyist "sought and received Representative No. 1's agreement to perform a series of official acts."
The acts, said the court papers, included "agreements to support and pass legislation, agreements to place statements into the Congressional Record, meeting with Lobbyist A and Scanlon's clients, and advancing the application of Lobbyist A for a license to install wireless telephone infrastructure in the House of Representatives."
Scanlon and Lobbyist A provided "a lavish trip to Scotland to play golf on world-famous courses, tickets to sporting events and other entertainment, regular meals at Lobbyist A's upscale restaurant, and campaign contributions for Representative No. 1, his political action committee and other political committees on behalf of Representative No. 1." Abramoff owned Signatures restaurant in Washington, D.C.
Ney started helping Abramoff clients in 2000, when the congressman entered comments in the Congressional Record against a man who was standing in the way of Abramoff's plans to purchase gambling boats in Florida. Four months later, the man was murdered.
Abramoff has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Florida on charges of fraud and conspiracy stemming from his role in the 2000 purchase of the fleet of gambling boats. He has pleaded not guilty.
Ney took a golf trip to Scotland in 2002 that Abramoff sponsored. House members are allowed to accept trips from outside groups but not from lobbyists. Ney said in March that Abramoff told him a GOP policy group paid for the trip. The group said it didn't pay for the trip, and tax records subsequently showed Abramoff's charity paid for it. Ney has denied any wrongdoing.
In private e-mails released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Abramoff said he had persuaded Ney to attach language to an election reform bill to help an American Indian tribe in Texas reopen a closed casino. Abramoff directed a Texas tribe, the Tiguas, to donate to Ney's re-election campaign and his PAC by e-mail.
In another e-mail, Abramoff told a Tigua representative that "our friend" had asked them to pay for the Scotland trip. The tribal representative, Marc Schwartz, later testified to the Senate that "our friend" referred to Ney.
Ney's election campaign failed to report the use of Abramoff's $1,500 luxury suite at a Washington Wizards basketball game in 2003.
Charges outlined in documents filed Friday allege that Lobbyist A solicited an American Indian tribe in Mississippi in 1995 to provide lobbying services on taxes and other issues relating to tribal sovereignty.
The lobbyist then allegedly recommended that the tribe hire Scanlon's company, Capital Campaign Strategies, while concealing the fact the Lobbyist A would receive 50 percent of the profits from the tribe's payment to Scanlon.
The Mississippi tribe paid Scanlon's firm $14.8 million from June 2001 through April 2004, while Scanlon concealed from the tribe that 50 percent of the profit "was kicked back to Lobbyist A pursuant to their secret arrangement."
The court papers detailing the conspiracy charge say that Scanlon and Lobbyist A had identical kickback arrangements for tribes in Louisiana, Texas and Michigan. The amounts of money were $30.5 million for the tribe in Lousiana, $3.5 million for the one in Michigan, and $4.2 million for the one in Texas.