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Indian Affairs says Abramoff fraud doesn’t show need for new laws

Observer Staff

7/5/2006 12:00:00 AM

WASHINGTON (AP)-A Senate panel concluded existing laws are sufficient to deal with the sort of massive fraud perpetrated by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a former aide to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

In a 373-page report, the Republican-controlled Senate Indian Affairs Committee said that with regard to Abramoff and ex-DeLay aide Michael Scanlon collecting tens of millions of dollars from Indian Tribes, "without doubt, the depth and breadth of their misconduct was astonishing."

"Nevertheless, with respect solely to the kickbacks from Scanlon to Abramoff, the committee concludes that existing federal criminal statutes are sufficient to deter and punish such misconduct," it said.

The committee report was entitled "Gimme Five," a reference to what Abramoff and Scanlon called their secret fee-splitting arrangement. The committee approved its release June 22 by a 13-0 vote.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, told reporters after the vote that the report "speaks for itself."

But Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said the conduct described in the report is "the worst case of greed in my 20 years in the Senate."

Abramoff and Scanlon have pleaded guilty in the extensive influence peddling probe and are cooperating with the Justice Department.

Two other congressional aides turned lobbyists, Tony Rudy and Neil Volz, also have pleaded guilty and are cooperating. A federal jury convicted former White House official David Safavian recently of covering up details of his relationship with Abramoff from committee investigators and others.

An ongoing federal investigation is looking into the actions of several members of Congress and former administration officials in connection with Abramoff.

Among those are two people who are mentioned in the report, Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and former Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, whose agency handled Tribal casino approvals.

Ney denied to the committee that he agreed to try to insert a provision into election reform legislation in 2002 to help an American Indian Tribe in Texas, the Tiguas, reopen a closed casino. Ney, in fact, told committee staff that he was unfamiliar with the Tribe.

But the report notes that Tribal representatives testified that Ney met with them in August 2002 and he assured them he was trying to help the Tiguas in the legislation. Ney's lawyer later told the committee that his schedule for that day showed a half-hour meeting with the "Taqua." The report does not elaborate further.

Recent Justice Department court papers say Ney engaged in 16 actions on behalf of Abramoff at the same time the congressman and his staff were accepting gifts from the lobbyist.

Ney's office has blamed Ney's problems on "the lies and deception of Jack Abramoff."

Ney "has never, at any point, engaged in any improper, unethical or illegal activity," his office said after the Safavian verdict.

Griles has denied giving Abramoff or his clients preferential treatment. The committee was "unable to arrive at any definitive conclusions as to the veracity of Griles' testimony," the report said.

The committee did recommend that Indian Tribes adopt their own laws "to help prevent a similar tragedy." The Tribes hired Abramoff and Scanlon to deal with casino gambling issues. The Senate report said Tribal contracting should adopt the principles of openness and competition.

The report said that in some cases, Abramoff and Scanlon obtained lobbying and grassroots contracts "by insinuating themselves into Tribal Council elections and assisting with the campaigns of candidates who were calculated to support their proposals."

The report concluded that in other cases, Abramoff and Scanlon "were even more aggressive, for example, helping to shut down the casino of one Tribe, only to pitch their services for millions of dollars to help that same, now desperate Tribe reopen its casino."

National Congress of American Indians President Joe Garcia stated in a June 22 press release the committee's report "simply confirms what we all now know."

"It is our hope that Chairman McCain's report closes the door on Mr. Abramoff's activities, allowing Congree to focus on the many pressing issues facing our communities," he added. "Indian Country will continue to work aggressively on areas such as providing quality and affordable health care, improving education for our youth, developing self-sustaining economies and protecting Tribal sovereignty. As the representative Congress of Tribal Nations, NCAI will continue to advance Indian Country's proactive agenda in Washington, as we have for the past 40 years."

Members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan were mailed copies of the report's chapter concerning the Mt. Pleasant-based sovereign Nation. Copies of the20-page document can be obtained by request through contacting the Tribal Clerk's Office. The full report can also be accessed through the Tribe's website at www.sagchip.org.

"At our next community meeting, scheduled for Aug. 3 (doors open at 8 a.m., breakfast and meeting begins at 9 a.m.), we will provide a legislative update and review of the Senate report," stated Saginaw Chippewa Chief Fred Cantu Jr. in a June 22 letter to the membership.

-Tribal Observer Managing Editor Scott Csernyik contributed to this report.