Rep. Ney says he was 'duped' by Abramoff

House Administration Committee Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was the principle congressional supporter of a plan devised by lobbyist Jack Abramoff to reopen a tribal casino that he and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon had previously helped to close, according to testimony and statements released at a hearing yesterday of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

Ney said in a statement last night that he was “duped” and “misled” by Abramoff into championing a measure that would have allowed the El Paso-based Tigua to reopen the Speaking Rock Casino after it was closed in February of 2002.

Ney tried to add the casino measure to an election-reform bill he had sponsored, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), but the bill’s Senate sponsor Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) nixed the idea.

Abramoff and Scanlon have been the subject of several federal investigations of allegations that they charged six Indian tribes over $80 million in questionable lobbying and public relations fees over several years.

Scanlon appeared at the hearing yesterday and asserted his Fifth Amendment rights
against self-incrimination.  Scanlon had failed to show up at an earlier Indian Affairs Committee hearing in September in which Abramoff appeared and declined to testify, citing Constitutional protections. 

Two representatives of the Tigua tribe, Lieutenant Governor Carlos Hisa and tribal lobbyist Marc Schwartz, testified at the hearing that Abramoff and Scanlon had straddled both sides of the casino issue, working in late 2001 and early 2002 to have the casino shut down and then contacting the Tiguas later and offering to use their congressional contacts to get the casino opened again.

Abramoff and Scanlon had been paid by Louisiana gaming tribe to launch a public relations effort against the Tigua casino, which could draw business from other tribes’ gambling ventures.  Abramoff and Scanlon in turned paid former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed over $2 million to rally religious conservatives against the Tigua casino, according to published reports and e-mails.

Immediately after the casino closed, Abramoff and Scanlon contacted
representatives of the Tigua tribe and offered to “overcome the gross indignity perpetrated by Texas state authorities.” Abramoff offered to work his contacts on Capitol Hill on a pro bono basis to get the casino reopened.  He suggested that after the casino was up and running again, the tribe should retain him and his firm Greenberg Traurig for $125,000 to $175,000 per month, a massive contract by Washington standards.

Abramoff resigned from Greenberg Traurig in March.

Although Abramoff agreed to work for free, he suggested the tribe pay Scanlon to launch a huge public relations campaign known as “Operation Open Doors,” which would rally support for reopening the Speaking Rock resort.  The tribe paid Scanlon $4.2 million from March to June of 2002. Abramoff received a cut of the money without the tribe’s knowledge, according to testimony.

At yesterday’s hearing, Indian Affairs Committee Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) denounced the “cynical manipulation” of the Tigua tribe by Abramoff and Scanlon.

Incoming chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) called their behavior “the height of hypocrisy, the pinnacle of deception,” while Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said Abramoff and Scanlon “deserve the harshest treatment that the legal system can provide.”

A representative for Abramoff declined to comment.

Scanlon was cheerful after the hearing and said he would comment publicly later in the evening, but calls to his lawyer’s office last night were not returned.

After signing the Tigua as a client in February 2002, Abramoff and Scanlon briefly considered a range of potential legislative vehicles for an amendment that would allow the tribe to reopen the casino.

“Jack Abramoff maintained his role was simple.  He would have one or more representatives or senators slip into a conference report very discrete language allowing the Tigua to reopen their casino.  After passage of such an amendment, Michael Scanlon and his company would then run a public relations campaign to beat back any attempts to repeal the language,” said McCain.

In a March 7, 2002, e-mail exchange, Abramoff and Scanlon considered an energy bill, a terrorism insurance bill and an employment insurance stimulus bill as potential vehicles.

Then on March 20, Abramoff reported to Scanlon that Ney would help them pass the Tigua casino fix.  “Just met with Ney!!!  We’re f’ing gold!!!!  He’s going to do Tigua,” wrote Abramoff.

A week later, Abramoff wrote to the Tigua lobbyist Schwartz explaining that the tribe needed to contribute to Ney’s campaign committee and his leadership political action committee, American Liberty.

“He is the chairman of the committee doing election reform,” wrote Abramoff.  “Please get us the following checks for him asap.”  The tribe paid $32,000 in contributions to Ney. 

On April 12, Scanlon updated the Tigua Tribal Council on their progress.  “We have a commitment to place it in the [election reform] bill.  The language is in the hands of the sponsor.  We have Senate support, but they are looking for political cover,” he wrote.  It was unclear who in the Senate Scanlon was referring to.

Four days later, Scanlon told Schwartz he had a meeting arranged to “lock in the commitment from the Senate sponsor.”  He discusses a grassroots effort in Connecticut, suggesting that the senator may be Dodd.

On May 13, Scanlon reported to Schwartz that “all of the major players on the election reform package have given their support.”

On June 7, Abramoff wrote to Schwartz saying, “our friend asked it we could…cover a Scotland golf trip for him and some staff…and members in August.” Schwartz testified yesterday that he believed “our friend” referred to Ney. 

“We did this [a similar trip] for another member – you know who,” added Abramoff. 
Schwartz said yesterday that he thought Abramoff was referring to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), whom Abramoff knew well.

Abramoff indicated that the Scotland trip would probably be billed through Capital Athletic Foundation, a group created by Abramoff, so that it could be done “as an educational mission.”

Abramoff wanted Tigua to pay $50,000 for trip, but the tribe ultimately declined.

The Scotland trip went forward in August, funded by other tribal clients of Abramoff and Scanlon, Schwartz testified. Ney, Abramoff, Ralph Reed and an administration official flew to St. Andrews, according to published reports.

The Tigua’s Hisa said yesterday that he was outraged when he later learned that the Tigua had been asked to pay for a golfing trip for Ralph Reed, who along with Scanlon and Abramoff had helped shut down the tribe’s casino earlier that year.

Ney said yesterday that he did not know the Scotland trip was tied to Indian tribes.  “I want to be absolutely clear that not at any point, ever, was I made even remotely aware that any Indian tribe played any role in this trip.”

Tigua representatives said they were instructed by Abramoff not to mention the Scotland trip during a later meeting with Ney.

Yet even before the Scotland trip, the effort to add the Tigua provision to the HAVA bill hit a roadblock.

On July 25, Abramoff wrote to Scanlon: “I just spoke with Ney who met today with Dodd on the bill and raised our provision.  Dodd looked at him like a ‘deer in the headlights’ and said he has never made such a commitment and that, with the problems of new casinos in Connecticut, it is a problem!!!...Ney feels we left him out to dry.”

Dodd released a statement yesterday that he does not know either Abramoff or Scanlon and that they never contacted him about the Tigua casino. 

He said Ney’s staff and a Democratic National Committee official, Lottie Shackelford, did contact him to see whether the Tigua provision could be included in the HAVA bill.  “The suggestion was summarily rejected,” Dodd said.

“I have had no involvement whatsoever in any effort to recognize this tribe.  Mr. Abramoff and his associates need to be held accountable for their duplicitous, greedy and underhanded actions,” he said.

Ney said in a statement yesterday that he supported the Tigua provision because he believed that Dodd supported it.

“I was approached by Mr. Abramoff, who explicitly told me that this provision was supported by Senator Chris Dodd, my fellow co-author of HAVA, because this provision would also help Indian tribes in the State of Connecticut. Believing that Senator Dodd supported this provision and knowing that Senator Dodd's support was critical to HAVA's passage, I then personally asked Senator Dodd about this provision and he expressed no knowledge of it.  In short, I had been misled by Jack Abramoff,” Ney said.

“I then asked Jack Abramoff why Senator Dodd was apparently not supporting it and Mr. Abramoff told me that someone had lied to him.  The matter was then closed from my perspective,” Ney added.

However, Abramoff was still arranging meetings between Ney and the Tigua months later, and Ney seemed eager to work with Abramoff.

Between Aug. 12 and 14, Schwartz, Hisa, Abramoff and another Tigua representative met with Ney in Washington for over an hour and a half.

 “During that meeting, Congressman Ney was very animated about Mr. Abramoff’s skill and repute as a leader in the lobbying circles,” Schwartz testified.  “We were told about the impending success of Mr. Abramoff’s legislative plan and how much Congressman Ney wanted to help.”

A spokesman for Ney, Brian Walsh, could not immediately comment on why the
meeting apparently occurred after Ney knew Dodd was supportive of the provision.

Ney held a conference call with the tribe on Oct. 8 in which Schwartz recalls Ney saying that Dodd had gone back on his word in refusing to add the casino provision.

“The Congressman has no recollection of that conference call.  We went back through his schedule and there was nothing on that date regarding a conference call,” Walsh said.

Ney’s Ohio district contains no Indian reservations.

The election reform conference report passed the House on Oct. 10, 2002 without the Tigua provision.  It passed the Senate six days later.

The Tigua episode is not the first time that Ney has said he was misled by Scanlon or Abramoff.

In October 2000, Ney took to the House floor at Scanlon’s request to praise businessman Adam Kidan, an associate of Scanlon and Abramoff in a deal to buy a Florida casino.

Ney noted Kidan’s "renowned reputation for honesty and integrity." Only later did Ney discover that Kidan was close to being disbarred in New York state and that he was reportedly linked to organized crime.

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