Abramoff is no lobbyist, and this is no administration
by Kagro X
Tue Sep 27th, 2005 at 10:14:55 PDT
Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo yesterday examined the burgeoning Abramoff scandal from a refreshingly wide angle:
On paper, Jack Abramoff was a lobbyist. And he made a great deal of money for himself. But if you think of Jack Abramoff as just a crooked lobbyist most of the facts coming out about what he did don't make a great deal of sense. He was a key player in a very big political machine and he was managing a slush fund.
Look at the pattern.
Notice how all Abramoff's clients seemed to get 'bilked' out of large sums of money that ended up going to other conservative foundations, consulting firms, Ralph Reed, lobby shops, Grover Norquist, astroturf organizers, politicians, etc.? All of them part of Washington's Republican infrastructure?
It's a sentiment echoed by our own Daily Kos diarist dengre, who summed it up thus: " Jack is a 25-year GOP bag man."
It's time to stop feeding the convenient fiction that Abramoff is a "lobbyist," and that he works with an "administration."
This is a very astute observation they make. Josh and dengre do us all a big favor by shifting our perspective on the goings-on, and prompting us to think of Abramoff as something other than a lobbyist who happens to have gotten himself in trouble. In fact, what he does is just the polite name for influence peddling. And no, that's not actually what most lobbyists do. Or at least, it wasn't, until the advent of the "K Street Project."
But it's more than just that. Jack hooks his clients up with what amounts to a GOP protection racket. As in, "Nice business you got there. Be a shame if something tragic -- something regulatory -- happened to it." And then, as Josh notes, the spoils are divided among the players in the movement right's seamy underbelly. "Lobbying" work is performed by dealers either too shady (see Grassroots Interactive -- who just had two employees abscond for Israel, a la Myer Lansky!) or too concerned with their false image of piety (see the use of the Christian Coalition to run interference on behalf of Indian gaming outfits) to be contacted directly. And, of course, Abramoff takes a cut of the fee. In fact, perhaps more than just a cut, since Grassroots Interactive, for instance, is "controlled" by Abramoff.
But the self-financing aspect of the bagman operation doesn't end there. We also find out more each day about Abramoff's vertical integration scheme, involving the "rental" of his luxury skyboxes at the DC area's premier sports arenas to clients seeking to curry favor with legislators, for whom they hold fundraisers in the rented space, and the use of the floating tab at his now-infamous Signatures restaurant.
Abramoff gets you coming and going. Look carefully at that wikipedia link above, referencing the use of the Christian Coalition -- the charges there go further than I was aware of. The accusation there is, "The lobbyists are accused of orchestrating lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services." Let's say that again: lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services! On what planet is that not a straight mob-style shakedown? Who wouldn't call that a protection racket?
Then, of course, once you find you need a lobbyist, you hire Abramoff, because he says he has the connections to make your problem go away. And of course, in the case of the Indian casinos, he does! Because he's creating the problem! So he signs you up for a "grassroots" lobbying campaign, and "outsources" the work -- only he's outsourcing it to himself, and charging you a marked-up "brokerage fee," plus collecting the fee for "services" on the other end! And when it comes time to schmooze the legislators, he has you "rent" his luxury skybox to host a fundraiser for select Congressmen, but "forgets" to pass the bill on to the beneficiary of the event, as required by law. Cool by Jack, though, because now the Congressman owes him a favor -- both for the checks collected and for the freebie on the skybox -- and he still gets paid for the venue rental by the client! Perfect!
So, kudos to Josh and dengre, for helping us to break out of the absurd frame in which Abramoff can give himself the sheen of being a real, but sorely misunderstood and persecuted "lobbyist."
Today, of course, we learn that Abramoff had the juice to get a federal prosecutor demoted once he caught onto his racketeering activities. Protection rackets, self-dealing, profit skimming, obstruction of justice, associates fleeing the country to avoid prosecution -- where's the daylight between this activity and mobsterism?
And of course, the Bush team is complicit in the racket -- slowing investigations, sucking up the slush funds, and generally looking the other way for "a friend of ours." The same frame-shattering that helps us see the fiction of Abramoff as "lobbyist" can help us see through the fiction of the Bush "administration." Ask yourself: Are you still sure the Bush team has as its first priority the actual administration of the United States federal government? I'm not so sure.
Update: What else is Abramoff mixed up in?
Arrests Made in Case Connected to Abramoff
Three Men Allegedly Killed 'Gus' Boulis, Who Sold A Casino Cruise Line to the Embattled Washington Lobbyist
By James V. Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005; 4:45 PM
Fort Lauderdale police have arrested three men on murder and conspiracy charges in the 2001 gangland-style killing of a South Florida businessman who sold a casino cruise line to Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, authorities said today.
Police picked up Anthony Moscatiello, 67, Anthony Ferrari, 48, and James Fiorillo, 28, last night and this morning in connection with the ambush slaying of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, who was killed in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 6, 2001.
Boulis had sold SunCruz Casinos to Abramoff and a partner, Adam Kidan, in 2000 at a time when Abramoff was one of Washington's most powerful lobbyists. Abramoff and Kidan were indicted last month on charges of wire fraud in connection with the purchase of the company. Moscatiello, known to police as a bookkeeper to New York's Gambino crime family, was brought in as consultant by Kidan when he and Abramoff took control of SunCruz. Ferrari is a business associate of Moscatiello.
Abramoff is at the center of a federal investigation into lobbying for Indian tribes and influence-peddling in Washington. Abramoff used contacts with Republican Reps. Tom DeLay (Tex.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio) and members of their staffs as he worked to land the SunCruz deal, interviews and court records show.
Ney twice placed comments in the Congressional Record at key points while Abramoff and Kidan were wrangling with Boulis over the purchase and control of the company. Ney first sharply criticized Boulis and later praised the new ownership under Kidan. Ney later said he was duped into making the comments by an Abramoff aide.
Also during the negotiations, Abramoff brought a lender he was trying to impress to hobnob with DeLay in Abramoff's FedEx Field skybox at a Redskins-Cowboys game. DeLay has said he did not remember meeting the lender.
Fort Lauderdale homicide detectives say they have been interested in interviewing Abramoff for years, but he has repeatedly begged off, citing scheduling difficulties. Abramoff's lawyer, Neal Sonnett, said after the fraud indictment that his client knows nothing about the murder but would be willing to meet with police. Kidan, who was interviewed by police in 2001, also has denied any knowledge of the murder.
Police have long said they knew who killed Boulis but needed more evidence to bring a case. Late last week, police persuaded the Broward County State Attorney's Office that they had enough evidence to get a grand jury indictment. The indictment of the three men was handed up Thursday and remains under seal.
Moscatiello was arrested at 8 p.m. yesterday in his Howard Beach home in Queens, N.Y. Ferrari was arrested at 11:15 p.m. in Miami. Both were being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy and solicitation to commit murder. Fiorillo, who was arrested this morning in Palm Coast, Fla., was charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy.
Michael D. Becker, an attorney in Miami who has represented the men in other matters, said he has not had a chance to speak to any of them yet. "The arrest certainly came out of the blue," he said today.
Five years ago, Abramoff, Kidan and former Reagan administration official Ben Waldman of Springfield, purchased SunCruz from Boulis, 51, the millionaire founder of the popular Miami Subs sandwich shop chain. Abramoff and Kidan have been friends since their days together as College Republicans in Washington. Kidan, of New York City, owned the Dial-a-Mattress chain in the District until the franchise went into bankruptcy in the 1990s.
On Aug. 11, Abramoff and Kidan were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale on five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy relating to their $147.5 million SunCruz purchase. Prosecutors alleged that Abramoff and Kidan faked a wire transfer of $23 million -- the down payment they had agreed to put into the deal for the fleet of Florida-based day-cruise casino boats.
Boulis remained a minority partner in SunCruz after the deal, but the relationship soured quickly.
In October 2000, in the midst of the infighting with Boulis, Kidan turned to a friend of 15 years, Moscatiello, who began visiting Kidan's condominium and golfing with Kidan and Waldman. Moscatiello in 1983 was indicted on federal heroin-trafficking charges along with Gene Gotti, brother of John Gotti, then the head of the Gambino crime family. Gene Gotti and several others were convicted and sentenced to prison, but charges against Moscatiello were later dropped.
Kidan met Moscatiello in 1990 when he was running New York City's Best Bagels in the Hamptons and Moscatiello was running a catering hall. Moscatiello provided Kidan advice on running the business. Kidan said in a deposition he was unaware of Moscatiello's 1983 indictment or his affiliations with the Gambino family.
In December 2000, the trouble with Boulis boiled over in a fistfight between Kidan and Boulis. Kidan described the fight to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, telling the newspaper that Boulis said, "I'm not going to sue you, I'm going to kill you." Kidan said that SunCruz thereafter barred Boulis from its casino ships. "We fired his friends, we fired his family and he wasn't happy with it," Kidan said. "This guy is violent -- he's sleazy."
That month SunCruz made the first of $145,000 in payments to Moscatiello and his daughter. Three checks for $10,000 each were made to his daughter, Jennifer Moscatiello. A fourth check for $115,000 was made to Gran-Sons, a company the Moscatiellos ran. The payments were for catering, consulting and "site inspections," Kidan said in a civil court deposition in 2001.
There is no evidence that any food or drink were provided or that any consulting documents were prepared, according to court documents. The checks to Jennifer Moscatiello were made at Anthony Moscatiello's instruction, although his daughter provided no services for the money, Kidan said in his deposition.
Ferarri is a principal in Moon Over Miami Beach Inc., which received $95,000 from SunCruz for surveillance services in early 2001.
Abramoff and Kidan were traveling on business abroad at the time of Boulis's murder.