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Abramoff Scandal
Second Texas tribe involved in Abramoff scandal


LOBBYING SCANDAL

Public relations consultant Michael Scanlon refused to answer questions at November 17, 2004, Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing.
Plea Deal | Attachment | US v. Scanlon

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas last week confirmed its involvement in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal amid a growing investigation that threatens a Republican member of Congress.

Following the publication of an article in the Roll Call newspaper, Alabama-Coushatta Chairman Ronnie Thomas said the tribe donated $50,000 to the Capital Athletic Foundation. Only later did the tribe find out that the charity was controlled by Abramoff, Thomas said.

"We are surprised and disheartened by what was done to us," Thomas said in a statement. "I blame Mr. Abramoff for not being honest."

Thomas said the tribe was never directly contacted by Abramoff or his partner, Michael Scanlon. He said the donation was solicited by the another Texas tribe -- the Tiguas of El Paso, who paid $4.2 million to Scanlon and hired Abramoff in a bid to get its casino reopened with the help of a Republican lawmaker.

New information from the Department of Justice shows that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) not only pledged to help the Tiguas but the Alabama-Coushattas as well. Ney promised to "introduce and seek passage of legislation that would lift an existing federal ban against commercial gaming for another Native American Tribe in Texas," according to a plea agreement reached last week with Scanlon, who is cooperating with federal investigators.

Ney's involvement is now the subject of a federal corruption probe. According story published in The Washington Post on Saturday, Ney and his former chief of staff have been told that a possible bribery case is being prepared against them.

Ney has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with Abramoff and Scanlon. He said he was misled into supporting the Tigua legislation in the spring and summer of 2002.

The timeframe is crucial to the case. In June 2002, a federal judge ordered the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to shut down its casino. That same month, according to Scanlon's plea, Ney agreed to help the tribe.

Incidentally, in June 2002, retired Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) held a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing to discuss the controversy. Witnesses said legislation was needed to ensure the tribe could continue gaming.

Earlier that year, in March 2002, Ney agreed to help Tigua Tribe, identified as the "Texas Tribe" in the DOJ papers. The Tiguas paid Scanlon for a national public relations campaign to support the legislation and also hired Abramoff, who said he would represent the tribe for free until the effort was completed.

What the tribe didn't know, according to federal investigators, was that Scanlon was splitting half of the profits with Abramoff under a secret arrangement. About $1.85 million ended up in Abramoff's pockets, according to court papers. The Tigua Tribe will now receive restitution as a result of the plea deal.

The case has attracted attention due to the involvement of Ralph Reed, a conservative Christian Republican activist who opposes all forms of gaming. He has since admitted to taking $4.1 million from Abramoff in order to oppose gaming efforts by tribes in Texas and Louisiana. He denies knowing he was paid by gaming interests.

The money for the Texas campaign came from the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, one of Abramoff's gaming clients whose leaders feared their casino would be hurt by competition from other tribes. The Alabama-Coushatta Reservation in Texas is about 185 miles from the Coushatta Reservation in Louisiana.

"They preyed on our political insecurities, economic insecurities and insecurities about each other," said Coushatta Chairman Kevin Sickey at a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing earlier this month. Sickey was elected after pro-Abramoff tribal leaders were ousted by tribal voters.

Abramoff has admitted to working against the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe. In an interview with The New York Times, he said the Texas campaign was centered on the Alabama-Coushatta casino near Houston because it posed a threat to the Coushattas in Louisiana.

He told the paper that he never meant to hurt the Tigua Tribe with the Texas campaign. He said the "story of the Tigua is not a story of me going 'hahahaha!'" in order to swindle the tribe out of money.

But documents released by the Senate committee suggest he was trying to bring the Alabama-Coushattas on as a client. Additionally, he appeared to be soliciting the Kickapoo Tribe of Texas for donations to a Republican environmental organization, according to e-mails in which "Kickapoo" is mentioned.

Abramoff did press the Tiguas in June 2002 for money to cover a "Scotland golf trip" for "our friend" in Congress, who has since been identified as Ney. The money was to be funneled through the Capital Athletic Foundation, the charity controlled by Abramoff.

The Tiguas declined to make the donation, bringing the Alabama-Cousahttas into the picture. The Alabama-Cousahttas made the contribution, helping Ney, Reed and Abramoff go to Scotland for the golf trip.

From the Indianz.Com Archive:
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe shuts down casino (July 26, 2002) | Tribe pleas to keep casino open (July 23, 2002) | Tribe ordered to close casino (June 26, 2002) | Another Texas tribe faces shutdown (June 19, 2002)

November 17, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Documents

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Video | Exhibits | Senate Witness List / Testimony

Relevant Links:
Alabama-Coushatta Tribe - http://www.alabama-coushatta.com