Abramoff Scandal
Criminal Jackpot: Abramoff and the Coushatta Tribe

"Forty-five minutes away from Lafayette, the Coushatta Indian reservation is tucked at the end of a desolate 16-mile stretch of prairie and ranch homes in Elton, La. Since 1995, the tribe�s 850 members had grown accustomed to a quiet existence that�s a sharp contrast to the pulsing nightlife of its glitzy Grand Casino Coushatta in nearby Kinder.

But in 2003, Coushatta tribe receptionist Flo Pitre�s phone started to ring off the hook. In kitchens and living rooms throughout Elton, there was talk about the tribe�s private corporate jet flying council members to meetings and other events. There were rumors of a 32-acre ranch out in Sulphur that appeared to be a private playground for tribal Chairman Lovelin Poncho.

�I guess you could say I�m the corner post,� says Pitre. �People would call wondering if I could ask the council people [about the tribe�s financial issues].�

Tribal members had no idea that they were about to discover a trail of corruption that stretched deep into Capitol Hill and the White House.

Coushatta leadership was the link between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Washington�s political power circles. Abramoff is now the poster child for lobbying reform, a kind of conservative uber-operative who lifted influence peddling to a new level. All told, Abramoff bilked 11 Indian gaming tribes out of an estimated $85 million in lobbying fees, including $36.2 million from the Coushattas.

His web of connections, often referred to as �the house that Jack built,� includes links to sweatshops in the U.S.-controlled Northern Mariana Islands and a gangland slaying in Florida. Abramoff�s recent plea bargains with federal prosecutors have made him radioactive to the lawmakers he plied with lavish junkets, campaign contributions, skybox fundraisers, and dinners at Signatures, his top-tier restaurant. A half-dozen congressmen are now under investigation in connection with the scandal, along with aides, business associates and government officials."

Get the Story:
Criminal Jackpot (The Independent Weekly 5/31)

Relevant Links:
Coushatta Tribe - http://www.coushattatribela.org

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