Indian Affairs panel hears ‘tale of betrayal’

Embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff was an avatar of greed and contempt who betrayed his friends and associates, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asserted yesterday.

McCain, presiding over the third of four scheduled hearings by the Indian Affairs Committee on Abramoff’s questionable business dealings with Indian tribes involved with gambling, turned the spotlight on Abramoff client the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, which he represented from 1995 to 2004.

“Today’s hearing is about more than contempt, even more than greed,” McCain said. “It is simple and sadly a tale of betrayal.”

McCain traced the trail of money from the Choctaws’ coffers to a private company controlled by Abramoff, a private Jewish school founded by Abramoff and even paramilitary groups in Israel.

According to an e-mail released at the hearing, Abramoff and his associate Michael Scanlon charged the Choctaw tribe $7.7 million in 2001 for public affairs and grassroots lobbying. After Scanlon spent $1.2 million on the activities, the two split the rest.

Much of the money Abramoff and Scanlon solicited from the Choctaws was filtered through various nonprofit groups, allowing Abramoff to conceal the fact that most of it was not spent on lobbying or public-affairs activities benefiting the Choctaws, records show.

For example, the Choctaws paid $1 million in 2002 to the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank of which Abramoff was a board member.

Although the tribe was led to believe it was paying for “professional services” performed as part of Scanlon’s public-relations duties, half of the money went to a company controlled by Scanlon, Capitol Campaign Strategies; $50,000 went to repay a personal loan Abramoff incurred during his days as a filmmaker; and the remaining $450,000 was a donation to a charity controlled by Abramoff, the Capital Athletic Foundation.

The great majority of the contributions to the foundation were later passed on to the Eshkol Academy, an all-boys Orthodox Jewish school in Columbia, Md., that Abramoff founded. The foundation also paid a monthly stipend and Jeep payments to a high-school friend of Abramoff who conducted sniper workshops for members of the Israeli Defense Force in Israel’s West Bank.

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