Casino Jack and the United States of Money: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff and the Buying of Washington


Fully Revised, with a new Epilogue
(Previously published as Heist)

A riveting tale of our time: an inside-Washington drama driven by powerful personalities and the toxic mix of money and power

An absorbing expose of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a one time B-movie producer who worked alongside public relations whiz Michael Scanlon, an ex-aide to then House Republican whip Tom ...

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Fully Revised, with a new Epilogue
(Previously published as Heist)

A riveting tale of our time: an inside-Washington drama driven by powerful personalities and the toxic mix of money and power

An absorbing expose of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a one time B-movie producer who worked alongside public relations whiz Michael Scanlon, an ex-aide to then House Republican whip Tom DeLay, to corrupt public officials and defraud four casino rich Indian tribes of almost $25 million. A five-year federal investigation into Abramoff’s misdeeds has turned into the largest influence peddling probe of the last decade and so far led to the convictions of twenty lobbyists, Hill staffers, Bush administration officials (including Steve Griles, the former number two at Interior) and former Representative Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

Boasting a cast of characters and close Abramoff allies like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, Casino Jack is a cautionary tale about the seemingly endless ways that lobbyists and campaign cash can buy powerful friends and influence Washington policymaking.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A one-stop shop for anyone wanting to know what this scandal is all about, why the fuss has been so substantial, what made Abramoff tick and how he succeeded.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Chillingly chronicles the sleazy and criminal exploits of one of the capital's most notorious players and exposes the darkest corners of the city.... a brilliant example of journalism noir.”
—David Corn, Washington Editor, Mother Jones

“Peter Stone has provided a comprehensive history. . . the clearest picture yet of how Abramoff’s operation really worked.”
—Paul Kiel, Washington Monthly

“[A]ll the damning evidence a reader could want...with luck, this lively little study will help inspire reforms.”
—Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“[An] absorbing exposé.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Provides a dutifully detailed account of how Mr. Abramoff, a fervent ideologue from the Reagan era, clawed his way into the capital’s glittering skyboxes . . . especially sharp in spelling out the sucker-punch ‘Gimme Five’ plan.”
—Chris Lehmann, The New York Observer

“Lays out how a greedy nobody insinuated himself into the Republican establishment . . . timely, compact, competent, and contains all the key facts, figures, and dates.”
—Charles Trueheart, Bloomberg

“Peter Stone played a vital role in uncovering one of the biggest stories in Washington, and with this book he skillfully takes the reader deep inside the world of money, influence, politics, and power in a gripping and illuminating narrative.”
—Michael Kranish, author, Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War

“Peter Stone’s first-rate investigative reporting, done over several years, is a deftly handled take by an experienced Washington reporter. The thing that makes this book stand out is the incredible amount of original reporting that went into it. The tale is also well written and not overly hyped. It doesn’t have to be. It is told in delicious, understated detail that could easily be turned into a movie script.”
—Anne Colamosca, co-author of The Great 401(k) Hoax

Norman J. Ornstein
Heist is a one-stop shop for anyone wanting to know what this scandal is all about, why the fuss has been so substantial, what made Abramoff tick and how he succeeded. It follows on the heels of another book that set out some months earlier to do the same thing, The K Street Gang by Matthew Continetti of The Weekly Standard. There is substantial overlap, naturally, between the two books, with Continetti providing more detail and Stone a more contemporaneous and concise account.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In this absorbing expose, journalist Stone rakes through every bit of Abramoff muck, from his role as producer of the Dolph Lundgren thriller Red Scorpion to his efforts to shield Marianas Islands sweatshops from labor regulations and minimum-wage laws. In his ripest scam, Abramoff took Indian casinos for millions, largely to help quash rival gambling establishments; in one masterstroke, he lobbied to get the Tigua tribe's casino reopened-after secretly organizing the campaign that shut it down. No mere opportunist, Stone contends, Abramoff became "financial godfather to a conservative influence machine" and "indispensable bagman" to GOP stalwarts like Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed-who almost outsleazed Abramoff by organizing Christian antigambling crusades while collecting millions from Abramoff's tribal casino clients (and recently lost a Republican primary in Georgia perhaps because of this hypocrisy). Stone's sometimes repetitive account traces the labyrinthine routes-the charity front groups, the golf junkets-by which Abramoff funneled money to lawmakers and translated that influence into policy. The details can be eye glazing-as they were designed to be-but Stone keeps the story comprehensible while sprinkling in quotes from Abramoff's e-mails ("those moronic Tiguas... I'd love us to get our mitts on their moolah") that showcase his irrepressible grubbiness. The result is a troubling but colorful portrait of business as usual in Washington. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A debut for National Journal reporter Stone; with a -national tour. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This could be the Enron of lobbying. So shuddered one of Jack Abramoff's toadies when the big man was busted-rightly so, as National Journal reporter Stone shows. Stone has been following the Abramoff story for awhile, though the Washington Post beat him to the juiciest scoops, the ones that made Abramoff well known outside his immediate circle of Republican politicians, operatives and funding sources. Yet Stone does yeoman work in assembling all the damning evidence a reader could want. When Abramoff-whose downfall came after he got more than a little too greedy with the Indian tribes whose interests he was ostensibly advancing on the Hill-was a flack for the College Republicans, back in the '80s, he stuck the Republican National Committee for $100,000 in bills that were rightfully his. He was upbraided by the RNC chair, who recalls, "I told him you can't be trusted. It was a good indicator of what a scuz he was." Ah, yes, but that was before Abramoff became a confidant of Karl Rove, Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist and other far-right Republican stalwarts. It was also, apparently, before Abramoff learned the fine art of playing both sides of a game: When an Indian casino deal unfolded, it turns out he was lobbying for one tribe while lobbying against that tribe on behalf of yet another tribe. (An Orthodox Jew, he also pitched a lobbying deal to the government of Sudan, erstwhile host of Osama bin Laden.) Abramoff's web-weaving became legendary: He and his associates brought millions into the hands of the Republican Party and such important players as Tom DeLay and Conrad Burns. And for years, he had enough influence to make sure that, say, workers in the Northern Marianas went poorly paidand that Indian claims went unrecognized-pocketing millions on millions all the while. Both symptom and disease, Abramoffian wheeling and dealing continues on K Street. With luck, this lively little study will help inspire reforms.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933633695
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/4/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter H. Stone, a writer for the National Journal, was one of the first reporters on the Abramoff story and has been following it closely since it broke in 2004. He has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, and the Boston Globe. This is his first book.
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Read an Excerpt


Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2006 Peter H. Stone
All right reserved.

Chapter One


* * *

When Jack Abramoff flew into El Paso in February 2002, he was greeted by the Tigua Indians as a potential savior. At least that's how Carlos Hisa, a soft-spoken and boyish-looking leader of the Tigua tribe, initially regarded the well-connected Republican lobbyist from Washington.

It was a difficult time for Hisa, the tribe's lieutenant governor, and other leaders of the thirteen-hundred-member Tiguas, a Native American Indian tribe who have been in the El Paso area since 1680. The tribe's fortunes had taken a big hit just days before Abramoff's arrival, when a federal court ordered that a highly profitable casino that the Tiguas had been running since 1993 be shuttered.

A lobbyist renowned for his prodigious fund-raising talents and high-level GOP contacts on Capitol Hill and with the Bush administration, Abramoff arrived at the Tiguas' headquarters with a pitch to help get their casino reopened that was hard to resist.

Hisa and other tribal leaders, who had worked hard for months to stave off the casino's closing, were naturally interested, since the casino was vital to the tribe's welfare and employment.

At its peak, Speaking Rock Casino employed about eleven hundred people and generated almost $60 million a year in revenue, making itthe economic mainstay for the small Tigua community. Most nights of the week and on weekends, the casino did a brisk business and was packed with patrons who poured in from nearby El Paso and other smaller towns to play the thirteen hundred slot machines or table games such as poker and blackjack.

Surrounded by palm trees, the adobe-style light brown Speaking Rock was more than just a profitable venture: a large chunk of the revenues from the one-story casino was channeled into badly needed health, education, and housing programs. One ambitious project that the casino largely underwrote was a $20 million state-of-the-art wellness center: it offered everything from a diabetes prevention and treatment program to karate classes for children to a modern Olympic-size swimming pool and other recreational facilities.

During the years the casino was operating, the tribe's unemployment rate, which had previously hovered around 50 percent, was close to zero. The casino also enabled the tribe some years to pay each tribal member between $8,000 and $15,000, and made possible health insurance for many Indians who would otherwise have received little or no medical care. In short, Speaking Rock had been an economic boon to the long-struggling tribe. Most of the tribe lives in a checkerboard-style development on some four hundred acres of land just a mile or two from the Mexican border and about half an hour's drive from downtown El Paso.

After researching the lobbyist's background, Hisa and other tribal leaders were impressed. Abramoff's résumé read like a who's who of the GOP power elite. At the time, he was one of the hottest lobbyists in Washington and had received extensive and favorable press coverage. An Orthodox Jew and onetime Hollywood filmmaker who turned to lobbying right after the GOP captured Congress in 1994 during the Clinton administration, Abramoff had been lionized in front-page stories in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The articles had detailed his herculean fund-raising work for GOP leaders such as Tom DeLay of Texas, who had once helpfully referred to Abramoff as "one of my closest and dearest friends."

Abramoff's roots in the conservative movement were deep. He counted among his oldest and closest friends two pillars of the network: Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Both men were confidants of Karl Rove, the Bush administration's political guru, and had been close allies of the lobbyist since the early 1980s, when Abramoff chaired College Republicans and they served successively as his chief lieutenants. Hisa was also impressed that Abramoff worked at Greenberg Traurig, an elite law and lobbying firm, one of whose Florida-based lawyers had been instrumental in helping the Bush campaign in 2000 win its legal battles in the Sunshine State.

A stocky, well-built man in his early forties who had once been a star weight lifter at Beverly Hills High School, Abramoff initially promised that he would do pro bono work. The lobbyist had a smooth, polished style about him, and he informed the Tiguas that their casino's closing was outrageous; in one e-mail to a tribal consultant he referred to the "gross indignity perpetuated by the Texas state authorities." Further, Abramoff boasted that he had already found some members of Congress who would correct the injustice, citing "a couple of senators willing to ram this through."

But to achieve that goal for the tribe, Abramoff urged the tribe to hire Michael Scanlon, former spokesman for DeLay turned public relations and grassroots consultant, whom he had introduced to the tribal council at a meeting on February 12. The lobbyist and his PR associate had flown into El Paso on a privately chartered Gulfstream II jet. Abramoff and Scanlon came to the meeting with the Tiguas sharply dressed: both wore dark pin-striped suits. A lanky, athletic man of about thirty with a reputation as a glib and fast-talking salesman, Scanlon received rave reviews from Abramoff: Scanlon was touted by the lobbyist as a "go-to guy" and the "preeminent expert in grassroots politics," whose expertise would quickly ratchet up local pressures on Congress to ensure that Speaking Rock would reopen. Moreover, Abramoff assured the council that they would be "hiring Scanlon independently." Unlike Abramoff's pledge to work for free, Scanlon readily acknowledged that his work would be expensive, and a few days later he followed up with a written plan that he felicitously dubbed "Operation Open Doors."

The Scanlon plan certainly sounded grandiose. "Operation Open Doors is a massive undertaking fueled by a nationwide political operation," the several-page plan stated. "This political operation will result in a majority of both federal chambers either becoming close friends of the tribe, or fearing the tribe in a very short period of time. The network we are building for you will give you the political clout you need to end around [sic] the obstacles you face in your own back yard. Simply put, you need 218 friends in the U.S. House and 51 Senators on your side very quickly, and we will do that through both love and fear." To achieve these objectives, Scanlon proposed several steps, including building a "grassroots data base" and a related "research data base" that his consulting company would assemble by compiling a master list of the tribe's vendors, employees, and other economic and political allies. "To put things in military terms," the Scanlon memo stated, "the grassroots data base is your weapon; and the research data base is your ammunition."

On February 22, when Hisa and the tribal council met to seal the deal with Abramoff, he was alone. As before, Abramoff stressed that there was a need for absolute secrecy about the project, which the lobbyist said was preferred by "friendly legislators" in Washington. "I thought Abramoff was for real," Hisa told me one day in the summer of 2005 as we sat in his modest office just across the street from where the Speaking Rock still stands. "I looked him up on the Internet. I had no reason to doubt him." It all sounded very good to Hisa and his colleagues on the Tigua council. So the tribe agreed to a $4.2 million contract with a Scanlon-run consulting company to launch Operation Open Doors.

At the outset, Hisa and the other tribal leaders had reason to be optimistic about their casino reopening. Marc Schwartz, an El Paso consultant for the tribe who was the main liaison with Abramoff, told me that even before the contract was signed, the lobbyist at the February 22 meeting had handed him a list of $300,000 in suggested donations that he wanted made quickly to dozens of members of Congress and campaign committees. Abramoff requested that the checks, more than 90 percent of which were for Republicans, be sent to him for distribution, which the tribe agreed to do. Schwartz recalled that he was a bit perplexed about Abramoff's repeated emphasis on secrecy but, like Hisa and the tribal leaders, thought that the lobbyist was a good find.

On March 20, Abramoff already had some good news: he informed the tribe's leaders that he had gotten a commitment from a little-known but influential House Republican, Bob Ney of Ohio, chairman of the House Administration Committee, to attach a measure in conference to an election reform bill that would permit the tribe's casino to reopen. Privately, after Abramoff learned of Ney's promise at a meeting with the congressman, he couldn't contain himself. In a quick e-mail to Scanlon, he wrote, "We're fuck'n ... gold. Ney is going to do Tigua."

Just six days after Ney's promise, Abramoff instructed the tribe to donate some $32,000 to Ney's campaign committee and newly created political action committee, which the Tiguas quickly did. For good measure, Abramoff asked the Tiguas to chip in $50,000 to help underwrite a golf junket to Scotland for Ney and two of his staff that August. In an e-mail to Schwartz, Abramoff alluded to Ney as "our friend" and strongly suggested that funding the trip would make the congressman happy. Despite the lobbyist's pressure, the tribe's council balked at the cost and Abramoff didn't hide his displeasure.

Not to be denied, Abramoff continued to press the tribe in e-mails and phone calls for help. Hisa recalled that Abramoff kept stressing how important the trip would be by pointing out that "he was going to take key individuals who we needed for our efforts." At one point, according to a Tigua consultant, Abramoff even went so far as to tell him that then House majority whip Tom DeLay, who had taken a similar golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff in 2000, endorsed the idea of Ney's taking a junket too.

Eventually, the Tiguas informed Abramoff that while they couldn't give their own funds, they would try to locate other financing. Hisa and Schwartz agreed to ask another small Texas tribe, the Alabama-Coushattas, which also might have benefited from the proposed legislation because they too had a casino project that was in jeopardy. Hisa met with a top official of the other tribe and explained that "we need $50,000 for a trip to Scotland for key individuals including Bob Ney." Shortly thereafter, the Alabama-Coushattas were instructed to send $50,000 to an obscure Abramoff-run charity in Washington called the Capital Athletic Foundation. Abramoff had designated the foundation to sponsor and pay for the trip, which Abramoff billed as "an educational mission," to avoid public disclosure about its actual funding sources.

The summer getaway turned into an extravagant excursion that featured golf at Scotland's storied St. Andrews links, where Abramoff had hosted a similar junket for DeLay in 2000 and liked to entertain his powerful friends. The five-day trip, which cost about $130,000, wound up including a few people Abramoff was seeking political help from, as well as others with whom he already had close links. Besides Abramoff and Ney, there was Ralph Reed; Ney's former chief of staff Neil Volz, who in early 2002 had become a lobbying associate of Abramoff; and David Safavian, an old friend of Abramoff's in the Bush administration whom he had recently lobbied for other favors in Washington. The entourage flew to St. Andrews on a rented Gulfstream II jet and in Scotland enjoyed spacious $400-a-night rooms at the Old Course Hotel and some elegant dining in Edinburgh. There was also a two-day stopover at the expensive Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel in London on the way home. On House travel disclosure forms, Ney described the purpose of the junket as a meeting with Scottish parliamentarians, although Parliament was in recess during his visit. But Mark Tuohey, an attorney for Ney, told reporters shortly after Volz's plea deal that the congressman had been at a luncheon where there was a "discussion of issues" with a few Scottish parliamentarians. Tuohey declined to name the Scottish officials.

Just days after the junket in mid-August, Hisa, Schwartz, and one other Tigua representative came to Washington, where they met with Ney and Abramoff in the congressman's office for almost ninety minutes and received reassurances of his support for their cause. Hisa and Schwartz both recalled that Ney was in a spirited mood, praising the lobbying skills of Abramoff. "Ney thanked us for everything that the tribe had done for him," Hisa told me; but the congressman, who looked "red as a lobster" from his golf outing, didn't mention the trip specifically. Before the meeting, Abramoff had cautioned the tribal members that they shouldn't bring up the topic. He stressed that Ney would show his appreciation later, a not-so-subtle reference to the proposed legislation. According to his plea agreement, Volz was instructed by his new boss to tell Ney "what Abramoff wanted him to say."

Abramoff kept trying to impress the tribe with his Washington clout, Hisa told me. "Abramoff said that President Bush had contacted him and asked him to help find individuals to place in certain offices." Abramoff, Hisa added, also took credit for "recommending" Gale Norton to be secretary of the Interior Department, which oversees Indian issues.

Unfortunately for the Tiguas, the measure that Ney had told the tribe he would push for them never materialized, despite his pledge. Subsequently, Ney claimed that Abramoff had "misled" him about the proposed provision: the congressman said he had agreed to sponsor a measure only after Abramoff had told him that Democratic senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut would also back the provision. Dodd denied he'd ever made such a commitment, but Ney cited his lack of support as the reason he backed out.

But in October of 2002, even after the election reform bill had been finished by the congressional conference committee without the measure to help the tribe, Ney told Tiguas officials in a conference call that he supported their efforts, according to Hisa and Schwartz. Ney also voiced dismay that Dodd, who cochaired the conference committee with Ney, "had gone back on his word," Schwartz told me.

The dashing of the Tiguas' expectations was just the start of the tribe's ordeal with Abramoff. Almost two years later, the tribe and Hisa were to learn other disturbing and depressing news: Abramoff and Scanlon had deceived them about their financial ties with one another and much more. Despite the lobbyist's pledge that he would initially work pro bono for the tribe, Abramoff had a secret deal with Scanlon to split most of the $4.2 million in fees that the PR man was receiving from the Tiguas. Abramoff and Scanlon each pocketed $1.85 million, according to their pleas.

And in an even more stunning revelation, Hisa and the tribe subsequently discovered that Abramoff and Scanlon, before they approached the Tiguas, had actually been engaged in a lobbying drive whose aim was to shut down the very same Speaking Rock casino they were now pressing to get reopened. Abramoff and Scanlon's covert work to shut the Speaking Rock was financed by another casino-owning tribe: the Louisiana Coushattas. Although the Tiguas were located almost eight hundred miles away, Abramoff had convinced the Louisiana Coushattas that both the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushattas who were nearer the Louisiana border posed serious threats to their revenues. The lobbyist then enlisted Ralph Reed and his Atlanta consulting firm, Century Strategies, to generate conservative support from his old friends on the religious right for a lawsuit that had been filed by then Texas attorney general John Cornyn to shut down the Tiguas' casino on the grounds that it was in violation of state law. Reed worked in tandem with Abramoff and Scanlon, to rally Texas pastors and generate phone calls to bolster Cornyn's lawsuit.

In a January 2002 e-mail, Reed informed Abramoff that he was going to be meeting soon with one of Cornyn's top deputies, and added that "we did get our pastors riled up last week, calling his office ..." Abramoff responded quickly: "Great. Thanks Ralph. We should continue to pile on until the place is shuttered."

A few months earlier, in the fall of 2001, after the Tiguas took out large newspaper ads in Texas attacking Cornyn for using a "legal technicality" to close their casino and portraying the move as a blow to the Tiguas' economy, Reed e-mailed Abramoff: "Wow. These guys are really playing hardball. Do you know who their consultants are?" Abramoff shot back: "Some stupid lobbyists up here who do Indian issues. We'll find out and make sure all our friends crush them like bugs."


Excerpted from HEIST by PETER H. STONE Copyright © 2006 by Peter H. Stone. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Prologue 7

1 Double-Dealing 17

2 The Birth of a Lobbyist 40

3 Miami Vice 70

4 The Indian Casino Empire 86

5 The Fix 109

6 The Influence Machine 120

7 Conduits Are Us 137

8 Endgame 156

9 The Rules of the Game 179

Epilogue 193

Sources 211

Acknowldegments 213

Index 215

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