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June 22, 2005

Live Blog of SCIA hearing

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Note: Abramoff is purposely spelled "Abramhoff" because that's how all Indian leaders -- like Richard Milanovich from Agua Caliente -- say it!

9:36 Still No Videocast online. We hear the room looks crowded but the first rows are empty.
9:49 We're a little late due to technical difficulties, but we will have the full report tomorrow. Sen. McCain is talking about how Scanlon and Abramhoff collaborated.
9:50 The fee to Abramhoff monthly paid by Miss. Choctaws was $150K. Totaling around $15 million in payments to Abramhoff and Scanlon. That's a lot of revenue!
9:53 Sen. McCain now detailing the payments made to the American International Center, a non-profit that Abramhoff allegedly used as a front to take in money. Abramhoff had a Give me Five scheme! High Five!
9:56 Abramhoff paid for sniper training for Israelis in the West Bank through the Capital Athletic Foundation. But hid the money through a school that existed only on paper.
9:58 Capitol Athletic Foundation sought to teach Ethics to the kids! Sen. McCain saying that will "ring hollow"
9:59 A Tribe was paying for an educational campaign on the benefits of Indian Gaming vs. Non-Indian Gaming. Isn't that what NIGA is supposedly for?
10:02 The Committee found potential wrong-doing by pumping up bills at Greenberg-Traurig. Uhh, didn't the Tribe sign off on these things? Aren't they sovereign?
10:04 Sen Dorgan speaks! He says that there is no evidence of wrong-doing by the Tribe. Chief Martin is a victim! Or should we say Survivor?
10:09 "The goal was always the same, to hide, mislead and obscure where the money was coming from" Who is Sen. Dorgan talking about? Tribes or Abramhoff? Its easy to confuse them! Maybe they both need a PR rehabilitation. What about an Apprentice like show for Abramhoff? Training the next Gen of Lobbyists!
10:10 Sen Dorgan wants to explore the activities of 501c3s and 501c4s. Those are non-profits for those in the know. Hey that sounds a lot like that NIGA meeting at NCAI back in 2003! How can you give money to a candidate without having your name attached to it? Indian Gaming is toxic, but not so toxic that money won't be taken by politicos without a little scrubbing.
10:12 Sen Akaka has got something to say! He is appalled by Abramhoff and Scanlon. Taking advantage of native peoples.
10:13 Miss Choctaw witnesses start.
10:18 Benn starts out saying how they were ignored by Federal Government, and got recognition in 1945. Decided to pursue manufacturing jobs in 1963. 25 Different Commercial Enterprises. He is mentioning everything but a casino. The passage of IGRA led to development of Pearl River Resort. He doesn't say that Miss Choctaws are exempt from IGRA. He said they have invested $1 Billion in resort. Yet they have significant needs and a debt load of $300 million. Does anyone feel sorry for them, really? They do spend money to shape public opinion.
10:19 Initially Miss Choctaws weren't concerned with fees but now upon further investigation they are. But they want to protect their First Amendments rights for disclosure. Uhh, First Part of Crisis Prevention. DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE! Why weren't they concerned when they initially saw the fees?
10:21 Prior to 1994 Chief Martin was primary lobbyist, as tribe grew Chief Martin had less time to devote to the legislative process and staff were assigned to public affairs. Hobbs, Strauss, Dean and Walker were retained with Self Determination, Health, and Education before they hired Preston Gates. She goes on to say that all the other numerous law firms have all dealt with the tribe honestly. How does this make sense with what they initially said about Abramhoff, they said he was legit at first too. Why should anyone believe what the Miss Choctaws have to say?
10:23 Casino explicitly mentioned!!!!! shocking!!!!
10:25 In 1995, the tribe decided to reach out to the Republican Majority. Abramhoff was recommended to them and a retainer agreement was executed. Preston Gates 1995-2000. In 2001, Abramhoff left to Greenberg Traurig, the tribe then retained that firm. Later they were introduced to Scanlon as a political consultant. Abramhoff was handling PR.
10:28 The tribe did not buy a meeting with President Bush! The activities through the Office of the Chief were not paid with Gaming Revenue. What's the evidence? DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE, DISCLOSE! All this money spent on professionals, yet no crisis management. Being a victim doesn't work if you have lots of cash, no matter who you are.
10:29 Again the tribe didn't do anything wrong. The new Miss. Choctaw Atty General starts speaking. First, Kickbacks.
10:37 The Bills were padded and pumped up to the Tribe! The Tribe is outraged by the billing practices of Jack Abramhoff! Uhh, why didn't they do anything about it when they first got the bill? Instead of at a Senate Committee Hearing. Did they not read the bills? Did they not ask any questions? It sounds like the Tribe is very hands on when it comes to its Public Relations representatives and lobbyists.
10:38 Miss Choctaw Atty General says we consider this a lesson and we will not make the same mistake again.
10:39 Sen McCain wants to know where the non-gaming money came from? Miss Choctaw response: manufacturing businesses. Printing Plants. Greeting Cards paid for lobbying fees! That sounds very believable!
10:40 Miss Choctaws say that the Tribe never intended to make contributions to non-profits, but somehow they did? This is all very confusing.
10:42 The tribe was told that their money given in lump sums to Abramhoff would be passed on to grass roots organization, but they had no idea where the money ultimately ended up. Is it normal practices for a tribe just to hand over a million dollars to someone?
10:43 Sen McCain has great respect for Chief Martin. Asks Mrs. Rogers what she would say to Abramhoff. She says that she feels betrayed. She is past anger.
10:45 Sen Dorgan takes over for McCain and starts his questioning.
10:48 Sen Dorgan asks: What would be the purpose that the recipients need the money to be "washed" if it was non-gaming? Finally someone asks a question, we want to know!!! Mrs. Rogers says she needs to consult with the tribe's legal staff. We didn't have a need to obscure, but we needed to use intermediaries in order to get our message out. There may be some concern with people being involved with a tribe and a gaming tribe.
10:51 Sen Dorgan asks why would you want to use a c4 (non-profit) to obscure the money? Mrs. Rogers consults with her lawyers and says the recipients knew where the money was coming from. This is BIG!
10:55 The Miss Choctaws thought they were making a contribution to an anti-tax campaign but Abramhoff represented it was to the White House. This involves Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist's organization. Events were happening at the White House and money was being sought for those, but Rogers thought they were for state legislators and said that the Miss Choctaws did not respond to any of those invitations.
10:57 The Miss Choctaws were paying Nat'l Center for Public Policy Research for polling, opinion pieces, educational pieces. Sen Dorgan asks about money being sent to Ralph Reed for GOP chairman in Georgia. The Miss Choctaws had no idea that was being done.
10:59 Sen Dorgan mentions the word "laundering." Now not in a criminal way, but in a way that the money appears clean for the recipient. This is sounding so familiar!
11:00 Sen Inouye begins his questions. He wants to know dollar amounts. The response was we gave you those already. Sen Inouye asks again. Approximately 15 million. and 7-8 million for Abramhoff. They can't pin that number down, but they are working with the staff. So they have no idea how much they paid????
11:07 Sen Inouye asks if they ever received a progress report. Mrs. Rogers says that they did, and they met once or twice a year. They also had independent means of determining work was done. Sen Inouye asks if they received receipts. Rogers says they did receive receipts from law firms, including a budget and costs, as well as from grass roots companies. Sen Inouye asks if they did take the time to check to see if the works occurred? Rogers says the work was done. Sen Inouye says so you agree with the work being done? Rogers says there was overcharging and mentions conspiracy. Sen Inouye asks how much would you attribute to overcharging. The Miss Choctaw Atty General says they don't want to give an amount in money terms because they are in settlement negotiations with parties and would jeopardize those negotiations. and would even agree to an in camera meeting to detail those monies. He keeps referring to this as a sensitive time. sen inouye asks when did they realize they were being defrauded? Rogers says in june 2004, when they were shown evidence. Sen Inouye asks what steps did they take. Rogers says they terminated the relationship. Lawyers began working with that internal investigation group. They provided the FBI with documents. Sen Inouye asks when did DOJ & FBI begin participating. Rogers says last summer, and had subsequent meeting with them in Miss. Sen Inouye asks if they were satisfied. Rogers says she has had no contact but attys have, and Miss Choctaw atty general is that the investigation is moving forward and they are inundated with records, emails, commends SCIA staff. Sen Inouye says since you severed your relationship have they contacted you. Rogers says they have not.
11:09 Sen Dorgan asks about the relationship with Scanlon. Rogers says frequent contact, frequent report. She says that there were times that they contacted Mr. Scanlon to do something independently and they are unsure if Mr. Abramhoff got a cut of that. In many of the emails where Abramhoff is directing Mr. Scanlon, Rogers did not receive a call or email.
11:10 Sen Dorgan asks for reactions to Gimme Five. Miss Choctaw Atty General says its a blatant scheme to defraud a client, and they rely on internal schemes to audit clients. The Miss Choctaws have been surprised at the lack of institutional oversight of Mr Abramhoff, talks about his previous law firm experience. We assumed that that oversight was in place. (so much for making assumptions.)
11:11 Sen McCain returns. Sen Dorgan says Gimme Five means that "I'm gonna take a cut of this." He also calls Rogers a victim and thanks her for her willingness. Miss Choctaw witnesses dismissed. Bring on former Abramhoff employees!
11:13 First Abramhoff witness refuses to testify and apologizes for the pain that he has caused. He invokes his Fifth Amendment privilege. Sen McCain makes sure he is asserting this. Next Abramhoff employee. He has engaged in outside counsel, and asserts his fifth amendment privilege. He reached it reluctantly with no way in impending the work of the SCIA. He was much more explicit.
11:16 Sen McCain asks first question. What is KAR Consulting? Fifth privilege asserted. McCain says that its registered to the witness home address, and received a 25K payment from Grass Roots Interactive, LLC. Sandia Pueblo mentioned!!!! Sen McCain asks what services did he provide Sandia Pueblo for 125K? Response: Fifth Amendment Privilege! (See you at the next hearing Sandia!!!)
11:18 Sen McCain asks if he could bury his University Club dues in the Miss Choctaw Bill? McCain shows exhibit. Witness invokes Fifth Amendment.
11:20 Witness says he plans to answer all questions by saying "fifth amendment." Sen McCain keeps on going! Sen McCain asks them about Billing practices by Abramhoff, and tells them that they can just say "same answer." The two witnesses chime in "same answer."
11:22 Sen McCain tells the two young men that he is sorry you have engaged in such activities and wishes they would not have invoked their 5th Amendment rights, and respects that right. Sen Dorgan also shares the disappointment. Next Panel, people who will talk!
11:24 This panel includes a yoga instructor! Why not the pool boy? Why not the Israeli who trained people how to shoot?
11:25 Project 21! Hey wasn't that something that Armstrong Williams was involved with? Amy Ridenour talks about her prior experience with Abramhoff and met Chief Martin in 1997. She calls it an honor. She understood all the funds to be general support contributions. At the time she extended the invitation, she didn't know she would be receiving funds from the Miss Choctaws and never told the congressman. In 2002, the Miss Choctaws donated $1 Million and they had lunch with Jack. Including that the negative financial impact of 9/11 and new donors would be "especially valued." Jack talked about his "new Kind of lobbying." Jack would educate the public on the Choctaws success story.
The $1 million payment had a $450K payment to Capital Athletic Foundation (CAF), $500 to Capital Campaign Strategies and $50K to Nueremberg (spelling is off here, sorry.) Ridenour believed that Jack was the legal representative of Miss Choctaws, that he had fiduciary responsibility. she expected Jack would adhere to laws regarding public charities. Ridenour asks Abramhoff to provide documentation regarding public activities that they were supporting in may and june 2003. $1.5 million lump payment made in 2004. $200K to CAF. 1 million 250,000 to K Gold, a company that she believed was running by michael scanlon. in july 2003, no proof, she discontinued. She continued to ask for the documentation. Of the various theories, none of them involved the suspicion of the misuse of funds and she still trusted Jack when WaPo published the stories in 2004 that Jack owned K Gold. We had no choice to accept Jack's offer to resign from the board and has not spoken to him since Oct 2004.
11:34 Halpern speaks. She is an accountant. She repped Jack and his wife until Sept 2004. starting in 1997 and prepared their personal income tax returns. She talks about the kind of work that she did for them, including their family trust.
11:36 Mr. Mann, no opening statement. Mr Grosh mentions a Lakota word, he is disgusted. Mr. Stetter has no opening statement.
11:38 Sen McCain goes through the definition of AIC. Asks Mr. Grosh what he did. He says that he was involved with the org for 4-5 months. they rented the first floor of a house and installed some computers.
11:39 Mann invokes fifth amendment privilege to all questions by Sen. McCain.
11:40 Sen McCain moves back to Mr. Grosh and questions him about a letter that he sent out. Asks him if he recalls writing the letter. Mr Grosh says he didn't write the letter and recalls attending one board meeting for 15 minutes (laughing can be overheard.) Mr Grosh can recall nothing from the meetings.
11:42 Mr Grosh says that legally it was our entity but Scanlon was calling all the shots. Mr. Grosh says he was not surprised when he was a director of a think tank. When he found out that it was involving Indian Tribes and Gaming, he got out. Mr. Grosh says he has known Mr. Scanlon since he was 14 and said Scanlon asked him if he wanted to be head of an International Corporation. He said how could he turned that down (numerous laughter in audience.)
He asked him what he had to do and he said nothing, and that sounded pretty good to him. Scanlon came by and he spoke to Mr. Grosh about it. Mr. Grosh didn't take it seriously but Mr. Grosh signed papers and they took over the bottom of the house he was living in. Sen McCain asks about compensation. McCain says you have an admirable occupation, a lifeguard, right now Mr. Grosh is an excavator, construction worker, mentor in pre-schools and bartender. Typical beach employment. He received no more than $2000-2500 in total from Scanlon.
Did Mr Scanlon promise you any fringe benefits?, sen McCain asks. Grosh says he went to a hockey game. Sen McCain asks about St Barts, and Grosh says he had already severed his ties with AIC by then.
Mr Grosh tells about how he was used by Mr Scanlon. He says that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. 11:47 Sen McCain moves to Ridenour. Talks about how she came to receive $1 Mil dollar contribution.
11:49 The $450K was to be a grant to CAF, and she did know he had an association with it. Sen McCain asks about the school. Ridenour says that Abramhoff told her legislation wasn't involved. The absence of legislation was something she had to assure her about. the $500K to CCS was to be for polling, phone banks, petition banks, 100% educational programs. The $50K payment to Nuremberger was to coordinate the project.
11:51 Nuremberger never issued an invoice for the $50K issued to the NCPPR, and in fact was told that it was a repayment of a personal loan made to Abramhoff. Ridenour never knew that the payment was made for this.
11:53 Sen McCain asks for verification. Ridenour says she just got verbal verification, and they are now changing their practices. Sen McCain asks if she believes that Abramhoff lied to her? She says Yes. Sen McCain asks if she believes that Abramhoff defrauded the tribe and NCPPR, her org. She says certainly I do to both.
11:54 Mr. Stetter begins. Sen McCain asks what he does. Mr. Stetter says he set up phone scripts. He says that two different groups with Christian Sounding names are not real. Sen McCain mentions another group, Concerned Citizens against Gaming expansion. Mr. Stetter said he is not aware that this group exists either. Sen McCain talks about how these groups were mentioned in phone calls that CCS made.
11:56 In phone scripts, the name for the grass roots organization would be left out to be plugged in later.
11:57 Jena Band of Choctaw Phone Script!!!! Fantastic!!! Recommending the Louisiana Senators to oppose Indian casinos! Mr Stetter has no idea who the Christian Research Network who was mentioned in the phone call.
11:59 As a senator, Sen McCain is concerned that they can patch through directly to a senator's office. Its something that he suspected. Yields to Sen. Dorgan.
12:01 Abramhoff is asking a Rabbi for an award, preferably backdated. This would help him get into the Cosmos club. The response from the Rabbi is what the Rabbi needs to produce.
12:02 Sen Dorgan details how they can put all the organizations in a drawer and when a certain phone rings, you answer it with the name of the "bogus organization." Begins questioning of Mr. Stetter. Sen Dorgan asks him exactly what he did and what his qualifications were. Mr. Stetter said he actually visited some of the gaming facilities and assisted with letter writing activities. Sen Dorgan asks who was Abramhoff's right hand man. Mr. Stetter says Chris Kathsgard (sp.).
12:05 Sen Dorgan asks Ridenour asks her about the $1 million pass through. She says it was not being done to obscure its identity. the rest we intended to brag about at some point on our website. NCPPR is a c3 group. Sen Dorgan asks if there was a grant request? Ridenour says they received an invoice and discussed on the telephone with Jack, but she also says she had a prior knowledge of CAF. She wanted to make sure that the mission of CAF was consistent with NCPPR, making sure that it was the wishes of the Choctaws. She was thinking more about c3 regulations. If not, she would make the offer to the Choctaws to return their money. Ridenour says it was the largest gift they had ever received.
12:09 Ridenour thought it might be an error on the invoice, and not involving politics. Sen Dorgan talking about how money is being moved through c3s and c4s. How can this happen so easily without even a 2 or 3 page grant request. Ridenour says she has worked with Abramhoff for 22 years, when you believe all of these things and it is in a person's best interest to do things right. She says in her future career she will not make assumptions again. Its good someone learned a lesson. The Miss Choctaws didn't say they weren't making assumptions.
12:11 She talks about how she pulled out because of no documentation even before there was any media coverage of Jack Abramhoff. Pulled Out!!! Its Teenage Birth Control Method of oversight of Non-Profits!
12:13 Ridenour discusses the golf trip.
12:14 Ridenour talks about why she thought the trip to London was a good idea, and she talks about being pregnant with twins and she had just adopted a newborn baby. She wasn't going to let her husband going with Abramhoff to London. She approved Abramhoff handling the project, and she wanted to make sure that the invoices would be handled from his home address. That Abramhoff would be acting as a representative of the foundation not as a lobbyist. The Congressman's name is never explicitly mentioned. DeLay is now toxic too! What should you expect from a pest man?
12:16 The trip now seems to be very different from what she expected and now talks about the news media. Ridenour knows of nothing that the congressman did that was appropriated but she was not there. The Chief of Staff was concerned that the trip would be substantive enough.
12:18 Ridenour says she can provide no information about the second golf trip. Sen Dorgan talks about how the emails say that the golf trip was fun.
12:20 Sen Dorgan talks about if you dyed that money purple, there would be purple pants pockets all over town. Sen Dorgan talks about how grass roots people connect them directly to a senator's office, back to Sen McCain.
12:21 Sen McCain asks Halpern about K Gold, a single member LLC. 13.5 Million on referral fees that came from Capital Campaign Strategies is mentioned by Sen McCain. Sen McCain asks her if this was ringing any bells for her? Halpern is not aware of what kinds of records that political consulting is supposed to generate. 2 1099s were issued to Abramhoff. Halpern says that her job was to just prepare the tax return.
12:23 Sen McCain says he doesn't care if the money came from the moon, 13.5 million bucks from one source in one year, should prompt some questions. Halpern asserts that in no way did Abramhoff tried to hide the income.
12:25 Sen McCain moves back to Ridenour. Talks about payments made from Greenberg Traurig but came from International Interactive Alliance (whatever that means. You can't put all this stuff on a map and make sense of it!)
12:26 Sen McCain thanks witnesses and says that the story speaks for itself and he hopes that it gets unraveled sooner rather than later. He says that they will have one more hearing involving another tribe and they will issue a report and make some recommendation to see that this kind of gross injustice is not inflicted on any other native american tribes.
12:27 Sen Dorgan wants to visit with the Finance Committee regarding the possibility of discussing c3s and c4s. (Oh, Oh Tribes you know who you are who are funneling money to politicos through your foundations!!! You better watch out!) Sen Dorgan does thank the investigators for piecing this together and hearing is adjourned!
Thanks for following along! Apologies for all the abbreviations, spelling mistakes and what not. We are too lazy to even care!



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