Public relations consultant Michael Scanlon refuses to answer questions at Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing. Photo © NSM.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) talks with
Albert Alvidrez and Carlos Hisa (r) of the Tigua Tribe of Texas after hearing. Photo © NSM.
A Senate committee's investigation into two Washington insiders accused of
bilking tribes of more than $66 million spread to members of Congress
on Wednesday as a Texas tribe told of a costly political campaign
aimed at reopening its shuttered casino.
Before a packed hearing room, representatives of the Tigua Tribe said they
enlisted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael
Scanlon in early 2002.
At the time, Republican lawmakers and the state's Republican attorney general
were seeking the immediate closure of the tribe's Class III gaming facility
in El Paso.
Carlos Hisa, the tribe's lieutenant governor, and
Marc Schwartz, the tribe's longtime consultant, told the Senate Indian
Affairs Committee that Abramoff and Scanlon hatched a plan to keep the casino
At a cost of $4.2 million, whittled down from an initial figure of
$5.7 million, Operation Open Doors would ensure the tribe could
continue gaming without interference from the state, they testified.
Key to the plan were Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Connecticut) and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio),
who were in charge of the 2002 Help America Vote Act at the time.
Hisa and Schwartz said they were told the two lawmakers would insert language
into the bill to benefit the tribe.
Dodd had been "greased," Schwartz told the committee. Ney was just one
of many Republicans to whom Abramoff claimed closed ties, boasting of influence that
went "all the way to the president of the United States," Hisa testified.
But the costly gamble unraveled as the months dragged on and the tribe
was forced to lay off more than 700 employees when the 5th Circuit
Court of Appeals ordered the casino closed. Yet Abramoff and Scanlon
repeatedly assured the tribe the bill would pass with the pro-tribal
language, Hisa and Schwartz said.
It finally became clear nothing was going to happen when President Bush signed the
legislation in October 2002, with Dodd and Ney at his side.
"You can only imagine the sheer disappointment we felt about these events,"
Abramoff blamed Dodd for the failure of the $4.2 million plan, Schwartz testified.
Dodd, he said, "went back on his word" and removed the language from the
Ney also blamed Dodd, according to Schwarz and Hisa. During a conference
call with tribal leaders shortly before the bill's passage, Ney expressed
outrage, Schwarz said.
But Dodd denied any knowledge of the proposal yesterday. He issued a statement
that was read by Sen. Byron
Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the incoming vice-chairman of the committee, during
"I don't know Jack Abramoff of Mike Scanlon," the statement said.
"So any representations they might have made without my knowledge regarding
me and efforts at recognition of the Tigua Tribe are categorically
wrong and false."
According to Dodd, Ney's staff and Lottie Shackelford,
the vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee, approached
his office "during the waning hours of negotiations over the
HAVA legislation" about including
the Tiguas in the bill.
"The suggestion was summarily rejected," the statement said.
But Ney responded that he only agreed to the provision because Abramoff assured him
Dodd was behind it.
"Jack Abramoff repeatedly lied to advance his own financial interests,"
Ney said in a statement. "I too was misled."
Hisa and Schwarz further testified that they now believe Abramoff
and Scanlon helped generate public support to close the casino by
working with Christian conservative activist Ralph Reed, a personal
friend of Abramoff.
The tribe knew Reed was leading opposition in Texas but didn't know
their paid lobbyists were behind it as well.
"A rattlesnake will warn you before it strikes," Hisa said at the hearing. "They did
everything behind our backs."
Scanlon appeared before the committee yesterday but did not testify,
invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Abramoff
did the same during a late-September hearing.
Retiring Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado) said he was personally
offended by Scanlon's actions.
"For 400 years, people have been cheating Indian tribes, so you're not
the first one," Campbell told him. "You're the problem, buddy, with
what is happening to American Indians."
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the incoming chairman of the committee,
said the investigation into Abramoff and Scanlon will continue.
"I pledge," he said, "that we will not stop until the complete truth
Campbell, who steps down in January, suggested the committee look
into the $300,000 in political donations Abramoff urged the Tiguas
to make. He wanted to know whether Abramoff and Scanlon are
connected in any way to the groups that received the money.
After the hearing, Campbell said the committee was proceeding
at a deliberate pace as to not step on the Department of Justice's
investigation into the two men. A grand jury has been convened
at least once and has subpoenaed information from the Coushatta
Tribe of Louisiana, another tribe involved. Campbell
did not know the status of that investigation.
Campbell said he understood why Scanlon wouldn't want to answer
questions about the scandal but couldn't figure out why Scanlon
and Abramoff won't explain why they treated their clients with
"I was amazed at the lack of remorse," he told reporters.
Speaking Rock Casino, Tigua Tribe - http://www.speakingrockcasino.com
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