Choctaw chief faces questions over Abramoff scandal

As he seeks re-election to an eighth term as chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Phillip Martin is again facing questions over his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Don't expect the questions to be answered. When asked about the scandal, he calls it a "dead issue" but as The Jackson Clarion-Ledger points out, he has never publicly spoken of how his tribe enriched a man who is now in prison for defrauding tribes and bribing a member of Congress.

"We'll just have to be a lot more careful with whom we deal now. We thought it was OK because we were dealing with reputable companies, and they're supposed to police themselves, and I guess they failed to do that," he tells the paper.

Martin at first defended Abramoff when the Senate Indian Affairs Committee started its investigation. He apparently changed his mind after being shown evidence that indicated the tribe was cheated out of millions of dollars in fees.

Still, Martin never testified before the committee, instead sending two non-Indian aides, and one tribal member, to read a statement that was attributed to him. At public forums, he has side-stepped questions about his dealings with Abramoff.

That has critics on the reservation even more upset. They want to know why their tribe spent millions on Abramoff any why their tribe made millions in campaign contributions.

"Are they totally ignorant in doing business with lobbyists or are they participants in the scheme?" asked Beasley Denson, a former council member who is running against Martin.

But few can doubt Martin's influence and impact on the tribe. He brought them out of poverty by luring businesses to the reservation. Only much later did the tribe enter into gaming, which has since become very lucrative.

Gaming promises to figure big in Martin's future as he seeks to open a casino more than 200 miles from the reservation. The proposal has angered non-Indian casinos, businesses and religious groups on the Gulf Coast, where the tribe owns a printing plant.

Get the Story:
Opponents of chief rankled by tribe's ties to corrupt lobbyist (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger 3/25)
Rising from rags to riches (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger 3/25)
Inner workings of tribe's business enterprises stay shrouded (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger 3/25)
Despite past injustices, tribe regrouping (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger 3/25)
Better housing in high demand on reservation (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger 3/25)
Political battle ensues over $375M Coast resort (The Jackson Clarion-Ledger 3/25)

Relevant Links:
Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians -

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