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Insiders Worked Both Sides of Gaming Issue

E-mails Suggest Men Tried to Exploit Closure of Casino for Huge Fees From Tribe

By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page A01

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon quietly worked with conservative religious activist Ralph Reed to help the state of Texas shut down an Indian tribe's casino in 2002, then the two quickly persuaded the tribe to pay $4.2 million to try to get Congress to reopen it.

Dozens of e-mails written by the three men and obtained by The Washington Post show how they built public support for then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn's effort get the courts to close the Tigua tribe's Speaking Rock Casino in El Paso in late 2001 and early 2002. The e-mails also reveal what appears to be an effort on the part of Abramoff and Scanlon to then exploit the financial crisis they were helping to create for the tribe by securing both the multimillion-dollar fee and $300,000 in federal political contributions, which the tribe paid.

An unnamed customer plays a slot machine at the Speaking Rock Casino, which was operated by the Tigua Indian tribe in El Paso and garnered $60 million a year in revenue before it was closed. (Victor Calzada -- Elpaso Times Via AP)

Ten days after the Tigua Indians' $60 million-a-year casino was shuttered in February 2002, Abramoff wrote a tribal representative that he would get Republicans in Congress to rectify the "gross indignity perpetuated by the Texas state authorities," assuring him that he had already lined up "a couple of Senators willing to ram this through," according to the e-mails.

What he did not reveal was that he and Scanlon had been paying Reed, an avowed foe of gambling, to encourage public support for Cornyn's effort to close two Indian casinos in Texas. Abramoff, one of Washington's powerhouse Republican lobbyists until his work came under scrutiny by law enforcement agencies this year, has long been close to Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and now southern regional chairman of President Bush's reelection campaign. Both have political ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), as does Scanlon, who had served as his spokesman.

In the end, Abramoff and Scanlon failed to get the casino reopened.

E-mails concerning the Tiguas from Abramoff's computer at his former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, and obtained by The Post, show Abramoff and Scanlon preparing to sell themselves to the tribe as Cornyn's office won federal court rulings against Speaking Rock Casino.

On Feb. 6, 2002, with the casino's shutdown just two days away, the tribe was desperate. Abramoff made his move. "I'm on the phone with Tigua!" he wrote in a 9:54 a.m. e-mail to Scanlon. "Fire up the jet baby, we're going to El Paso!!"

A week later, a Texas consultant employed by the tribe thanked Abramoff for his visit and said he would push his proposal. Abramoff forwarded the e-mail to Scanlon with the message: "This guy NEEDS us to save his ass!!"

Days later, on Feb. 19, Scanlon sent Abramoff an El Paso Times news story headlined "450 casino employees officially terminated" with the message: "This is on the front page of todays paper while they will be voting on our plan!"

"Is life great or what!!!" responded Abramoff.

The large lobbying and public relations fees Abramoff and Scanlon garnered from Indian tribes that operate gambling casinos -- known to total at least $50 million -- are the subject of a grand jury investigation in Washington. The FBI and a task force of five federal agencies are investigating campaign contributions the two men directed the tribes to make to members of Congress, and whether tribal funds were misused in the contracts the two men obtained or the fees they collected, among other issues, according to government sources.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee also has been investigating Abramoff and Scanlon's work with the tribes and has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday. The FBI and the committee have issued numerous subpoenas for documents as part of their investigations.

Abramoff's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, declined to answer questions about Abramoff's activities regarding the Tiguas. He issued a statement saying the context provided by the documents may be incomplete. "The complete facts would show that the work performed by Mr. Abramoff was consistent with the interests of all of his clients," his statement said.

Scanlon's attorneys, Plato Cacheris and Stephen L. Braga, did not return calls for comment last week.

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