By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 25, 2004
A member of Congress has asked the FBI and the Justice Department to investigate two instances of what he characterized as potential corruption involving Indian tribes and casino gambling.
In letters to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) cited an article published in The Washington Post on Sunday that detailed how a Washington lobbyist and a public relations executive with ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) have charged a handful of tribes more than $45 million in the past three years to influence public policy.
A second article cited by Wolf, reported Monday by the Associated Press, described how officials at a regional office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs allegedly padded the membership rolls of a tiny tribe with their own names and those of scores of family members. The Ione Band of Miwok Indians in California has swelled from 70 to 535 members, according to the AP, and is seeking to build a casino with 2,000 slot machines that could bring in an estimated $185 million a year.
A spokesman for the Interior Department inspector general's office said yesterday that the office opened an investigation earlier this month into possible wrongdoing at the BIA regional office in relation to the Ione tribe.
"This is shocking," Wolf scribbled across the bottom of his letters to Mueller and Ashcroft asking that they examine whether laws have been broken. The articles, Wolf wrote, "point out how the Indian gambling issue exploits Indians and potentially corrupts government officials."
The FBI has questioned members of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Mount Pleasant, Mich., in recent days about the $3.9 million the tribe spent to hire Greenberg Traurig lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the $10 million it has paid public relations executive Michael Scanlon. Some tribe members have complained that they have gotten little for their money, and that Scanlon's firm helped engineer the election of the tribal council that awarded the contracts.
Federal law requires that casino proceeds benefit tribes as a whole, not individuals.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said his department "will review Chairman Wolf's request."
Wolf, who chairs a House Appropriations subcommittee on the judiciary, said in a telephone interview he is deeply concerned that there is minimal regulation of Indian casinos even as they are proliferating around the country.
"It's like robbing a candy store without anyone there to get it stopped," Wolf said. "I personally feel the Indians are being exploited."
Jill Perry, a spokeswoman for Greenberg Traurig, said her law firm is reviewing Abramoff's work for the Indian tribes. "As is our normal practice in circumstances like this, we will follow up with our clients to directly determine their views and review our services with them," she said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.