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Untangling a Lobbyist's Stake in a Casino Fleet
With Millions of Dollars Unaccounted for, Another Federal Investigation Targets Abramoff

By Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 1, 2005

It was a gangland-style hit straight out of "Goodfellas."

A man in a BMW was driving down a quiet side street after an evening meeting at his Fort Lauderdale office when a car slowed to a stop in front of him. A second car boxed the BMW in from behind, then a dark Mustang appeared from the opposite direction. The Mustang's driver pulled alongside and pumped three hollow-point bullets into the BMW driver's chest.

The dead man was Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, a volatile 51-year-old self-made millionaire, a Greek immigrant who had started as a dishwasher in Canada and ended up in Florida, where he built an empire of restaurants, hotels and cruise ships used for offshore casino gambling. Boulis's slaying, still unsolved four years later, reverberated all the way to Washington. Months earlier he had sold his fleet of casino ships to a partnership that included Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff is best known as a target of a federal investigation in Washington into the tens of millions in fees he and a partner collected from casino-owning Indian tribes. But the wreckage from his brief and tumultuous time as owner of the gambling fleet threatens to overtake his Washington legal troubles.

Not long after Abramoff and his partners bought SunCruz Casinos in September 2000, the venture ran aground after a fistfight between two of the owners, allegations of mob influence, dueling lawsuits and, finally, Boulis's death on Feb. 6, 2001. Now, Abramoff is the target of a federal investigation into whether the casino ship deal involved bank fraud. According to court records, the SunCruz purchase hinged on a fake wire transfer for $23 million intended to persuade lenders to provide financing to Abramoff's group.

Although the outlines of the tale have become part of South Florida lore, what has not been disclosed are the full details of the alleged fraud at the heart of the transaction and the extent of Abramoff's role -- including his use of contacts with Republican Reps. Tom DeLay (Tex.) and Robert W. Ney (Ohio) and members of their staffs as he worked to land the deal.

The SunCruz story combines the South Florida of novelist Carl Hiaasen with the Washington of influence-peddling K Street: Thousands of pages of bankruptcy and other court records, along with dozens of interviews in Florida and Washington, reveal secret deals; a forged document; double-crossing partners; and socializing with government officials on a private jet, at the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach, at a Monday night football game in a private box at FedEx Field, and at an exclusive party on Inauguration Day in Washington.

Gus Boulis never really wanted to sell SunCruz. He bought his first cruise boat in 1994 and swiftly added 10 more, building an enormously profitable business that took in as much as $30 million in yearly profits.

Boulis, a larger-than-life character, had always been a scrapper and something of a business genius. As a teenager, he jumped ship from a Greek freighter in Canada, where he made his first fortune with Mr. Submarine sandwich shops. After retiring to the Florida Keys, at the age of 30, he built another fortune with the popular Miami Subs chain. Then he launched SunCruz, known as a "cruise to nowhere" casino business. His midsize cruise ships left on day trips from nine ports around Florida, taking tourists, high-rollers and elderly players into international waters, beyond the reach of the state's anti-gambling laws.

Based outside Fort Lauderdale, the business was the bane of Florida officials, who thought Boulis flouted the law, and SunCruz's port city neighbors, who complained that drunken gamblers were urinating on their lawns. For years, Boulis beat back efforts by federal and state lawyers determined to shut him down.

In 1999, federal prosecutors charged Boulis with violating the Shipping Act by purchasing his vessels without being a U.S. citizen. Boulis agreed to pay a $1 million fine and sell his cruise line. The government gave him 36 months to do it and agreed to keep the settlement secret so Boulis would not lose money in a fire sale.

To sell his business, Boulis turned to his lawyers in the D.C. office of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP. Art Dimopoulos, a maritime lawyer, looked for buyers. Jack Abramoff, one of Dimopoulos's partners at Preston Gates, said he could find one.

Abramoff, 40, was a study in contradictions. A smooth-talking political power player who was an Orthodox Jew, the former high school weightlifter produced movies in Hollywood before becoming one of the top lobbyists in town.

He had built a lucrative practice by showing then-Democrat-dominated K Street and its corporate clients how to make friends in the new Republican Congress. He was especially close to Tom DeLay, then House majority whip. Abramoff had also convinced casino-rich Indian tribes that they should begin switching their copious campaign contributions to the GOP.

The buyer Abramoff found for Boulis was Adam Kidan, a 36-year-old New York City businessman who had owned the Dial-a-Mattress franchise in Washington. Abramoff had known Kidan since the 1980s when Abramoff was at Georgetown Law Center and Kidan was an undergraduate at George Washington University. Both were active in the national office of the College Republicans.

Abramoff and Kidan were already in business with a third partner, former Reagan White House aide Ben Waldman, who also had been a College Republican. The three men had gotten together in a fledgling venture that sought to sell advertising on water taxis that would travel the Potomac River.

Dimopoulos took Kidan to Florida to meet Boulis. What was not disclosed to Preston Gates for at least eight months, according to a statement by the firm on Friday, was that Abramoff then joined Kidan in the SunCruz venture as a 50-50 partner. Such an arrangement would constitute a potential conflict of interest, because partners in the Preston Gates firm would be on both sides of the deal. The Preston Gates statement said that when the firm learned of the situation, it notified Boulis, who was already aware of it and did not object.

Abramoff's plan was to have Kidan put up most of the money and Abramoff "would use his lobbying expertise and network to help expand the new company's markets both in the U.S. and abroad," Abramoff's lawyers later asserted. Abramoff would say later that Kidan told him he was looking to invest an "eight-figure" payoff he had made from the sale of his Dial-a-Mattress franchise.

But even a cursory background check would have raised serious questions about whether Kidan had that kind of money. Kidan's business was in bankruptcy proceedings, and Kidan had declared personal bankruptcy in 1996.

Nonetheless, in January 2000, Boulis agreed in a letter of intent to sell SunCruz for $145 million. A few weeks later, though, Boulis demanded a host of unwelcome additional terms, including a consulting deal.

Suddenly, Boulis was being denounced in Congress.

Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay spokesman Abramoff had just hired at Preston Gates, asked Ohio congressman Bob Ney to insert remarks into the Congressional Record that would put pressure on Boulis.

"Mr. Speaker, how SunCruz Casinos and Gus Boulis conduct themselves with regard to Florida laws is very unnerving," Ney said in the March 30 Congressional Record. "I don't want to see the actions of one bad apple in Florida, or anywhere else . . . affect the business aspect of this industry or hurt any innocent casino patron in our country."

Ney said later he was "furious" at Scanlon for not fully informing him about SunCruz. Scanlon, for his part, said he had been given bad information about SunCruz and regretted his request to Ney.

As the SunCruz negotiations warmed up again that spring, Boulis found out that Abramoff and Kidan had another friend on Capitol Hill.

On June 9, DeLay's office sent Boulis a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol, according to records kept by the architect of the Capitol's office. The gift from DeLay's office was issued six days after DeLay and his deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, returned from a golf trip to Scotland with Abramoff.

DeLay spokesman Dan Allen said the congressman did not remember Boulis. A DeLay aide said the office handles many requests for flags.

A Trip to Pebble Beach

Rudy, a George Mason Law School graduate who had spent five years on DeLay's staff in a variety of jobs, joined Abramoff and Kidan at another sumptuous sporting event on June 15. The three flew on SunCruz's jet out to the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Calif., along with Joan Wagner, Boulis's chief financial officer, and her husband, said a former SunCruz insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Rudy did not report the trip in his House travel records. When contacted by The Washington Post recently, Rudy declined to be interviewed for this article. Wagner and her lawyers did not respond to calls for comment.

A week after the Pebble Beach trip, on June 22, 2000, Boulis entered into a formal agreement to sell SunCruz to Kidan and Abramoff.

Now the partners had to find financing for the deal. They turned to a specialty lender, Foothill Capital, a unit of Wells Fargo & Co.

On the plus side for the would-be borrowers were Abramoff's glowing press clippings, including a July 3 story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal that described the millions he was bringing in to his lobbying firm. The article, which Kidan faxed to lenders, called Abramoff Washington's "GOP stalwart" because of his pull with Republican leaders such as DeLay, who praised Abramoff for getting Indians to donate to Republicans.

Abramoff provided Foothill Capital a financial statement stating his net worth as $13 million. He valued his lobbying practice at $7.5 million and family business interests at nearly $3 million, including a $1.4 million investment with his father in a company that owns parking lots in Atlantic City. The lobbyist also sent Foothill Capital a list of loan references that included Rudy and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

"I don't remember it, but I would certainly have been happy to give him a good recommendation," Rohrabacher said. "He's a very honest man."

Kidan also provided Foothill Capital a one-page financial statement in which he claimed to be worth $26 million, all but $874,000 of it in unspecified "closely held corporations." But a background report on Kidan done for Foothill Capital revealed a string of lawsuits, judgments, liens, bankruptcies and failed businesses.

Kidan grew up in New York and graduated in 1989 from Brooklyn Law School. He ran two bagel businesses and had a law practice. In 1993, his mother was killed during a botched robbery at her Staten Island home. The slaying was linked to organized crime figures trying to steal several hundred thousand dollars they thought Kidan's stepfather kept in a safe.

The stepfather had also sued him, alleging that Kidan misappropriated $250,000 being held in escrow, a dispute that would eventually lead Kidan to relinquish his license to practice law. Among the funds at issue: $15,000 posted as a reward in his mother's slaying.

Nevertheless, Foothill Capital and a second specialty lender, Citadel Equity Fund, agreed to lend Abramoff and Kidan $60 million to buy Boulis's business, requiring the two men to personally guarantee the loans and to put $23 million of their own money into the deal.

Foothill Capital's representative in the deal was Greg C. Walker, then a vice president at the firm. Asked last week why Foothill Capital would take a chance on someone such as Kidan, Walker said, "You'd have to be there at the time."

He declined to elaborate.

A Sealed Envelope

The lenders, buyers and sellers gathered to begin closing the deal on the morning of Sept. 18, 2000, in the midtown Manhattan offices of Foothill Capital's lawyers. Tensions were running high; Kidan and Abramoff were annoyed that Walker was requiring them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars more than they had expected in closing fees.

That night, though, they smoothed things over during a Monday night football game, between the Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys. Kidan and Walker traveled to Washington from New York to join Abramoff in the lobbyist's leased skybox at FedEx Field. Abramoff was spending about $1 million a year on skyboxes at FedEx Field, MCI Center and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and often allowed politicians and their staffers to use them for fundraising. A copy of a roster maintained by Abramoff and obtained by The Post shows he provided the box for DeLay's use that night.

Walker said he was introduced to DeLay in the skybox and was later told that DeLay was the majority whip. Walker said he was unfamiliar with the position, which is the third in rank in the House.

"It sounds to me like it is a powerful position," Walker said in a recent interview. Asked whether the introduction with DeLay helped establish Abramoff's bona fides, Walker said, "The credit has to stand on its own."

DeLay spokesman Allen said last week that DeLay does not recall meeting Walker.

Nine days after the Redskins game, the last of the closing documents were signed in New York: Under the final terms, Kidan and Abramoff were to put in $23 million in cash, Foothill Capital and Citadel would lend the partners $60 million, and Boulis would agree to accept IOUs from Kidan and Abramoff totaling $67.5 million.

Boulis would stay as a consultant with a 10 percent stake in the company. As one of the four owners -- Kidan and Abramoff each had 40 percent, and Waldman had 10 percent -- Boulis thought he would also still have a say in how business was done.

The closing documents did not tell the whole story, however. What really happened that week is the subject of the federal bank fraud investigation.

Kidan later acknowledged that he and Abramoff never made the $23 million cash payment to Boulis. Kidan testified in a court deposition that Boulis secretly agreed instead to accept two promissory notes totaling $20 million just before the closing when Kidan had threatened to walk away from the deal because he thought the price was too high.

"I told Mr. Boulis we would not be closing the deal," Kidan later said in a deposition. "He said under what terms would I do it? And I told him I would do it if the price was adjusted accordingly."

Kidan later testified in a deposition there was nothing in writing about the change, but he said that he, Abramoff and Boulis orally agreed to do it. "There was a discussion between myself and Mr. Boulis and Mr. Abramoff, and then Mr. Boulis went off to Greece" to attend his father's funeral, Kidan testified. Boulis left his subordinates to handle the closing.

In effect, Kidan and Abramoff were allowed to buy Gus Boulis's gambling company without putting in a cent of equity.

When Foothill Capital eventually sued to recover its loans, one of its lawyers said it would never have lent the $60 million if it had known about the secret promissory notes. The loan agreements with the banks required that Abramoff and Kidan have a cash stake in SunCruz, just as a bank usually requires a cash down payment before issuing a home mortgage. Foothill Capital has said it relied on the financial statements provided by Abramoff and Kidan in which they represented that they had the necessary means to put up $23 million in cash.

Foothill Capital also said that the buyers and sellers knew that the secret arrangement was fraudulent and tried to conceal it. Foothill Capital cited a fax to Kidan at his hotel from Joan Wagner, Boulis's chief financial officer and his representative at the closing. The fax included copies of the two promissory notes and the hand-scrawled instruction: "Please review and if 'ok' sign and give to Jimmy in a sealed envelope."

"Jimmy" was another Boulis lawyer, according to Foothill Capital. The lender said in a court filing "the clear implication of this directive was to hide the very existence of the substituted notes from the lenders."

Foothill Capital also said it has even stronger evidence of fraud.

The lender had asked for proof that the Kidan group had paid the $23 million to Boulis. In response, Kidan and Waldman each faxed copies of a purported wire-transfer document to Greg Walker on Sept. 27, the final day of closing. The document was a Sept. 22 notice of a wire transfer of $23 million "by order of Adam Kidan" from Chevy Chase Bank to Boulis's account at Ocean Bank. However, Kidan's account at Chevy Chase had been closed weeks earlier, according to court documents. Even when the account was active, there was never a transaction larger than $107,000, Chevy Chase told Foothill Capital.

Waldman did not respond to repeated requests seeking comment.

Kidan's lawyer has argued that Foothill Capital may not be an innocent victim. "Everyone needs to look at what knowledge the lender had," said Martin Jaffe of Hollywood, Fla., adding that he could not comment on the details of the case. "You can't be defrauded if you know what's going on and are a party to it."

Court records show that Foothill Capital did have a confidential side agreement with Kidan. Under the agreement, prepared just before the closing, Kidan promised to resolve the liabilities in his personal bankruptcy within 45 days.

At the top of a draft of the letter is a puzzled note from Citadel's lawyer: "Looks fine, but who are we hiding these items from & why?"

Lawyers for Foothill Capital did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Boulis Was Incensed

When the deal was done, Kidan moved to Florida to run SunCruz. Abramoff stayed in D.C.

Abramoff and Kidan started paying themselves $500,000-a-year salaries. Among the first checks Kidan wrote were payments totaling $310,000 that he sent to Abramoff to help pay for the sports skyboxes at FedEx Field, MCI Center and Camden Yards.

Operating out of SunCruz's offices near Fort Lauderdale, Kidan moved into a $4,300-a-month luxury condo paid for by SunCruz and bought a 34-foot powerboat. He quickly put his mark on the business, firing SunCruz employees including several of Boulis's friends and relatives.

"We fired his friends, we fired his family and he wasn't happy with it," Kidan later told the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.

Kidan said that he found the ships were in disrepair and that there were overdue bills. He refused to make his loan payments to Boulis.

Boulis was incensed. In October 2000, he wrote letters to Kidan demanding payment, threatening to tell the lenders and Abramoff that Kidan was reneging.

Two former SunCruz insiders say that Boulis's truculence sent Abramoff and Kidan back to their friends on Capitol Hill. Scanlon, at the time a public relations consultant employed by SunCruz, once again asked Ney to place comments in the Congressional Record. Two days after Boulis's last letter, Ney did so. "I have come to learn that SunCruz Casino now finds itself under new ownership," Ney stated in the record. Kidan's "track record as a businessman and a citizen lead me to believe that he will easily transform SunCruz from a questionable enterprise to an upstanding establishment."

In the midst of the infighting with Boulis, Kidan decided to hire an old New York friend, Anthony Moscatiello, who was running a catering hall. Kidan made him a food-and-beverage consultant. Moscatiello has been described by law enforcement as an unofficial bookkeeper for New York City's Gambino crime family.

He and Kidan first met about 1990 when Kidan was running a bagel business in the Hamptons. Moscatiello had been indicted on federal heroin-trafficking charges in 1983 along with Gene Gotti, brother of John Gotti, the boss of the Gambinos. Moscatiello was accused of trying to dissuade witnesses from testifying in the case. After Gotti and several others were convicted and sentenced to prison, charges against Moscatiello were dropped.

In Florida, Moscatiello began visiting Kidan's condominium and golfing with Kidan and Waldman, according to depositions of Kidan and Waldman. Kidan later testified he was unaware of Moscatiello's legal troubles or the alleged Gambino affiliations.

'This Guy Is Violent'

In early November 2000, Abramoff flew to Miami to meet with Boulis and Kidan "to try to mediate their differences for the good of the business," Abramoff's attorney said later. "Abramoff met alone with Boulis and his representatives. Boulis recounted Kidan's bad acts and at one point stated 'Kidan stole my company.' " Abramoff said later in court documents he learned for the first time at this meeting with Boulis that Kidan had not given Boulis the $23 million. "Abramoff was flabbergasted by this news," his attorney wrote. "He could not believe that it could be true, given Kidan's representations to Abramoff."

But Abramoff, along with Kidan, had signed sworn documents faxed to the closing in which he and Kidan attested that they had paid Boulis the $23 million. And in e-mails exchanged with Kidan and Wagner, Abramoff continued to support Kidan.

By late November, threats were flying. Boulis's allies began to stir trouble, including a business associate who accused Kidan of having mafia connections at a community meeting in Mayport, Fla., where SunCruz docked one of its gambling boats. Kidan threatened to sue.

The conflict exploded on Dec. 5. Joan Wagner, Boulis's chief financial officer, had called a meeting of the SunCruz principals except for Abramoff, who was traveling abroad. They met at the company's offices in Dania Beach, Fla., to try to resolve the increasing acrimony. What happened there is in dispute.

Kidan later filed a police report stating that Boulis assaulted him with a pen, drawing blood. He claimed in court papers that Boulis "attacked [Kidan] in the face and neck and kicked his body," before being pulled off by a SunCruz employee.

Police said that at least one other witness stated that Kidan provoked Boulis by calling Wagner names and making threats. According to this account, Boulis told Kidan to stop, but Kidan instead repeated an insult. Boulis then punched Kidan.

The day of the fight, Wagner e-mailed Abramoff pleading with him to come to Florida to mediate.

"The crisis at suncruz took on new meaning today with gb [Gus Boulis] and ak [Adam Kidan] getting physical," Wagner wrote. "Money is being wasted and lost and it shouldn't continue. . . . I'm telling you that you must address the issue asap. Your delay is only emboldening Adam and he is really on the edge."

Wagner wrote, "I liked Adam and thought I would be working with all of you to build an empire to be proud of and make us all alot of money too." But now she said, "the only recourse" was for Abramoff to join with Boulis and Waldman to vote Kidan out of SunCruz.

A day later, Wagner pointedly noted that Boulis, as a lender to the Kidan group, could "veto certain activities and transactions," thus canceling the takeover of SunCruz.

Abramoff forwarded Wagner's last e-mail to Kidan and Waldman. In response, Kidan told Abramoff, "We need to shut her down."

Kidan also urged, "Jack, you need to act above all of this."

In his e-mails to Abramoff, Kidan made a cryptic reference to an ally who had sent protection to Kidan in Florida.

"My friend in NY is acting out of concern for my safety," Kidan wrote to Abramoff. "By sending security I am afraid it will make things worse and I will ask him today to remove them. I appreciate his efforts, but the situation is at a critical point."

Kidan proposed "a concerted press effort" against Boulis.

"I was the victim of family violence before," Kidan wrote. "Lets use that in our favor (my mother wouldn't mind) to show how we can't tolerate violence and the like of criminals. Lets get the protective order. By painting the picture we box him. The negative is that his profile shows that he will retaliate against me."

Abramoff replied, "I agree with this completely."

He e-mailed Boulis attorney Anthone Damianakis: "It is my belief that Gus and Adam need to resolve the issue of what Gus is owed and Gus needs to move on out of the company."

Kidan hired a security firm to assess what kind of threat was posed by Boulis, who once had been arrested for harassing a girlfriend who had obtained a restraining order after she accused him of beating her. Kidan paid for three bodyguards and ordered an armor-plated Mercedes, according to court records. He also requested a restraining order, which was granted. He alleged that Boulis vowed to have him killed.

A week later, SunCruz made the first of $145,000 in payments to Moscatiello. Three checks for $10,000 each were made to Jennifer Moscatiello, daughter of Anthony, and $115,000 to Gran-Sons, a company the Moscatiellos ran. The payments were for catering, consulting and "site inspections," Kidan said later.

However, there is no evidence that any food or drink was provided or consulting documents prepared. The checks to Jennifer were made at Anthony's instruction, Kidan said, even though she performed no services. A lawyer for the Moscatiellos declined to comment.

On Jan. 19, 2001, Boulis went to court, seeking an injunction to prevent Kidan from operating the boats and to force him to make his payments to Boulis.

The next day, Kidan and Scanlon were guests at a reception in DeLay's Capitol Hill office celebrating the inauguration of George W. Bush, according to two people who were at the reception.

A week later, Abramoff and his partners leased a corporate jet to ferry congressional staffers down to Tampa for the Super Bowl game and a night of gambling aboard a SunCruz ship. Among those aboard were DeLay aide Tim Berry, who is now DeLay's chief of staff, and two staffers to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.). DeLay's former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, by then a newly minted lobbyist working for Abramoff, was there, too.

Berry failed to report the trip on his disclosure forms. A DeLay spokesman said Berry had no idea SunCruz paid for the trip. He thought it was a Republican fundraising trip allowable under House rules.

On Jan. 31, the Kidan-Boulis brawl hit the front page of the Sun-Sentinel. Kidan told the newspaper that Boulis said: "I'm not going to sue you, I'm going to kill you. . . . This guy is violent -- he's sleazy."

A Federal Target

Back in Washington, Abramoff was moving his lobby business and many of his clients, including his tribal accounts, from Preston Gates to Greenberg Traurig LLP. He also took at least 10 employees with him from Preston Gates. At Greenberg, Abramoff made Tony Rudy his first hire from Capitol Hill.

Abramoff's departure had been coming for months. His style had clashed with others at Preston Gates, who believed he was moving too fast and being careless. Earlier in the year, Manuel Rouvelas, the firm's founding partner in Washington, had warned Abramoff, according to people familiar with the exchange.

"If you're not careful," Rouvelas told Abramoff, "you will end up dead, disgraced or in jail."

In February 2001, less than two months after Abramoff had settled in at Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff and Kidan were abroad prospecting for new business. They were in England preparing to fly to Hong Kong, when Kidan's bodyguard got a call. Boulis was dead.

Kidan rushed home. He told police he knew nothing about the slaying.

Fort Lauderdale police detectives say they know who committed the crime. All they need, they say, is one cooperating witness.

After Boulis's slaying, Kidan and Abramoff conducted business as usual at SunCruz. They asked Foothill Capital for another loan to clear up their debts. They stepped up plans to expand casino operations to the Northern Mariana Islands, where the government had been a client of Abramoff's. They also hired Greenberg Traurig as their lobbyists in Washington.

In March 2001, SunCruz executives, including Abramoff and Kidan, attended a fundraiser in Abramoff's box at MCI Center for Ney. The next month Kidan hosted a fundraiser in his apartment in Fort Lauderdale for his local congressman, Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.).

But the relationship between DeLay and Abramoff changed. DeLay told a group of conservatives last month "that he had no idea that Abramoff was involved in this and was absolutely shocked when he found out about it," said Paul M. Weyrich, a conservative activist and longtime friend of DeLay's. "Immediately he had Abramoff called in and told him, 'I want no more dealings with you,' and I think he felt blind-sided by Abramoff, that Abramoff was aware of Tom's views on the subject and never bothered to tell him" about his stake in SunCruz.

DeLay, whose campaign committee had been one of the largest recipients of gambling money, has since stopped accepting contributions from Indian tribes that operate casinos.

In late spring, stories began appearing in the Florida media about Kidan's links to the Moscatiellos. In June, Abramoff, Kidan and the Boulis estate abruptly settled their differences by placing the company into bankruptcy. As part of the settlement, Abramoff and Kidan relinquished most of their interest in the company to the Boulis estate, in exchange for an agreement releasing Abramoff and Kidan from their debts and liabilities.

Foothill Capital would later contend that the settlement was intended to cover up the fraud at the closing.

In April 2003, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit threw out the settlement, saying it was marred by conflicts of interest and should not have been approved by the bankruptcy judge. The court said the Kidan management was "riddled with fraudulent and dishonest transactions," including the charges the Boulis side made about Kidan's misuse of funds.

Today, the SunCruz casino boats are sailing under new ownership after a bankruptcy auction. Abramoff and Kidan remain embroiled in litigation with Foothill over the $60 million they were lent.

Neal Sonnett, a prominent Miami criminal defense lawyer hired by Abramoff, said in a court pleading last August that federal prosecutors have told him Abramoff is a "target" of a federal grand jury investigation.

Sonnett told The Post he is confident Abramoff will be cleared, calling him a "victim" in the SunCruz case. Sonnett said he could not discuss specifics, including the wire transfer, because of the ongoing investigation.

Abramoff has had little to say publicly about SunCruz. In 2002, he did talk to the Washington Business Forward.

"I was fortunate to get out of that financially better off than when I entered it," he said. "I was lucky it did not damage me. But it's not something I would repeat."

By then, Abramoff had already embarked on another enterprise -- one that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would later brand a "truly extraordinary" example of "exploitation and deceit." During a three-year period, Abramoff and Scanlon took in $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees from six Indian tribes.

"We need that moolah," Abramoff e-mailed Scanlon on Jan. 16, 2002. "We have to hit $50M this year (our cut!)."

Researcher Alice Crites and database editor Derek Willis contributed to this report.

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