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The Republicans' Rabbi-in-Arms
In the '90s David Lapin moved from Johannesburg to Los Angeles to start Strategic Business Ethics, a management consulting company that bills him as the guru able to reconcile "clashing worlds: ancient Kabbalistic wisdom and modern business solutions." Early on Abramoff gave him a lot of financial support. He put David Lapin on the payroll of the Capital Athletic Fund, which he had set up ostensibly to teach leadership skills through sports to city youth. Abramoff is accused of using the money for his pet causes. In the e-mails, he suggests finding a way to "utilize" Lapin to "research their mission (sportsmanship)."
Abramoff also gave him a no-bid $1.2 million contract to work in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Abramoff was the Marianas' lobbyist charged with preventing the U.S. government from regulating labor and immigration laws in the territory after some members of Congress considered it a haven for sweatshops and proposed laws to improve conditions.
David Lapin says he drafted legislation that would overhaul local labor laws and make federal regulation unnecessary; he also held workshops with the Department of Labor to institute a "standard of ethics. It was an enormous process," he says, that took 19 months.
But Pam Brown, then attorney general for the Marianas, does not recall the ethics briefings. She says that Lapin billed the government for long stays in his suite at a lavish hotel but that her staff actually drafted the legislation and briefed Lapin on it. "The bill never passed and the law in question remains substantially unchanged," she wrote in an e-mail.
Two years ago, Abramoff persuaded David Lapin to help him open a new Jewish school in Maryland, the Eshkol Academy. Abramoff was unhappy with the local yeshivas and wanted to start a new one for his own children. He made Lapin the dean because they shared an "educational philosophy," says Lapin. He was paid $20,000 a month, according to the e-mails, again through the Capital Athletic Fund.
But he was there only about once a month and never moved to the area, recalls Robert Whitehill, a Hebrew teacher who is suing Abramoff for three months' pay. "He would come for a day and pontificate about something and leave. He was an absentee dean." The school closed after about two years.
After he left Venice Beach, Daniel Lapin moved to Seattle -- "yachting is my religion, Judaism is my life," he says. From there he founded Toward Tradition, a group "working to advance our nation toward the traditional Judeo-Christian values." Abramoff is on the board, gave $10,000 to the group and helps deliver senators to its conferences, says Medved, who lives near Lapin in Seattle.
In an earlier set of e-mails, Abramoff calls his Indian clients "morons" and "monkeys." For that, Daniel Lapin found the language to criticize his old friend, calling his insults "horrible, awful." But he stops short of saying what Medved does, that as an Orthodox Jew Abramoff "disgraced the Torah." Instead, he edges more toward pastoral forgiveness.
"Abramoff created an extremely effective ideological machine, and I think that bothered many people on the moderate side," says Lapin. "Nobody claims Abramoff did anything different than anyone else. He's a friend of mine and I've seen him do many, many wonderful and decent things. My argument is that a human being is a very complicated amalgam. We've all done things we're not proud of."
Then he said of Abramoff the same thing he's said about DeLay, and some of his other friends, in what must be his favorite metaphor:
"I think the world of him," he said. "He's not a choirboy. But I wouldn't want to have beer with a choirboy."