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Abramoff Cited Aid Of Interior Official

Lobbyist Jack Abramoff was indicted Aug. 11 in Fort Lauderdale on wire fraud counts involving gambling boats.
Lobbyist Jack Abramoff was indicted Aug. 11 in Fort Lauderdale on wire fraud counts involving gambling boats. (By Carlos Barria -- Reuters)

Department officials said the Gun Lake process was proper, adding that they could not comment further because of the ongoing investigation into Abramoff's contacts with Interior.

'The Way to Stop It'

The Gun Lake tribe, formally known as the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, in 2001 began seeking approval for a casino on 147 acres near Grand Rapids.

As part of its application, the tribe prepared an environmental assessment and was close to approval by the end of 2002. The tribe was not asked to produce an environmental impact statement, or EIS, a much more detailed study.

On Dec. 4, 2002, Abramoff received an e-mail from Saginaw Chippewas tribal representative Chris Petras, who said that Gun Lake's proposal was moving forward rapidly. A public comment period on the tribe's environmental assessment was expected to be the last step before the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- a part of the Interior Department -- cleared the way.

That same day, Abramoff sent an urgent e-mail to Federici, president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

"This is a disaster in the making," Abramoff wrote. "This is the casino we discussed with Steve and he said that it would not happen. It seems to be happening! The way to stop it is for Interior to say they are not satisfied with the environmental impact report. Can you get him to stop this one asap? They are moving fast. Thanks Italia. This is a direct assault on our guys, Saginaw Chippewa."

Federici posted a quick reply: "I will call him asap." She met with Griles in his office two days later, according to a copy of Griles's schedule released under the Freedom of Information Act. Federici did not respond to interview requests for this article.

Federici's group, CREA, was founded in the 1990s by conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Gale Norton, now secretary of the interior. It has received financial backing from chemical and mining interests, leading some environmentalists to brand it a front for industrial polluters. Abramoff directed tribes he represented to donate $225,000 to CREA from 2001 to 2003.

Days after he appealed to Federici for help with Griles, Abramoff reassured the Saginaw Chippewas tribal representative. "The meeting with Griles went well. We have a lot to do but we'll get there," he told Petras in a Dec. 12, 2002, e-mail.

Scanlon weighed in the following week, suggesting technical roadblocks to stop the casino. "Hey, I think a real quick way to blow this Gun Lake thing out of the water is to have BIA reject the land into trust, or lay some stipulation on their application that would buy us some time," Scanlon wrote Abramoff on Dec. 16. "Any word from Griles on this?"

Abramoff wrote back: "I thought the way to do this is to have them reject the EIS, which I believe Griles has committed to do."

In the first half of 2003, the Gun Lake tribe remained under the impression that its application was about to be approved. But in July of that year, the Department of Justice's Indian law section raised concerns about the project and sought to have the tribe prepare an environment impact statement.

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