Correction to This Article
A Dec. 29 article about former lobbyist Jack Abramoff cited an incorrect date for an e-mail he sent about client bills. The e-mail was sent in April 2001, not April 2000. A Dec. 29 article misstated the position once held by the father of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Frank Abramoff was president of the franchises unit of Diners Club, not the parent company.
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The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff

Few of those interviewed would agree to be quoted on the record because of the ongoing investigation by a Justice Department task force. But some who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they look back in amazement at the heady days of Abramoff's rise.

"We weren't outside the box," the former Preston Gates colleague said. "We were outside the universe."

Hints of Trouble

A quarter of a century ago, Abramoff and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist were fellow Young Turks of the Reagan revolution. They organized Massachusetts college campuses in the 1980 election -- Abramoff while he was an undergraduate at Brandeis and Norquist at Harvard Business School -- to help Ronald Reagan pull an upset in the state.

They moved to Washington, maneuvered to take over the College Republicans -- at the time a sleepy establishment organization -- and transformed it into a right-wing activist group. They were joined by Ralph Reed, an ambitious Georgian whose later Christian conversion would fuel his rise to national political prominence.

Soon they made headlines with such tactics as demolishing a mock Berlin Wall in Lafayette Park, where they also burned a Soviet leader in effigy. "We want to shock them," Abramoff told The Post at the time.

They forged lifelong ties. At Reagan's 72nd-birthday party at the White House, Reed introduced Abramoff to his future wife, Pam Alexander, who was working with Reed. She eventually converted to Judaism and embraced the Orthodox beliefs Abramoff had adopted as a teenager.

Even in those early days, there were hints of the troubles to come. "If anyone is not surprised at the rise and fall of Jack Abramoff, it is me," said Rich Bond, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Abramoff and his crew busted the College Republicans' budget with a 1982 national direct-mail fundraising campaign that ended up "a colossal flop," said Bond, then deputy director of the party's national committee. He said he banished the three from GOP headquarters, telling Abramoff: "You can't be trusted."

Shortly thereafter, Abramoff was running Citizens for America, a conservative grass-roots group founded by drugstore magnate Lewis E. Lehrman. Abramoff was in frequent contact with Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the Reagan White House's Iran-contra mastermind, about grass-roots efforts to lobby Congress for the Nicaraguan contras, according to records in the National Security Archive.

One of Abramoff's most audacious adventures involved Jonas Savimbi, the Angolan rebel leader who had U.S. support but was later found to have ordered the murders of his movement's representative to the United States and that man's relatives. With Savimbi, Abramoff organized a "convention" of anticommunist guerrillas from Laos, Nicaragua and Afghanistan in a remote part of Angola. Afterward, Lehrman fired Abramoff amid a dispute about the handling of the group's $3 million budget.

Abramoff also worked on behalf of the apartheid South African government, which secretly paid $1.5 million a year to the International Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit group that Abramoff operated out of a townhouse in the 1980s, according to sworn testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At the same time, Abramoff dabbled as a Hollywood producer, shepherding an anticommunist movie, "Red Scorpion," starring Dolph Lundgren, filmed in Namibia, which was then ruled by South Africa. Actors in the film said they saw South African soldiers on the set. When the film was released in 1989, anti-apartheid groups demonstrated at the theaters. The movie ran into financial difficulty during and after production, but Abramoff produced a sequel, "Red Scorpion 2."

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