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Unraveling Abramoff

Key Players in the Investigation of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff

Compiled by
Updated June 26, 2007

Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, public corruption and tax evasion on Jan. 3, 2006 for his role in the purchase of a fleet of Florida gambling boats from a businessman who was later killed in a gangland-style hit. Other efforts he took to funnel money to support causes of interest to his clients are also being probed. Washington Post reporters Susan Schmidt and James V. Grimaldi have written several stories about the Abramoff Affair and key players are listed below.

The Players

Jack Abramoff | Michael Scanlon | Adam Kidan | Ben Waldman | Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis | Grover Norquist | Ralph Reed | Italia Federici | Rev. Louis P. Sheldon | David H. Safavian | J. Steven Griles | Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio) | Neil G. Volz | Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) | Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) | Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) | Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) | Tony C. Rudy

Jack Abramoff Jack A. Abramoff: Up until 2004, Jack Abramoff was one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington. He leveraged his close ties to Republican and conservative leaders, including then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), to collect tens of millions of dollars from clients such as casino-rich Indian tribes. He treated lawmakers and their aides to lavish trips, meals and tickets to sporting events, and directed the tribes to donate millions of dollars to political candidates and parties. Now he is at the center of one of the widest-ranging federal corruption investigations in decades.

Prosecutors are investigating whether Abramoff defrauded the tribes and are probing his links to Congress and government officials. In a related matter, Abramoff was sentenced on March 29, 2006, to five years and 10 months in prison after agreeing to plead guilty to three criminal charges for allegedly defrauding lenders in his 2000 purchase of SunCruz casinos, a fleet of gambling boats. The former lobbyist also agreed to cooperate with federal investigators in Washington. His partner in the Florida deal, Adam Kidan, also pleaded guilty and received the same sentence. Abramoff's Washington partner, public relations executive Michael Scanlon, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to bribe public officials and also will testify against Abramoff.

Born in Atlantic City, N.J., Abramoff, 46, graduated from Brandeis University and Georgetown University Law Center. He was a leader of the College Republicans where he met Kidan; anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist; and Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition who now is a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia.

The lobbyist has said, "I can't imagine there's anything I did that other lobbyists didn't do and aren't doing today."

Michael Scanlon Michael Scanlon: A former press secretary to Rep. Tom DeLay, Scanlon pleaded guilty on Nov. 22, 2005, to conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials. Scanlon, 35, and Abramoff allegedly plotted to defraud Indian tribes and bribe government officials, taking in tens of millions of dollars. He is appealing his conviction.

According to court records, Scanlon and Abramoff concocted a scheme to "corruptly offer and provide things of value, including money, meals, trips and entertainment to federal public officials in return for agreements to perform official acts." Scanlon is expected to testify about gifts he and Abramoff offered to Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) "in exchange for a series of official acts," according to court records.

Ben Waldman: A former Reagan administration aide, Waldman joined Abramoff and Kidan in purchasing SunCruz Casinos. Records show that Waldman and Adam Kidan faxed copies of a purported wire-transfer document in order to prove they had paid a promised $23 million to the owner of SunCruz. Abramoff and Kidan have been indicted on charges of fraud after an investigation determined the wire-transfer document was a fake. Waldman has not been indicted in the case.

Adam Kidan Adam Kidan: Aa New York City businessman who had owned the Dial-a-Mattress franchise in Washington, Kidan was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison on March 29, 2006 after pleading to fraud charges related to the 2000 purchase of SunCruz Casinos with Abramoff. According to court records, the SunCruz purchase hinged on a fake wire transfer for $23 million intended to persuade lenders to provide financing to Kidan, Abramoff and Ben Waldman, who were purchasing a 90 percent share of the company. Each of the six counts in the indictment could bring a punishment of as much as five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Grover Norquist Grover Norquist: Founder and president of the conservative lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist allegedly allowed Abramoff to route money through the group in order to whip up opposition to an anti-gambling bill. If the bill had passed, Abramoff's client, a company that wanted to sell state lottery tickets online, would be out of business. Norquist has known Abramoff since their days in the College Republicans.

Konstantinos 'Gus' Boulis Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis: A Greek immigrant who started the Miami Subs restaurant chain and the Florida-based SunCruz Casinos, Boulis was killed in February 2001, just months after selling a 90 percent share of his gambling business to Abramoff's group.

Boulis was forced to sell the casino business, which included 11 ships that sailed from nine Florida ports and Myrtle Beach, S.C., because he purchased his fleet before he became a U.S. citizen, which violated the Shipping Act. The Justice Department worked out a settlement that allowed Boulis to sell the business at market value. Through his lawyer, he connected with Abramoff's group. Federal investigators allege Abramoff and Kidan defrauded lenders when making the purchase and the two were indicted in August. The business went bankrupt just months after Boulis's execution-style death, which went unsolved until November 2005 when three men were indicted on charges of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Ralph Reed Ralph Reed: Best known as the first executive director of the Christian Coalition during the early 1990s, Reed is now a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia. In 1981 he worked as an intern for Abramoff, the newly elected chairman of the College Republicans National Committee. Abramoff promoted Reed in 1983, appointing him to succeed Grover Norquist as executive director of the organization. Reed left the Christian Coalition in 1997 and started a political consulting firm in Georgia.

E-mails released by federal investigators in June 2005 suggest that Reed secretly accepted payments from Abramoff to lobby against Indian casino gambling and oppose an Alabama education lottery at the same time that Abramoff was being paid to promote Indian casino gambling. Additional e-mails released in November 2005 show that Reed also worked for another Abramoff client seeking to block a congressional ban on Internet gambling. Reed has said he did not know the funds came from pro-gambling sources.

Italia Federici Italia Federici: Federici is president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy. Over three years, Abramoff directed Indian tribes he represented to contribute about $500,000 to her group. Federici had a personal relationship with J. Steven Griles and e-mails show that Abramoff sought to use this connection to secretly help him lobby the Interior Department and obtain inside information affecting his tribal clients.

Federici's organization was co-founded by Gale A. Norton before she joined the Bush administration as Interior secretary. In one e-mail, Abramoff told a colleague that Federici's group was "our access to Norton." In combative testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on Nov. 17, 2005, Federici maintained that she was manipulated by Abramoff.

In June 2007 Federici pleaded guilty to tax and perjury charges and agreed to cooperate with the government. She admitted to acting as a go-between, shuttling information and lobbying requests from Abramoff to Griles.

Rev. Louis P. Sheldon Rev. Louis P. Sheldon: Sheldon is the founder of the Traditional Values Coalition that represents a number of conservative Christian churches. Sheldon's organization, which has protested loudly against gambling, allegedly accepted money from an online lottery firm, eLottery, to help in the company's $2 million pro-gambling campaign. The company needed help defeating an anti-gambling bill and checks and e-mails obtained by The Post show that Abramoff recruited Ralph Reed to join Sheldon in the effort to pressure members of Congress.

Sheldon told The Post that he could not remember receiving eLottery money and that he was unaware that Abramoff was involved in the campaign to defeat an anti-gambling bill. Sheldon received at least $25,000 from eLottery; Abramoff is known to have referred to him as "Lucky Louie."

David Safavian David Safavian: Safavian, who once worked with Abramoff, worked in the White House until he was arrested Sept. 19, 2005, for allegedly lying to investigators in the probe of the lobbyist's activities.

He was convicted June 20, 2006 on four of five felony counts of lying and obstruction and was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Oct. 28. The jury found Safavian guilty of obstructing the work of the GSA inspector general and of lying to a GSA ethics official. It also convicted him of lying to the GSA's Office of Inspector General and of making a false statement to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He was acquitted of a charge of obstructing the committee's investigation. Safavian is appealing his conviction.

Until his resignation, Safavian was the top administrator at the federal procurement office in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he set purchasing policy for the entire government. The FBI alleges that Safavian made repeated false statements to investigators about a golf trip with Abramoff to Scotland in 2002, when Safavian was chief of staff at the General Services Administration. Investigators contend that he concealed his efforts to help Abramoff acquire control of two federally managed properties in the Washington area.

J. Steven Griles J. Steven Griles: Griles was deputy secretary of the Interior Department from July 2001 to January 2005. On March 23, 2007, he pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a Senate investigation, becoming the highest-ranking Bush administration official convicted in Abramoff corruption scandal. He admitted in federal court that he lied to the Senate about his relationship with Abramoff, who repeatedly sought Griles' intervention at the agency on behalf of Abramoff's Indian tribal clients. He was sentenced on June 26 to 10 months in prison.

In testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Griles denied doing anything to help Abramoff's clients or having any special relationship with Abramoff. In its June final report, the committee concluded it was "unclear" what, if anything, Griles might have done on behalf of the lobbyist's clients. Since leaving office, Griles has joined former White House national energy policy director Andrew Lundquist and former House member George Nethercutt (R-Wash.) to form the political lobbying firm of Lundquist, Nethercutt & Griles, LLC.

E-mails released by congressional investigators show that Abramoff claimed to have had numerous meetings, telephone calls and other contacts with Griles concerning the lobbyist's tribal clients. Abramoff said in the e-mails that Griles advised him how to get members of Congress to pressure the department and provided him information about Interior decision-making. The e-mails show Abramoff tried to influence Griles through Italia Federici, head of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy.

Robert Ney Rep. Robert Ney (R-Ohio): On Jan. 19, 2007 Ney was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his role in the Abramoff bribery scandal. Ney pleaded guilty on Oct. 13, 2006, Ney to conspiracy and making false statements, becoming the first lawmaker to confess to crimes in the scandal. He acknowledged taking money, gifts and favors in return for official actions on behalf of Abramoff and his clients and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and up to $60,000 in fines. He agreed to plead guilty to charges stemming from the scandal on Sept. 15.

Despite his guilty pleas, Ney, who has represented Ohio's 18th congressional district since 1995, did not resign his seat in Congress, though he announced in early August that he would not run for reelection, citing family concerns. His lawyer, Mark Touhey, told the judge he would resign before his sentencing on Jan. 19, 2007 but his term expires when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3.

Neil G. Volz Neil G. Volz: Neil G. Volz was Chief of Staff to Representative Bob Ney (R-Ohio) from 1995 to 2002 . He left the congressman's staff to work for Abramoff at Greenberg Traurig LLP. On May 8, 2006, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, including wire fraud and violating House rules, stemming from his work both for Ney and Greenberg Traurig. Volz faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but he could receive a much lower penalty depending on his cooperation in the continuing corruption investigation. The plea agreement refers repeatedly to "Representative #1" --widely believed to be Ney-- who, it says, accepted trips, restaurant meals and other inducements in exchange for "favorable official action" and other assistance for clients of Abramoff and Volz.

Tom DeLay Rep. Thomas DeLay (R-Tex.): DeLay was one of the most powerful leaders on Capitol Hill before he was indicted on campaign finance charges in September 2005 and temporarily resigned as House majority leader. Abramoff, whom DeLay once called "one of my closest and dearest friends," held fundraisers for the congressman and arranged for DeLay to accompany him on a luxury golf trip to Scotland and a trip to the Northern Mariana Islands. Abramoff also maintained close ties with DeLay aides.

DeLay and two of his associates were indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy and money laundering in relation to fundraising and spending in the 2002 Texas legislative races. The lawmaker is vigorously challenging the Texas campaign finance case, which he says was filed against him by a prosecutor with close ties to Democrats. On Dec. 5, 2005, a judge dropped a conspiracy charge against DeLay, but let stand money laundering charges.

A native Texan, DeLay holds a biology degree from the University of Houston and owned a pest extermination company before seeking public office. He was elected to the Texas State House in 1978 and went to Congress six years later, becoming majority leader in 2002.

Conrad Burns Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.): Burns, chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee, pressured the Bureau of Indian Affairs to award a $3 million grant to the Saginaw Chippewas of Michigan – a client of Abramoff's – despite objections from Interior Department officials. On Dec. 17, 2005, the senator returned $150,000 in contributions he received during the past five years from Abramoff, his associates and their tribal clients. Two of his staffers left to work as lobbyists with Abramoff during that same time period. Burns, who has said his actions were consistent with his support for Indian tribes, was first elected to the Senate in 1988.

John McCain Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, McCain launched an investigation into Abramoff's activities after Washington Post stories in 2004 detailed the lobbyist's dealings with tribes and secret kickbacks to Scanlon. The hearings may help McCain, a likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, reinforce his image as a Washington reformer and a proponent of campaign finance reform.

Byron Dorgan Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.): Dorgan, ranking Democrat on the committee, has pursued the probe even as he has received attention for his previous links to Abramoff. Dorgan met with one of Abramoff's associates and pushed legislative language urging government regulators to decide whether one tribal client of Abramoff deserved federal recognition. On Dec. 12, 2005, Dorgan announced he would return $67,000 in donations he received from Indian tribes represented by Abramoff.

Tony C. Rudy: A former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), Rudy was central to Abramoff's efforts to scuttle an anti-gambling bill in July 2000. He e-mailed Abramoff internal congressional communications and advice, according to documents and the lobbyist's former associates.

On March 31, 2006, Rudy pleaded guilty in federal court to a conspiracy charge related to the federal investigation into corrupt lobbying practices. He also agreed to aide prosecutors as they continue their probe. There were no allegations against DeLay in the plea agreement.

Rudy went to work for Abramoff when the lobbyist moved to a new law firm, Greenberg Traurig LLP, in January 2001. Abramoff also arranged for a client, eLottery, to pay $25,000 to a Jewish foundation that hired Rudy's wife, Lisa, as a consultant, according to documents and interviews. Months later, Rudy himself was hired as a lobbyist by Abramoff.

During his tenure as a congressional aide, Rudy received favors from Abramoff, including several trips paid for by eLottery. Rudy also accompanied DeLay to Scotland in 2002 for a trip, now under investigation, arranged by Abramoff. Abramoff listed Rudy as a financial reference in his purchase of SunCruz, an offshore gambling enterprise. That transaction ultimately led to the indictment of Abramoff and a business partner on charges that they had forged a $23 million wire transfer.

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