The Silver Spring company once owned by a top aide to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has surfaced again in disclosures about the federal investigation into Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Documents recently released by a U.S. Senate committee investigating Abramoff offered evidence that Abramoff attempted to direct millions of dollars in fees to Grassroots Interactive, a firm founded in May 2003 by Edward B. Miller, who later became deputy chief of staff to the Republican governor.
The documents, as reported yesterday in the New York Times, showed that on Aug. 7, 2003, Abramoff drew up a draft contract with the African nation of Gabon that called for $9 million in fees to be paid to Grassroots Interactive. The contract was never signed.
This disclosure comes after the September testimony of a former Tyco International Ltd. official, who revealed that Abramoff asked client Tyco to send Grassroots Interactive a $2 million payment, purportedly for lobbying work.
A federal grand jury issued a subpoena this summer to Miller, who stepped down as the company's resident agent in September 2003 after taking a job with the Ehrlich administration.
Miller was traveling in Israel with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday and could not be reached. His attorney, Aron U. Raskas, responded to questions with a brief statement by e-mail.
"Mr. Miller was not connected in any way to, nor did he have any knowledge whatsoever of, any proposal or project relating to Gabon," Raskas wrote.
A spokesman for Ehrlich said the governor would not expand on a statement his office released in September. It said Ehrlich "is aware that Ed has been extremely helpful to the [Abramoff] investigation" and remains "a valued member of our team."
The spokesman would not say whether the governor had personal knowledge of Miller's activities with Grassroots Interactive.
Democrats in Annapolis said Ehrlich should be more forthcoming. "I think the governor should be on top of this and ask Ed Miller to come clean or ask him to resign," Terry Lierman, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party, said. "There's a lot of smoke. I haven't seen any fire yet, but that's why he needs to explain it."
Abramoff and his wife, who live in Maryland, donated $16,000 to Ehrlich's 2002 campaign and $7,750 to the Maryland Republican Party, according to state records. Abramoff also was a guest at the governor's December 2003 Hanukkah party at the executive mansion.
Abramoff, under indictment on wire fraud and conspiracy charges in Florida, remains the focus of a lengthy investigation by a task force led by prosecutors at the Justice Department that also includes investigators at the Internal Revenue Service and the Interior Department.
The probe has focused on whether Abramoff bilked Native American tribes that paid him tens of millions of dollars in lobbying and other fees, as well as other matters.
Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.