A Louisiana Indian tribe that paid lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations consultant Michael Scanlon $32 million sued the two men and Abramoff's former law firm yesterday, alleging fraud and negligence.
The lawsuit, filed in state court in Louisiana by the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, alleges that between 2001 and 2004 the tribe was overcharged and billed for work that was never performed, and that Abramoff and Scanlon converted tribal funds to personal use. The tribe said it is seeking to recover the $32 million it paid the pair and plans to seek punitive damages.
The Coushattas were one of six newly wealthy gambling tribes that paid the two men $82 million in public relations and lobbying fees for work that some tribe members contend was worth a small fraction of that sum. Abramoff also directed the tribes to give millions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress.
The fees are the subject of a grand jury investigation in Washington. The FBI and a task force of five federal agencies are investigating the campaign contributions and whether tribal funds were misused, among other issues, according to government sources.
In also naming Abramoff's former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, which is headquartered in Florida, the Coushatta tribe alleged that it failed "to adequately supervise, control and monitor" Abramoff.
The tribe said the firm "was unjustly enriched by the fraudulent overbilling and overcharging practices."
"It's one thing to pay a premium for people who can make your case in Washington," said Joe Kendall, an attorney for the tribe. "It's something quite different to play on the fears of a group of people who may not know the system all that well and bilk them out of millions."
Greenberg Traurig ousted Abramoff when questions were raised in the spring about the lobbying and public relations fees he and Scanlon obtained from the tribes. The firm has said it is cooperating with the criminal investigations and a separate one by Congress, but Coushatta attorney Joe Kendall said yesterday the firm has not made any effort to reimburse the tribe for the more than $5 million Greenberg Traurig was paid.
Greenberg Traurig spokeswoman Jill Perry said the firm had not received the lawsuit and could not comment. Lawyers for Abramoff and Scanlon did not return calls seeking comment.