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Holidays, Lobbyists & Murder

By Richard Fricker
December 23, 2005

As the wags of Washington make their Christmas rounds and chardonnay corks litter the streets like cherry blossoms, there is a chill in the holiday spirit for friends and associates of Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff – since some of them are facing a New Year that may include testimony in a murder and corruption case in Florida.

While Abramoff's influence-buying schemes are likely to entangle prominent politicians in bribery cases in Washington, the Fort Lauderdale murder-corruption case surrounding the SunCruz casino stands out as possibly the biggest embarrassment for the Republican power structure, since it may feature appearances by Abramoff and his onetime aide Michael Scanlon.

Fort Lauderdale homicide detectives are interested in questioning Abramoff about the 2001 murder of SunCruz casino owner Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis. Prosecutor Brian Cavanaugh told me he most certainly “will be spending time with Mr. Scanlon.”

Boulis was gunned down in his car on Feb. 6, 2001, amid a feud with an Abramoff business group that had purchased Boulis’s SunCruz casino cruise line in 2000. On Sept. 27, 2005, Fort Lauderdale police charged three men, including reputed Gambino crime family bookkeeper Anthony Moscatiello, with Boulis’s murder.

As part of the murder probe, police are investigating payments that SunCruz made to Moscatiello, his daughter and Anthony Ferrari, another defendant in the Boulis murder case. Moscatiello and Ferrari allegedly collaborated with a third man, James Fiorillo, in the slaying.

Abramoff Indictment

The SunCruz deal also led to the August 2005 indictment of Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, on charges of conspiracy and wire fraud over a $60 million loan for buying the casino company in 2000. Prosecutors allege that Abramoff and Kidan made a phony $23 million wire transfer as a fake down payment.

In pursuing the casino deal, the Abramoff-Kidan group got help, too, from then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, the Washington Post reported. Abramoff impressed one lender by putting him together with DeLay in Abramoff’s skybox at FedEx Field during a football game between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.

Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record criticizing Boulis and later praising the new Abramoff-Kidan ownership team. [Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005]

After the SunCruz sale, when tensions boiled over, Boulis and Kidan got into a fistfight. Kidan claimed that Boulis threatened his life. Two months later, however, Boulis was the one who was shot to death when a car pulled up next to him and a gunman opened fire. Lawyers for Abramoff and Kidan say their clients know nothing about the murder.

Police, however, are investigating financial ties between the Abramoff-Kidan group and Moscatiello and Ferrari.

In a 2001 civil case, Kidan testified that he had paid $145,000 to Moscatiello and his daughter, Jennifer, for catering and other services, although court records show no evidence that quantities of food or drink were provided. SunCruz also paid Ferrari’s company, Moon Over Miami, $95,000 for surveillance services.

Kidan told the Miami Herald that the payments had no connection to the Boulis murder. “If I’m going to pay to have Gus killed, am I going to be writing checks to the killers?” Kidan asked. “I don’t think so. Why would I leave a paper trail?”

Kidan also said he was ignorant of Moscatiello’s past. In 1983, Moscatiello was indicted on heroin-trafficking charges along with Gene Gotti, brother of Gambino crime boss John Gotti. Though Gene Gotti and others were convicted, the charges against Moscatiello – identified by federal authorities as a former Gambino bookkeeper – were dropped.

Abramoff’s influence reached into George W. Bush’s White House, too, where chief procurement officer David H. Safavian resigned in September and then was arrested on charges of lying to authorities and obstructing a criminal investigation into Abramoff’s lobbying activities.

Rep. Ney and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed were among influential Republicans who joined Safavian and Abramoff on an infamous golf trip to Scotland in 2002. Safavian is a former lobbying partner of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, another pillar of right-wing politics in Washington and another longtime Abramoff friend. [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2005]

Abramoff also has boasted of his influence with Bush’s top political adviser Karl Rove. [For more background on Abramoff, see Consortiumnews.com's "How Rotten Are These Guys?"]

Plea Bargains

The latest wrinkle in this melodrama appears to be the race to the courthouse between Abramoff and his casino co-owner Kidan, who is in the soup with Abramoff for the SunCruz money-laundering and wire-fraud charges. This is a classic race in that he who cuts the first deal wins.

If Kidan can offer up Abramoff and a few congressmen before Abramoff can rat out his congressional minions before Kidan inks a deal, he wins. Or, in the alternative, if they can collectively offer up a bevy of congressmen, Capitol Hill aides and fat-cat contributors, then they both can minimize possible jail time.

The New York Times reported on Dec. 22 that Abramoff was close to completing a plea agreement in the Florida fraud case, setting the stage for him becoming a witness in a broad federal corruption investigation. One participant in the case said a deal could be completed by next week. [NYT, Dec. 22, 2005]

In the meantime, the Fort Lauderdale police and prosecutor Cavanaugh need only wait. If Scanlon, Abramoff and Kidan all agree to “cooperate” with the government in plea-bargaining on white-collar crimes, Cavanaugh will still get his shot at the wheeler-dealers because murder trumps fraud in the prosecutorial world.

Investigators have tried to interview Abramoff about the Boulis case, but those efforts were blocked by his attorneys who refused to volunteer Abramoff's testimony. Cavanaugh has declined to subpoena Abramoff because it might muddy the legal waters should it be decided the GOP fundraiser had some direct knowledge of the Boulis slaying.

Kidan, meanwhile, is rumored to be ready to make his own plea deal and start naming names of politicos who gave, took, hustled funds. Should that happen Congressman Ney can expect more questions about his insertion of comments in the Congressional Record criticizing Boulis for his management of SunCruz when Abramoff and Kidan were trying to buy the company.

The Boulis murder trial is set for mid-January, but a postponement is likely as both sides take depositions of witnesses.

Meanwhile, DeLay awaits trial on alleged laundering of corporate campaign funds into Texas political races that were central to DeLay's efforts to redistrict Texas and give Republicans additional seats in the U.S. Congress.

DeLay’s problems may just be beginning as new revelations show he received special favors including use of private jets and money from sources connected to other bribery allegations.

All in all, the legal entanglements of Abramoff and his friends may make for something less than a very Happy New Year.



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