Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

1-13 Casino Jack and the NM Indians

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- The Jack Abramoff scandal has barely touched members of New Mexico's congressional delegation. That is mainly because Casino Jack dealt primarily with House Republican leaders and Interior Department officials.
But it has touched some Indian pueblos from the area. In a November hearing of the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona revealed that New Mexico's Sandia Pueblo had been defrauded of over $2.7 million by Abramoff and his partner Michael Scanlon
McCain noted that the amount was much higher than previously disclosed. The Pueblo, itself, continues to put the figure at "more than a million dollars." McCain said investigators will try to find out how that $2.7 million was spent. The possibility also exists that he will call a hearing to take testimony from the pueblo. Sandia was seeking unlimited access to over 10,000 acres of land on the west face of the Sandias.
The million dollars the pueblo acknowledges, was paid to Scanlon for "public relations" work. McCain also disclosed that the pueblo paid $125,000 to Abramoff's former law firm, Greenberg Traurig. Where the remainder of the $2.7 million went is still not known.
Recently, it was revealed that the Tigua Pueblo of El Paso was the subject of an even bigger swindle. After operating the Speaking Rock Casino for almost nine years, it was shut down in 2002 following a major effort by Abramoff and the Christian Coalition.
Abramoff then turned around and got the Tigua's to pay him $4.2 million to work on getting it reopened. Abramoff got the money, but the deal to reopen the casino fell through. The Tiguas also contributed between $250,000 and $300,000 to congressional campaigns in 2002 and 2004.
The Tiguas now say they would like that money back. Members of Congress currently are scrambling to return political contributions from Abramoff and his good friend Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas. Most of those refunds are being given to charities in the members' congressional districts.
But in the case of Indian tribes directed by Abramoff to make contributions to certain candidates, some tribes are saying they would prefer the money be returned. But most members of Congress claim it would be an insult to the tribe to return it.
Evidently, the tribes didn't realize it would be an insult until they were so informed by the people who took their money and now want to take care of the Indians. Our government officials are just too nice.
Rep. Heather Wilson, of New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, has returned $1,000 given to her by Abramoff, but hasn't returned $4,000 from Sandia Pueblo, an Abramoff client. Maybe she figures she would have received it anyway, since the pueblo is in her district.
Wilson also has returned $10,000 of $47,000 she received from former House Republican leader Tom DeLay's political action committee that now is under scrutiny.
Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District, at last report, had not returned the $20,000 he received from DeLay. According to federal reports, Pearce has not received contributions from Abramoff or tribes he has represented, although he has received $1,000 from Abramoff's former law firm Greenberg Traurig.
Pearce's mentor, California Rep. Richard Pombo, has reported receiving $1,000 from Santa Clara Pueblo, which operates Big Rock Casino in Espanola. Pombo is chairman of the House Resources Committee, which is responsible for tribal-related legislation. Obviously, he is a target of attention from Mr. Abramoff.
This is the first we have heard about Santa Clara being involved with wheeler-dealers in Washington. Before this is over, we may learn that other New Mexico tribes are involved.
Sen. McCain, who thought he was through with committee hearings on the defrauding of Indian tribes, now has reopened those hearings. One of the first witnesses he called was Italia Federici, who runs a non-profit organization formed by Interior Secretary Gale Norton. He wants to know about large tribal donations to the group.
FRI, 1-13-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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