Abramoff goes down in flames

Abramoff, Delay, Rove, Norquist, Bush.
Corporate fraud, massive political corruption, mob connections, and now a murder-conspiracy.
Where is Ross Thomas when you really need him?

I’m used to news stories that read like items from The Onion, but this one reads like the plot of a Ross Thomas or Richard Condon novel. It turns out that Tom Delay’s (and Karl Rove’s) good buddy Jack Abramoff was involved in a complicated corporate fraud.

That’s hardly a surprise. What brings it to the Ross Thomas/Richard Condon level is the fact that one of the players, who had wound up on the opposite side from Abramoff, died of acute lead poisoning.

The heart of the alleged SunCruz fraud was a record of a $23 million payment to a Boulis holding company intended to persuade lenders to provide $60 million in financing to Abramoff’s group toward the $147.5 million purchase of the fleet of floating gambling parlors. The record of the investment was a wire transfer, faxed by Kidan and Waldman to the partners’ key lender — Foothill Capital, a specialty lender now a division of Wells Fargo Bank, according to records reviewed by The Post in federal bankruptcy court in Fort Lauderdale.

The money was never really sent. The account on the wire transfer had long been closed. Other papers in bankruptcy court suggest that Boulis knew the $23 million wasn’t sent because he instead accepted $20 million in notes.

Almost immediately after the purchase, management of the gambling company fell into chaos amid allegations of fraud, accusations of mob influence, lawsuits, a fistfight and warring between the Abramoff group and Boulis, who had remained a minority partner.

In an e-mail to a SunCruz attorney sent in late 2001, Abramoff sided with his old friend, Kidan, saying, “It is my belief that Gus [Boulis] and Adam [Kidan] need to resolve the issue of what Gus is owed and Gus needs to move on out of the company.”

In February 2001, Boulis was shot to death while driving home from work and no one has been arrested in the murder.

But the real Thomas/Condon feel comes from the combination of raw crime with high-level politics:

During this period, Abramoff had mixed his lobbying practice with his gambling company. Even as he closed a deal to purchase SunCruz, he flew his specialty lender to Washington to meet then House Majority Whip Tom DeLay in his FedEx Field sky box during a Redskins-Cowboys game.

Just days before Boulis’ murder, Abramoff had flown congressional staffers from Washington to Tampa on a jet leased by SunCruz for a night of gambling on SunCruz boats and a trip to the Super Bowl. Along on the trip was Tim Berry, now DeLay’s chief-of-staff. Berry did not report the gift on his House disclosure forms at the time and people close to him said he thought it was paid for out of political donations.

Of course, since this is real life, not a novel, we shouldn’t expect to see Abramoff tagged for murder-conspiracy. Still, it’s nice to dream about it.

And it’s even nicer to reflect that if Susan Ralston, the ex-Abramoff employee who screened Karl Rove’s calls (taking orders from Grover Norquist about which lobbyists got to talk to Bush’s Brain) was in any way involved with Abramoff’s criminal activity, that could be used to put pressure on her to tell the truth about why Matt Cooper’s call to Karl Rove never appeared on Rove’s call logs.

The thing I hate fourth-worst about the Bush regime — after the way they’re screwing up the country, dishonoring the flag, and making the world a more dangerous place — is all the ammunition they supply the tin-hat brigade. How am I supposed to convince my students not to believe in elaborate wicked conspiracies when we’ve got an elaborate wicked conspiracy running the damned country?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com