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Abramoff pleads guilty to more charges
USA Today
By Jim Drinkard and Andrea Stone
January 4, 2006

WASHINGTON — Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy and fraud in Florida, as politicians on Capitol Hill rushed to distance themselves from the disgraced power broker.

In Miami, Abramoff admitted counterfeiting a $23 million wire transfer to complete the $147 million purchase of SunCruz Casinos, a company that runs gambling cruises, in 2000. His partner in the venture, Adam Kidan, already had entered a guilty plea in the case.

Although separate, the Florida case has links to Abramoff's activities as a prominent Washington lobbyist and to a guilty plea he entered a day earlier in Washington to fraud, conspiracy and tax-evasion charges.

Abramoff said he provided trips, meals and entertainment to a member of Congress — identified as Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, by Ney's attorney — in exchange for official favors. Those favors included a statement in the Congressional Record critical of the former owner of SunCruz and "calculated to pressure the owner to sell on terms favorable to Abramoff and his partners," said a statement issued by Alexander Acosta, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Ney denies wrongdoing and says he was unaware of Abramoff's shady dealings.

As Abramoff cooperates with prosecutors in what Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher described as a broad corruption investigation, the parade of officials deciding to unload money from Abramoff or his Indian tribe clients continued. President Bush and top members of the Republican leadership were among those who gave back Abramoff-tainted money or donated it to charity.

The Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign is donating $6,000 to charity, said Tracey Schmitt, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. That's the amount given by Abramoff, his wife Pam and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian tribe, an Abramoff client, Schmitt said.

Abramoff was a Bush "Pioneer" in 2004, meaning he raised at least $100,000 for the president's re-election. Money he raised for the campaign from others will not be returned, Schmitt said.

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who took at least three foreign trips facilitated by Abramoff, is giving to charity $15,000 given by Abramoff and his wife, DeLay spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said. Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is donating $8,500 in Abramoff contributions to charity, spokeswoman Burson Taylor said.

Ney donated $6,500 from Abramoff and his former business partner Michael Scanlon to the American Indian College Fund, spokesman Brian Walsh said. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said he would give back $2,000 from the Saginaw Chippewa tribe, spokesman Linus Catignani said.

Other Republicans announcing they will return contributions included Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Jim McCrery of Louisiana, Dan Burton of Indiana and Richard Pombo of California.

Some Democrats have also said they are returning contributions, including Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Max Baucus of Montana. Most Democratic offices queried Wednesday said there was no need to return contributions because the money didn't come from or wasn't directed by Abramoff, who supported and worked primarily with Republicans in Congress.

"This is a Republican scandal," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid sees no need to return the $30,500 he received from tribes that were Abramoff clients, he said. "Tribes are sovereign nations and have every right to participate in the political process."

Robin Costello, a spokeswoman for Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said her boss would not return tribal contributions for the same reasons. "Congressman Kennedy has never met Abramoff," she said.

The spreading Abramoff scandal is "only one symptom of the growing, profoundly unhealthy nature of power in Washington," former House speaker Newt Gingrich said.

"This is not one person doing one bad thing," Gingrich said in a speech to a Washington civic group. "You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member (of Congress) or a corrupt staff. ... This was a team effort."