Monday, August 15, 2005

August 13-14, 2005

Where's Watermelon Man
When We Really Need Him?

There's nothing Republicans like better than a juicy scandal. It really gets their juices flowing. Sen. Norm Coleman, R.Minn. for example, jump from well-deserved obscurity to the national spotlight by mining the UN's Oil for Food scandal. Senator Coleman just hates those lying crooks at the UN. Since Coleman's supporters also hate the UN itself, the Oil for Food scandal was like manna from heaven. Coleman is now an expert on all things sleazy at the UN.

At least in the Oil for Food caper was real. Remember Vince Foster? When poor Vince was found dead in a Maryland park from a single gunshot wound to the head? Republicans and their allies in the Clinton-hating industry went nuts. Foster, they claimed, did not kill himself, he was murdered! And they could prove it.

And prove it they tried. Veteran Republican, Rep. Dan Burton, invited reporters to his backyard to watch as he shot at watermelons showing, he claimed, that Vince did not shoot himself. Burton's antics earned him his own little tune:

"Watermelon Dan, Watermelon Dan,
Out to get the Clinton man,
Hell will freeze before he can,
But he'll keep trying,
Watermelon Dan."

Foster's suicide was quickly woven into a vast-right wing conspiracy theory that had the Clintons pegged as nothing less than serial murderers. To listen to them the entire state of Arkansas was little more than a dumping ground for the bodies of those who ever crossed the Clintons or "had something on them."

What brings all that Republican prosecutorial vigor to mind now is the indictment yesterday of Republican power-broker, Jack Abramoff. That indictment is just the first of what promises to be a string of long overdue indictments against Abramoff.

If Rep. Burton still enjoys freelance murder investigations he might want to rush out and buy some more melons and ammo. Because there's another body with holes in it and lot more than just sleazy politics this time. And, right smack in the middle of it all, Jack Abramoff and at least one other of Tom DeLay's closest former aides.

MIAMI, Aug. 11 -- Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and a business partner were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, charged with five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy in their purchase of a fleet of Florida gambling boats from a businessman who was later killed in a gangland-style hit. (Full Story)

I wrote about this case over three years ago. At that time the only place I could get it published was on AlterNet. The mainstream media was not interested – the same MSM that hung on every lurid detail and wacky claim made by the right in wake of Vince Foster's death.

But, as I noted in my March 2002 piece, Abramoff and close associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, were up to their necks in gangland sleaze, allegedly fraudulent loans and maybe worse.

First let me point out that dragging Tom DeLay's name into this is not a gratuitous. Abramoff's relationship with Tom DeLay is far from incidental. Jack Abramoff has served as nothing less than Tom DeLay's financial godfather, power broker, arm-twister and free-market ideological soul mate. The two men share an unquenchable thirst for money, large sums of money, preferably under the table, in cash, hard to trace. And there's no better place to find that kind of money than in casino counting rooms.

Abramoff became one of Washington's most steadfast supporter of Indian gaming, for which he was paid millions by Indian tribes wanting to open casinos. (Abramoff is likely to indicted again soon for screwing those tribes blue. But that's not what we're talking about today. The issue today is Abramoff's investment in floating casinos. )

The story here is simple enough to follow:

* In 2000 Abramoff and former Reagan HUD official Ben Waldman had invested in SunCruz, a troubled gambling cruise line based in Florida.
* Abramoff's other partner in the SunCruz deal, Adam Kidan, is known by authorities to have had ties to members of both the Gambino and Gotti crime families. (In 1993 Kidan's mother was murdered in Philadelphia by a mob assassin tied to the Bonanno crime family after Kidan's New York business franchise "Dial-A-Mattress" failed.
* I In November 2000, Kidan was disbarred as a lawyer by New York State for allegedly misappropriating $100,000 of his step-father's assets.
* Abramoff and Kidan negotiated to purchase troubled SunCruz Lines from its then owner, Gus Boulis. Boulis. They offered him $25 million.
* Boulis agreed and accepted a $5 million check and a note for $20 million personally guaranteed by Abramoff and Kidan
* Months later Boulis accused Abramoff and Kidan of stiffing him. First the $5 million down payment check had bounced, he said, and then the two men stopped making payments on the note as well.
* Boulis was not amused and started rattling Abramoff and Kidan's cages. Kidan filed a harassment complaint against Boulis with Miami police claiming that Boulis tried to stab him with a penknife.

But Kidan would be fine, which is more than can be said for Boulis.

On the night of February 6, 2001, Boulis was gunned down in an ambush worthy of an episode of Miami Vice. In a carefully coordinated attack as he was driving away from his office, two cars boxed Boulis' car in a narrow ally where a gunman pumped four bullets into his head. Florida authorities described it as "a classic mob hit."

To this day, no one has been charged, though at the time Florida newspapers fingered Abramoff's partner, Kidan as one of the prime suspects and the local press began speculating:

"Abramoff and his partners can expect to be contacted soon by homicide detectives, seeking clues as they sift through the complex business dealings between Boulis and his casino antagonists." (Miami Daily Business Review, Feb. 2001)

With such publicity threatening Abramoff's reputation in Washington, Jack sent Tom DeLay's former aide, Mike Scanlon, out on damage control. Scanlon had just left DeLay's employ when Abramoff hired him as spokesperson for his SunCruz operation. Scanlon told reporters that, while Boulis's murder was "unfortunate," that Jack's had nothing to do with it and that he was sticking with the deal. Scanlon protested any allegations that Abramoff had unsavory connections to the gambling underworld. "I think it's a bit premature to follow a storyline about how a Washington lobbyist fellow, like Jack, now finds himself in this tumultuous world of murder for hire," Scanlon said.

Within weeks of saying he was going ahead with the SunCruz deal though Abramoff dropped it like a radio active hot potato. How? By signing his 35% share over to the murdered man's estate.

(Personal observation: Imagine if Clinton had signed his interest in Whitewater over to Vince Foster's family. What do you think Republicans would have had to say about that? Hell, I figure Rep. Burton would have retired from Congress to become a full-time melon shooting researcher.)

By dumping SunCruz, Abramoff had to abandon another gambling-related deal he had going in which DeLay could have played a key role. Even as police investigated the Florida murder, Kidan and Abramoff pushed forward on a planned $100 million junk bond offering to expand SunCruz operations. And where were they planning to expand SunCruz's floating casino operations? To Tom DeLay's favorite place on earth -- the US protectorate – and sweatshop capitol of the Pacific, the Mariana Islands, which DeLay describes this way: "It's like my Galapagos Island."

There you have it. A real scandal with real bad guys and at least one for real murder. Those Dudley Doright Republican crime fighters should be all over this puppy. So, hey, Rep. Dan "Watermelon Man" Burton, how about it? This should be a lot more fun than your Vince Foster investigation because poor old Vince was only plugged once. Boulis took four slugs in the ole melon! Lock and load, Watermelon Man!

And where are all those Arkansas state troopers who claimed during the Clinton years that they had sniffed out scores of hits by the Clinton mob? They even had list! Well, here's a really juicy case for those redneck Inspector Clouseaus to chew on, so where are they? -- (Watching the new "Dukes of Hazard" flick maybe?)

No one may ever be charged in the Boulis death which, unlike Foster's death, really was a murder. But more charges against Abramoff are on the way, a fact that must be keeping Tom DeLay awake nights. If anyone knows just how much of a snake Abramoff is, it's fellow snake, Tom DeLay. And when snakes tangled with the law they turn on one another. If it's not yet "Let's Make a Deal" time for Jack Abramoff, it will be soon. And, I have no doubt... none, not a scintilla ... that Jacko was smart enough to salt away some insurance, bargaining chips, get-out-jail-free cards, in a safety deposit box someplace. And some aspiring prosecutor will figure out just the right stress-position needed to get Jack to cough them up. Because locking up Jack Abramoff is one thing, but locking up the House Majority Leader at Camp Beefcake for 20 years would be a real career builder for the DA who pulls it off.

Anyway, now that Abramoff has finally been charged with an actual crime I figure it's now safe for the mainstream media to (belatedly) explore the DeLay/Abramoff relationship fully. At least as fully as they detailed the Clinton's relationship hapless Little Rock, wise-cracker, Jim McDougal.

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