Indian tribes 'fleeced in $66m lobbying scandal'

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The Independent US

The annals of Washington lobbying contain many grubby chapters. But in terms of sheer greed and exploitation of the unsuspecting, few can match the tale of two Republicans accused of milking up to $66m (£36m) from half a dozen Indian tribes, newly enriched by gambling revenues.

The annals of Washington lobbying contain many grubby chapters. But in terms of sheer greed and exploitation of the unsuspecting, few can match the tale of two Republicans accused of milking up to $66m (£36m) from half a dozen Indian tribes, newly enriched by gambling revenues.

The story of Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon - both associates of the House majority leader Tom DeLay - is still unfolding, as a federal grand jury looks into some of their deals.

But two sets of hearings this autumn by the Senate's Indian Affairs Committee have laid bare much of the squalid affair. In essence the tribes were persuaded to part with vast sums to protect the casino gambling operations that are their financial lifeline, in return for empty promises of access to Washington's corridors of power.

In September, Mr Abramoff appeared before the committee, and this week, Mr Scanlon underwent a similar grilling. Both used their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid answering question on how they had allegedly extracted $4.2m from the Tigua Indians in Texas.

In late 2001, according to testimony at the hearing, the two men backed a grass-roots lobbying campaign that led to the closure of the Tigua casino in El Paso. They then contacted the tribe and offered - in return for a hefty fee and $300,000 of political contributions - to use their influence with Mr DeLay to get the casino reopened.

In their dealings with the Tigua and tribes in California, Louisiana and Michigan, according to testimony and e-mails subpoenaed by the committee, Mr Abramoff and Mr Scanlon also manipulated elections to ensure that candidates favourable to them won.

All the while, the e-mails show, they heaped scorn on their clients, referring to tribal officials as "morons," "troglodytes" and "idiots".

Ben Nighthorse Campbell, the outgoing senator from Colorado who chairs the committee and who is the lone native American in the Senate, told Mr Scanlon: "For 400 years, people have been cheating Indians in this country, so you're not the first. It's just a shame, in this enlightened day, that you've added a new dimension to a shameful legacy."

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