Special Interests Wanted Abramoff Money Invested Elsewhere
Much attention has been given to Abramoff’s alleged high fees since he charged his tribal clients $150,000 a month for his team at Greenberg Traurig to represent them even though other firms, like Akin Gump, billed tribes, like the Gila River Indian Community, in excess of $180,000 per month.
For example, consider that while Sen. John McCain’s hearings on Abramoff’s tribal lobbying were raging on, Akin Gump was paid $2,180,000 in lobbying fees. Among its current representatives as former Secretary of Interior Gale Norton’s counsel, Michael Rossetti, who testified against Deputy Secretary Steven Griles in those hearings:
It appears that key actors among his tribal clients, particularly those associated with the fictitious Indian power coalition within the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan which represent the interests of the industrialists and oil companies, had set their sights on investing the tribe’s money in Green energy initiatives.
By the time Abramoff joined Greenberg Traurig, the firm was already representing the Seminole Tribe of Florida, whose financial interests had helped sink his efforts to purchase the nearby SunCruz gaming fleet, which posed competition to that tribe. The firm also had extensive ties to the Department of Justice having represented Bush-Cheney in the contest for Florida’s electoral votes.
The Seminole’s representatives were among the lobbyists who advised tribal dissidents among Abramoff’s clients to leak false information into the media in order to set him up for criminal prosecution and have removed from Indian Country permanently so they could tap his wealthy tribal clients.
Greenberg Traurig’s counsel, Williams & Connolly, was even kind enough to pass Abramoff’s emails along to Saginaw Chippewa SubChief Bernie Sprague days before his appearance before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Despite being advised by (or perhaps because of) Abramoff’s employer and rival lobbyists coveting his business, Sprague readily lodged false allegations against the superlobbyist.
Afterward, Sprague was on hand to sign Greenberg Traurig’s settlement agreement with his tribe, which instead of refilling tribal coffers Abramoff had allegedly looted, was doled out to tribal members in the form of bonuses.
The Saginaw Chippewas then hosted a conference in 2006 on how tribes would partner with big business and the federal government to cash in on Green energy projects. Sprague gave the opening blessing.
Abramoff would not commence his prison sentence for a few months yet, but Greenberg and the dissidents were prepared to proceed with their plans anyway.
Greenberg also negotiated the Seminole’s purchase of the Hard Rock franchise for $1 billion, but potentially even more lucrative were the untapped energy markets on Indian reservations.
As the firm appreciated, since its Colorado office is the correspondence address for the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (CERT), Indian tribes were poised to emerge as key players in the energy market since they control 20 percent of the energy resource capacity in the United States.
According to a report produced by the conference, “Tribes are the only segment of America that has energy resources that could supply their communities and still have energy to share with others outside their community. Tribes will certainly be an important part of America’s future energy production. The energy that Tribes control includes renewable, alternative, and conventional energy resources.”
Billions of untapped federal dollars awaited tribes, including grants, loan guarantees, and technical assistance.
Established at the height of the energy crisis in 1975 when the federal government remained in control of tribal energy resources, CERT became a vehicle through which the tribes could control of their own resources. As the report stated, “A sentiment expressed by one tribe is that tribes need to start looking at themselves as energy rich and stay in the driver’s seat.”
Under various provisions, the federal government can serve as a guarantor for up to $2 billion in loan guarantees that include up to 90 percent of loans to Indian tribes. “To be eligible, a project must be located in a rural area, be technically feasible, and be a proven technology,” the report affirmed. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe fit the bill perfectly.
“An eligible renewable energy system is one that uses one of the following renewable energy sources to produce energy, such as electricity, heat, or fuel,” including wind, solar, biomass (renewable organic material, like animal feces), geothermal, and hydrogen.
Unfortunately, some tribal leaders, particularly those who had hired Abramoff, were more interested in having Abramoff protect their casino market share to keep per capita payments at high levels and providing appropriations for schools, elder care, and other facilities to improve the standard of living and qualify of life of tribe members.
The real controllers of the Mt. Pleasant reservation however, were more interested in ensuring that the oil companies and industrialists which had established the Saginaw Chippewas and placed and kept fictitious Indian leaders in power seized every opportunity to capitalize these businesses.
As the report affirmed, “some Tribal governments have had difficulty developing an investment structure since their tribal members want per capita payments to help them pay for their basic needs. The long hard struggle has been that the investments give the appearance that their government is just focused on money and nothing of benefit to individual tribal members directly. It is a process that Tribal governments face and are under continual pressure to educate their members about the benefits of investing in the Tribe’s education and other social infrastructure.”
Among the Michigan tribes’s representatives at the conference were Ahmed Kooros, the Saginaw Chippewas’ investment advisor and member of CERT who helped the tribe reach $1 billion portfolio status; Audrey Falcon, the Chief who cooperated with Sen. John McCain’s Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings on Abramoff’s tribal lobbying; Chief Fred Cantu, a leading McCain ally; Ruth Moses, a powerful fictitious Indian leader who allegedly helped the faux Indians take over the tribe through fraud on behalf of the industrialists; and Michele Stanley, a tribal leader who enjoys a close personal relationship with the tribe’s lobbyist, Larry Rosenthal.
While Moses’ extended family controlled the purse strings within the tribe, Tribal Council Minutes reveal that both Falcon and Cantu were given permission to sell stocks, bonds, and securities, and sign checks on behalf of the Tribal Council.
Representing Greenberg Traurig at the conference was Troy Eid, whom President George W. Bush tapped to serve as Colorado U.S. Attorney in June of 2006. Four years later, Eid was promoted to the Chairmanship of the Indian Law and Order Commission on the recommendation of U.S. Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, a chief Abramoff lobbying contact who co-sponsored an ethics reform bill with Sen. John McCain.
Eid also testified in support of the Tribal Law & Order Act at the invitiation of Sen. Byron Dorgan, who helped preside over McCain’s Abramoff hearings and complimented his “continued dedication to Indian Country after your service to the United States.”
Also attending the conference were various representatives of El Paso Corporation, which owns North America’s largest natural gas transmission systems, and Southern California Edison.
The following year, the tribe hosted another conference, the Second Annual Great Lakes Tribal Economic Development Symposium, where the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council and various financial, energy, and tribal interests mapped out plans to transform the Mt. Pleasant reservation into a major tourist destination while investing in energy projects and private equity funds:
Under the leadership of Chief Fred Cantu, in 2007, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Council established a Migizi economic development company in which Falcon and Cantu alternatively served on the Board with Sprague.
Facing a mature gaming market, Migizi sought to acquire new and diverse business interests. A few wind turbines then appeared on the reservation, whose leaders extolled the virtues of Green energy projects on behalf of future generations.
The Cantu Council then proposed transforming the sleeping Mt. Pleasant reservation into a major tourist resort replete with various establishments run on Green energy. Even though Migizi’s charter forbade investing in casinos, the company entered negotiations with the Seminoles to purchase a Hard Rock casino.
The plan involved having the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe put up the capital in exchange for the Hard Rock brand name. According to Kooros, both tribes would share the proceeds which would not be realized for years to come. Yet, the plans were still born.
Before the gravy train pulled into the station, money was feverishly shoveled out the door, against the advice of Kooros, who recommended the tribe retain the portfolio’s balance and take out loans for the projects.
By the time calm returned to the tribal leadership, all 15 Migizi accounts were empty. Kooros has said that as much as $1 billion has gone missing. Where the portfolio has gone is anyone’s guess, though most assuredly, Abramoff doesn’t have it.
Susan Bradford is the author of Lynched! The Shocking Story of How the Political Establishment Manufactured a Scandal to Have Republican Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff Removed from Power. For more information, please visit: www.susanbradford.org
© 2012 Susan Bradford