Sunday, November 27, 2005

Abramoff, Coingate Scandals and a Gangland Murder Investigation Break Simultaneously

The stench of corruption and greed surrounding the GOP and the White House is unmistakeable and overwhelming.

First yesterday's Washington Post on the Abramoff scandals:

The Justice Department's wide-ranging investigation of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff has entered a highly active phase as prosecutors are beginning to move on evidence pointing to possible corruption in Congress and executive branch agencies, lawyers involved in the case said.

Prosecutors have already told one lawmaker, Rep. Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), and his former chief of staff that they are preparing a possible bribery case against them, according to two sources knowledgeable about the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The 35 to 40 investigators and prosecutors on the Abramoff case are focused on at least half a dozen members of Congress, lawyers and others close to the probe said. The investigators are looking at payments made by Abramoff and his colleagues to the wives of some lawmakers and at actions taken by senior Capitol Hill aides, some of whom went to work for Abramoff at the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, lawyers and others familiar with the probe said.

Former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R), now facing separate campaign finance charges in his home state of Texas, is one of the members under scrutiny, the sources said. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif.) and other members of Congress involved with Indian affairs, one of Abramoff's key areas of interest, are also said to be among them.

Prosecutions and plea deals have become more likely, the lawyers said, now that Abramoff's former partner -- public relations executive Michael Scanlon -- has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and to testify about gifts that he and his K Street colleagues showered on lawmakers, allegedly in exchange for official favors.

An attorney for DeLay, whose wife worked for a lobbying firm that received client referrals from Abramoff, said there was no connection between her work and congressional business. A spokesman for Doolittle, whose wife received payments from Abramoff's lobbying firm, also said there was no connection with her husband's position. Burns's office has said his actions were consistent with his support for improving conditions for Indian tribes.

Ney is the congressman whose name has surfaced most prominently in the Abramoff investigation. His spokesman and attorney have said for weeks that Ney has not been told he is a target of the inquiry, even while acknowledging that his office has received a grand jury subpoena and that his activities were mentioned in Scanlon's plea agreement.

But the sources said that during the third week of October prosecutors told Ney and his former chief of staff, Neil Volz, that they were preparing a bribery case based in part on activities that occurred in October 2000. Abramoff and another business partner, Adam Kidan, were also told that they are targets in that case, the sources said.


The events in 2000 that interest investigators are connected to the purchase by Abramoff and Kidan of SunCruz Casinos, owner of a fleet of Florida gambling boats. Ney twice placed comments in the Congressional Record about SunCruz, first criticizing its former owner when Abramoff and Kidan were in difficult purchase negotiations and then, in October, praising Kidan's new management. Abramoff and Kidan are facing trial in January on charges of defrauding lenders in their purchase of the casino boats.

On Thursday, the Miami Sun-Sentinel reported that the gangster who murdered former Sun Cruz casino owner Gus Boulis implicated Abramoff's partner, Adam Kidan, in the 2001 gangland murder (via Josh Marshall at

Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello said he thought he was just going to get a gift -- a 1987 Cadillac. What he ended up with was a confession to the headline-grabbing murder of casino magnate and Miami Subs founder Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, according to court filings.

In court records publicly released Wednesday, Moscatiello incriminated his two co-defendants in the Boulis murder case, saying they both told him they carried out the hit on the business tycoon. With police and prosecutors tight-lipped about the high-profile case, the documents provided the first glimpse into the murder investigation.

Moscatiello began talking with Fort Lauderdale police detectives within just a few hours after they arrested him Sept. 26 on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation to commit murder, court records show. He immediately pointed the finger at an associate, Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari, 48, and James "Pudgy" Fiorillo, 28, who worked for Ferrari.

In a taped sworn statement, Moscatiello told police that Fiorillo confided during a dinnertime conversation that he gunned down Boulis at the request of Ferrari. Fiorillo revealed his involvement in the Feb. 6, 2001, murder while Moscatiello had dinner with him two weeks after the slaying, Moscatiello told police. Fiorillo had driven to New York to deliver the Cadillac, a gift from Ferrari.

Moscatiello, 67, said Fiorillo also told him that Ferrari ordered the hit after getting a call from New York businessman Adam Kidan, according to court filings. Kidan had been fighting with Boulis for control of SunCruz Casino, a cruise ship gambling operation based out of Dania Beach.

Moscatiello told police that when he confronted Kidan about Fiorillo's claims, Kidan denied it. Moscatiello, who has admitted ties to the Gambino crime family, said he has known Kidan for years.

Court records show that when Kidan ran SunCruz, the company paid $145,000 to Moscatiello's daughter and one of Moscatiello's companies, and an additional $95,000 to a company run by Ferrari. Kidan has said he hired the Moscatiellos for food and beverage consulting and Ferrari's company to guard his vessels.

Kidan has not been charged in Boulis' killing. Beyond Fiorillo's third-hand account of what Kidan allegedly said, the court documents reviewed Wednesday by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel made no direct link between Kidan and the slaying.

Kidan's attorney, Robert LaRusso, said Wednesday night that Kidan had no involvement in the hit. Kidan told police in a March 2001 statement that he had nothing to do with Boulis' death and that the murder of the Greek business tycoon only complicated his fight for SunCruz Casino.

Kidan and one of his partners in the SunCruz deal, high-powered Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, currently are fighting federal fraud charges related to their purchase of the cruise-to-nowhere operation. They are accused of lying on financial statements and creating phony documents to persuade lenders to back their bid for SunCruz. The company has since been sold to new owners.

The Broward County State Attorney's Office stated in court documents that it does not intend to issue subpoenas to either Kidan or Abramoff in the Boulis case.

Moscatiello said that killing Boulis made no sense and he never would have approved of it. Even if there were a lengthy legal fight over SunCruz, it would still have been a profitable venture for him, he said.

"It's a company doing 147 million a year," Moscatiello said. "If you can't skim a few dollars off 147 million a year, ha-ha you shouldn't be in business."

Moscatiello said later in the conversation, "I'm not going to go down the yellow brick road for something that I would ... I would have been dead set against and never, never once in a million years would I have said, `Let's do this.' And I'm just not going to go ... I'm not going [to] do life without parole for this."

Moscatiello said he was furious once Fiorillo told him that he had been the shooter. Moscatiello said he confronted Ferrari, who later confessed that he and Fiorillo performed the hit, according to Moscatiello's sworn statement.

Attorneys for Fiorillo and Ferrari could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Prosecutors have accused Moscatiello and Ferrari of attempting to solicit a fourth man -- Dwayne Nicholson -- to carry out the murder. Nicholson told police that Ferrari asked him to "take out" Boulis, according to court documents.

Nicholson has not been charged in the case.

Boulis was ambushed as he drove his BMW in the 1900 block of Miami Road in Fort Lauderdale. A car darted in front of him and the driver slammed on the brakes, forcing him to stop. That's when a black Mustang pulled up beside him and someone inside fired several shots through the driver's window. The two cars then sped away.

Boulis drove on, making a couple turns and getting on South Federal Highway. That's when he either lost consciousness or control, slamming head-on into a tree. An hour later, Boulis died on a Broward General Medical Center operating table.

David Bogenschutz, Moscatiello's attorney, said Wednesday night that he had not seen the transcripts of his client's statements to police.

"At this time and since the time from his arrest, Anthony Moscatiello is not cooperating," Bogenschutz said. "He never intends to cooperate and does not have a history of cooperating."

Moscatiello said he learned of Boulis' shooting on the night it happened when Ferrari called him to say he had heard on the news that someone had been shot and it might be Boulis. A Fort Lauderdale police detective asked Moscatiello how Ferrari would know about the shooting within just 12 minutes of the attack.

Moscatiello said he didn't know, but maybe there had been a "special" on television.

Court records show Moscatiello first talked to police in April 2002, but he never mentioned knowing anything about the hit.

Moscatiello, Ferrari and Fiorillo are in the Broward County Jail without bail on first-degree murder charges. The three, who have pleaded not guilty, are scheduled to have a Jan. 12 court appearance.

Moving along, here's today's Washington Post on Tom Noe, Bob Ney, and the Coingate scandal:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The scandal began as a curiosity. Tom Noe, a gregarious businessman and Republican Party leader in northwest Ohio, had been entrusted with $50 million in state money to invest in rare coins, with the idea of winning fat returns for the workers' compensation fund.

It seemed an oddity at most, but like a loose thread on a jacket, the more investigators pulled, the more the garment unraveled, revealing members of Ohio's Republican establishment who had been wined, dined and enriched by Noe.

Gov. Bob Taft (R), heir to the state's most famous political name, pleaded no contest in August to accepting secret freebies from Noe and others and was fined $4,000. Members of his staff admitted borrowing money from Noe or using his Florida Keys vacation home. Millions in state funds proved to be missing from Noe's accounts.

As Republicans raced to distance themselves from Noe, a federal grand jury in Toledo indicted him last month on charges that he illegally funneled $45,400 in campaign contributions to President Bush's reelection campaign. Prosecutors said he circumvented the $2,000 limit on individual contributions by getting 24 friends and associates to make the contributions, and reimbursing them.

Although Noe protests he is innocent, investigators are asking how far the growing scandal will go, and political consultants are measuring the potential fallout in a crucial Midwestern state controlled by the GOP. Historically, power has been split between the major parties in Ohio, but Republicans have won the past two presidential elections, and taken hold of both U.S. Senate seats and the state legislature in recent years. Republicans have occupied the governor's office since 1990.

The Republican brand in Ohio last week picked up another dent when six-term Rep. Robert W. Ney was identified as the recipient of favors -- including a golf trip to Scotland, meals and sports tickets -- from lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon in return for official actions. A lawyer for the central Ohio congressman denied the allegations.

Last year, the GOP caucus in the state legislature was buffeted by reports of improper fundraising and self-dealing by two consultants working for the Republican speaker of the state House.

With Ney under a cloud and Taft's approval rating diving to a historically low 15 percent in a Columbus Dispatch poll, Democrats hope to harness the scandals as part of a national campaign to paint their opponents as purveyors of arrogance and greed.


Ohio is the bellwether state that pushed President Bush over the top against Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the final hours of the November 2004 vote-counting. Often studied for signals of national importance, the state is suffering from a flat economy and damage to the president's standing by the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq.

If the Democrats get traction on the scandal issue in Ohio, it likely will be because of the dealings of Noe, an entrepreneur who parlayed his political ties into the chairmanships of the Ohio Turnpike Commission and the Ohio Board of Regents.

In Toledo, he chaired the Lucas County Republican Party, as did his wife, Bernadette, and contributed generously to GOP candidates at all levels. He was so anxious to honor his pledge to the Bush-Cheney campaign, prosecutors said Oct. 27 in issuing a three-count indictment, that he funneled money through friends, including local elected officials.

Noe was later named one of 19 Ohio "Pioneers," those who had raised at least $100,000 for the president's successful reelection. There is no evidence that Bush-Cheney officials knew of the alleged laundering operation, investigators said. A total of $6,000 contributed directly by the Noes to the presidential campaign and the Republican National Committee has been donated to charity, said RNC spokesman Aaron McLear.

Investigators for the Ohio Ethics Commission, highway patrol, attorney general's office and an array of other agencies have uncovered a web of business transactions they are still trying to untangle. Central to the case are two stakes of $25 million each that Noe was given by the Bureau of Workers' Compensation to invest in rare coins, artwork and other collectibles.

The money, a small fraction of a fund valued at more than $15 billion, was intended as a creative way to diversify the bureau's portfolio. After the Toledo Blade revealed Noe's coin investment contract in April, an agency spokesman said that "there is not one iota of evidence showing politics played a role."

Investigators continue to examine that issue. Taft said he was fooled by Noe and did not know of the coin stake until the Blade reported it -- a point disputed by Noe. Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles asked Taft about his staff receiving benefits, leading to the governor's disclosure of 52 gifts from an array of people -- such as golf outings, meals and hockey tickets -- that he had failed to report as required by public ethics laws.

A tearful Taft pleaded no contest Aug. 18 to misdemeanor charges. After vowing earlier not to tolerate ethics violations in his administration, he said he had failed to live up to his own standards and public expectations.

"I am disappointed in myself," said Taft, the son and grandson of U.S. senators and the great-grandson of President William Howard Taft. "I just want to say there are no words to express the deep remorse that I feel over the embarrassment I have caused."

Two Taft aides pleaded no contest to accepting items of value from Noe. Ohio newspapers have identified two other former staff members as having received loans from Noe, who allegedly treated members of the governor's staff so often that dinners were called "The Noe Supper Club."

"It was a two-way street, back and forth, where influence was used and influence was sought," said one investigator who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing.

Noe's attorney has said more than $11 million is missing from the coin fund that Noe established with workers' compensation money. Attorney General Jim Petro (R), who has joined the large field of contestants for next year's open governor's race, filed a civil lawsuit accusing Noe of diverting as much as $4 million for his own use.

Ethics specialists and prosecutors working on the continuing investigation say they do not yet know whether state money was channeled to political campaigns or what Noe may have received in return for his largess.

The Bureau of Workers' Compensation, meanwhile, fired 69 investment managers this month and announced that it will shift $7.2 billion from the stock market into safer fixed-income investments. The coin investments -- the ones the bureau can find -- are being liquidated.

Today on ABC's This Week, George Will told the roundtable that much of the ado surrounding the Abramoff scandals is nothing mor ethan the "criminalization of politics."

We've heard this phrase before: the "criminalization of politics."

Ken Melhman, Liddy Dole, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, and George Will, among other GOP apologists, used the phrase to excuse Scooter Libby's indictment in the CIA leak case as well as Karl Rove's rather active role in the leaking of Ms. Plame's name and/or identity to members of the press.

Now the GOP apologists are starting to use the phrase to defend graft, bribery, fraud, money laundering, and a gangland murder.

But the actions that Tom Noe, Bob Taft, Bob Ney, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Adam Kidan, Conrad Burns, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and John Doolittle, among others, were engage dis was not "politcs."

It was crime. Plain and simple.

And the stench of it, as I say, is unmistakeable and overwhelming.

And that's without anything more happening in the CIA leak case.

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