TOPICS > Politics

Jack Abramoff Pleads Guilty to Federal Conspiracy Charges in Florida

January 4, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: Now the Jack Abramoff story, day two. The former Washington lobbyist pled guilty to federal conspiracy and wire fraud charges in Miami today. That followed three guilty pleas in Washington yesterday. Jay Weaver has been covering the Florida end of the story for the Miami Herald.

Jay Weaver, welcome.

JAY WEAVER: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Did this plea today — what exactly did Jack Abramoff admit that he had done?

JAY WEAVER: Well, Jack Abramoff admitted that along with a New York businessman by the name of Adam Kadan, they conspired to defraud lenders in the purchase of the SunCruz Casinos; it’s a South Florida-based fleet of gambling ships. They purchased it for $147.5 million in September of 2000. They were required to put down $23 million of their own money as part of the loan approval, and they failed to do so. And they basically submitted bogus documents to the lenders to show that they had put down money when they really hadn’t.

And just nine months after the closing of the sale, Abramoff and Kadan basically sank the fleet of ships. It filed for bankruptcy. It has reemerged under different ownership. But that was the end of SunCruz Casinos under the Abramoff-Kadan Group. So they basically lied to lenders.

JIM LEHRER: They lied to the lenders. Did they in fact make any money themselves on the deal?

JAY WEAVER: No. In fact, what they did was, is that they bought the SunCruz Casinos from a Greek immigrant who became a very successful businessman in South Florida by the name of Gus Boulis. He had been the Miami Subs founder and then he started putting money into building up this fleet of ships, known as SunCruz Casinos. He made tons of money.

But when Abramoff and Kadan took it over, they started plundering the business and diverting a lot of salaries to themselves, and Kadan in particular, you know, bought a condominium for himself, a yacht. And moreover, they diverted about $310,000 in SunCruz money to professional sports boxes in the Washington, D.C. area for Abramoff’s fundraising activities, for mostly Republican lawmakers.

JIM LEHRER: So everything was — what they were doing in Florida was connected to what was going on in Washington, no question about that?

JAY WEAVER: No, in fact the connection is extraordinary because what happened was when Kadan and Abramoff were indicted in August of this year, this last year, it provided momentum for the public corruption investigation in Washington.

And this is how it happened. Basically, when the federal prosecutors in Miami started putting pressure on Jack Abramoff and Adam Kadan to start cooperating with them, they also saw, particularly Abramoff, saw problems up in Washington. And so that enabled the prosecutors here as well as in Washington to start focusing on some of the previously undisclosed details of the alleged influence pedaling that Jack Abramoff orchestrated up in the Capitol Hill.

JIM LEHRER: Now, just to clean up the Miami thing, the Kadan, his partner, he already pleaded, right, he pleaded in December, did he not?

JAY WEAVER: Yes. Well, he did plead in December. Again, that provided even more pressure. You had a situation where when Abramoff’s partner has pled guilty in a conspiracy, and he’s going to cooperate and provide information about Abramoff’s culpability, that pretty much sealed Abramoff’s fate.

So then, in turn, he tried to cooperate more so in Washington to cut the best deal he could to reduce exposure as far as a prison sentence overall.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. It’s kind of like the literal domino game, I mean, the dominoes falling, right, one after another?

JAY WEAVER: Correct. And –

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, go ahead.

JAY WEAVER: I was going to say that one of the links, though, is they found that some of the money used in the campaign fundraising activities, went to an Ohio congressman by the name of Bob Ney. And he became a sort of a congressional figure who was implicated in the Washington corruption case.

JIM LEHRER: Sure.

JAY WEAVER: And he was subpoenaed.

JIM LEHRER: And he was listed, well he was mentioned as “Representative One” in the papers yesterday.

JAY WEAVER: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: In official court papers, yeah.

JAY WEAVER: That’s correct. And also keep in mind that Abramoff’s lobbying partner in Washington, Michael Scanlon, also implicated Bob Ney in his plea agreement by providing very specific information of the benefits that the lawmaker received, you know, golf trips, restaurants, campaign fundraising activities, all kinds of things.

JIM LEHRER: Sure. For the record, the original owner of the cruise ships, the ones you were talking about, the guy from Greece, he was murdered, was he not? There was no connection — was there ever a connection established between that murder and Abramoff?

JAY WEAVER: Well, that’s always been the $64,000 question. About five months after the sale of his SunCruz Casinos empire, he was gunned down, mob style, on the streets of Fort Lauderdale as he was leaving his business in his BMW.

Almost five years later, Fort Lauderdale police finally charged three men in connection with that murder. But neither Abramoff nor Kadan has been charged. Abramoff is not believed to have been involved in any way.

Fort Lauderdale police still have their eye on Adam Kadan has far as whether or not he may have ordered the killing of Gus Boulis.

JIM LEHRER: Now, back to today, take us inside the courtroom. What happened? How long did the process take and what happened?

JAY WEAVER: Well, it lasted about twenty to thirty minutes. What was distinctive about the process is that Jack Abramoff showed up in his Lincoln, black Lincoln Town Car, and instead of wearing his signature fedora hat, he had on today a beige baseball cap.

He had to get past a gaggle of media members, TV’s, photographers, et cetera to go up to the tenth floor of the Criminal Justice Building. And there he pled. And it was very straightforward. He was not contrite. He was not remorseful. He was not like he was yesterday in Washington when he pled up there to fundamentally corruption charges.

The hearing took about 20, 25 minutes. He did not say much. His biggest concern was facing the media again as he left. So the judge allowed him to work out some of the paperwork required before his sentencing for March 16 in the courthouse. And then he exited by a side door, literally dashed to his town car with Abbe Lowell, his lawyer, as if they were hopping into a getaway car after a bank robbery.

JIM LEHRER: The hat thing is interesting. It’s not only a Fedora he was wearing yesterday, it was a black hat.

JAY WEAVER: Correct.

JIM LEHRER: And the one today, of course, was not only a baseball cap; it was tan, right?

JAY WEAVER: Correct.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, yeah. And what is the significance of that, Jay, what do you think?

JAY WEAVER: Not exactly sure. I mean, the one in Washington appeared to be one suitable for more inclement weather. It was a Borcelina, I believe, and, of course, that’s a Fedora type hat. The one down here almost kind of looked odd because he was wearing a dark blue suit, so the contrast was very striking.

And he had kind of a, you know, more of a boyish look. I’m not sure, I guess it was suitable for South Florida’s sunnier weather. But it didn’t make sense to any of us.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, we should stay tuned, should we not, Jay?

JAY WEAVER: Well, I think you need to stay tuned in Washington. I think that Jack Abramoff is going to be speaking volumes up there.

JIM LEHRER: All right, thank you very much.

JAY WEAVER: Sure.