Follow the money

Posted: Jan 13, 2006 12:05 AM

This is not a piece about public opinion.

 It is a very serious report to readers about one of the biggest headlines in the news.

 Instead of my usual analysis of the public mood, let me share some likely new information about the investigation of lobbyist-turned-witness Jack Abramoff, and about the growing scandal over the lobbying of Congress and others on behalf of various casino gambling establishments and Indian tribes.

 Readers of this column may know that InsiderAdvantage, the organization of which I am the head, owns several respected political and governmental on-line news services, including the Southern Political Report, based out of Washington, D.C. I have come across this information through these news channels.

 This new information does little to damage the politicians already hit by the scandal. But it may ultimately explain the power and reach of the players who created the entire situation that some elected officials and others may have come to be involved in.

 Our publications have come to learn that federal officials are aware of, and interested in, the source of the funds that helped build and operate the Tigua Tribe's Speaking Rock Casino in Texas.

 This is the casino that Abramoff and others helped to shut down by allegedly using their considerable political muscle, only to quickly approach the same defeated Indian tribe with a plan called "Operation Open Doors." This plan was allegedly the front to a scheme designed to take millions of dollars in exchange for opening doors to congressional and other political support that could allow the closed casino to reopen.

 The plan failed, leaving the Tigua Indians with no casino. All of this is old news.

 What’s "new news" is an emerging connection of the dots by interested parties. They are starting to ask critical questions about what other powerful entities might have played a role in the rise and fall of the seemingly defrauded Tigua tribe.

 For example, there is reportedly new interest in the activities and communications involving Abramoff and others after their victorious "shuttering" of the Tiguas' casino in Texas and their meetings with Tigua representatives.

 E-mail evidence suggests that both Abramoff and a colleague made trips to Las Vegas during the time they were dealing with the Texas tribe. In fact, one e-mail from Abramoff indicates that he was to visit "Nevada" before traveling to meet with tribal leaders.

 Officials are reportedly focusing on this. After all, there are powerful, deep-pocketed gaming interests in Las Vegas, of course.

 If accounts are true, Abramoff and his team would be asking the Tiguas -- whose casino was to be left with no customers -- to shell out millions of dollars in consulting and lobbying fees, plus campaign contributions.

 Did the Tiguas have this kind of money? Come to think of it, where did a poor Indian tribe get the resources to construct and manage what was billed as a "bingo hall" in some documents, but has been described as a fairly lavish casino by some who have been there?

 Reportedly, officials have been made aware of a potential string of connections that not only could have led to the Tiguas' decision to meet with and hire their arch-nemesis, Abramoff, but also to offer money for trips and other activities that were designed to see their casino reopened.

 Other questions are emerging. Might any parties in the big-time world of gaming have had a cozier-than-reported relationship with the Tiguas and the Speaking Rock Casino when it was open and thriving?

 All this may well open a completely different side to the already potentially dangerous Abramoff scandal. But if it does, it may be a dark side that most or all of the publicized names of those have been caught in the net of this controversy were completely unaware of.

 Sources say these politicians, aides and operatives would have had to follow a highly technical labyrinth of corporate names and organizations in order to know about any ties between Abramoff, or his clients, to any potential "deep-pocket" players in the "Casinogate" matter.

 But these same sources say that routine filings made with federal and state agencies during the 1990s were accessible to relevant regulators and officials. Presumably, these records could have shown them that something might be out of kilter when it came to Speaking Rock and its activities.

 The sources also say that those looking into the matter are starting to "follow the money." Not just in the direction of the political and government officials who might have benefited from the situation, but also toward those entities that may have allegedly helped back the shenanigans all along.

 While much of the attention in this controversy over lobbying and ethics in Washington has centered on names like Tom Delay, Bob Ney and even former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed -- who is unelected but politically ambitious -- sources tell us that the actions and events leading up to the whole convoluted affair are only beginning to receive the attention that maybe they should have gotten years ago.

 It is likely that the names of friends and relatives of at least some additional, powerful leaders in Washington will come to light as this puzzle is starting to be put together. These might be the names of people whose fingerprints can be found on the Tiguas' now-defunct casino, and on the efforts to change the laws that would allow Speaking Rock to again open its doors. 

 The impact that all of this will have on the unsuspecting elected officials, some of whom may have done wrong but none of whom likely knew of any deeper or darker aspects of the circumstances, remains to be seen.

 Regardless, it appears that the press and public have so far observed just a portion of this explosive story. Whether its other aspects ever see the light of day will depend on whether the right parties follow the money, and how far they are willing to follow where it leads.