Ex-lobbyist details how he bilked Choctaws for $20M

PHILADELPHIA — Convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff writes in his new book that he spent $20 million from the Choctaw Indians in Mississippi to defeat gambling expansion in Alabama because it would compete with the Choctaws’ casinos.

Abramoff writes that he funneled the money from the Choctaw tribe through nonprofit groups over a five-year period to oppose Gov. Don Siegelman’s lottery plan, Milton McGregor’s plans to add gambling machines at VictoryLand and plans by the Poarch Creek Indians to expand their gambling offerings in Alabama.

The Birmingham News reports Abramoff does not give details of where the money went. But he says it was important to hide the source of the money from religious groups working against gambling expansion, and he credits Christian political activist Ralph Reed with getting religious groups on board.

“We organized scores of pastors and voters to lay siege to the statehouse and governor’s office,” he wrote in “Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth about Washington Corruption from America’s Most Notorious Lobbyist.”

Abramoff said the $20 million the Choctaws provided him to use in Alabama was worth it financially for the tribe.

“Over the course of almost five years of waging this battle, we saved Choctaw’s gaming market — which provided them with $400 million a year in revenue,” Abramoff wrote.

Abramoff spent 3 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty to corruption-related charges, including bilking the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and others out of millions of dollars and bribing officials in Washington.

A 2005 investigation by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee documented how Abramoff routed some money into Alabama by using nonprofit groups as intermediaries. In 2000, the Christian Coalition of Alabama accepted $850,000 from Americans for Tax Reform to help fight legislation to allow video poker machines at VictoryLand and other locations. Another $300,000 went from the same anti-tax group to Citizens Against Legalized Lottery, which successfully fought Siegelman’s lottery proposal in 1999.

McGregor’s VictoryLand casino in Shorter is closed, but the Poarch Creek Indians have electronic bingo casinos in Montgomery, Wetumpka and Atmore. Their casinos don’t have table games like the Choctaws’ casinos in Philadelphia.

Abramoff writes in his book that he developed his Alabama strategy with partner Michael Scanlon, who also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

The book does not mention that Scanlon, who worked for Bob Riley when he was in Congress in 1997, played a role in Alabama’s 2002 elections. Scanlon gave $650,000 to four organizations that made large donations to Riley’s winning campaign for governor. Riley was an opponent of Siegelman’s lottery proposal.

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