by Jack Abramoff
WND Books | 305 pp | $15.40
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Join the Discussion of this Book »
When the Jack Abramoff scandal hit headlines in 2004, it reverberated from the nation's Capitol deep into Indian Country. Soon the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs called Abramoff in to testify, but before Abramoff could answer questions, he was bombarded with senators making statements about how he charged outrageous fees to the American Indian tribes that hired him as their lobbyist. There it was disclosed that that this man who overcharged tribes referred to tribal officials as monkeys in emails.
After spending three and half years in a federal prison, Jack Abramoff, the notorious high-priced former Washington lobbyist who was ultimately convicted of ripping off American Indian tribes of $45 million, has written his side of the story in a recently released book entitled "Capitol Punishment: The Hard Truth About Washington Corruption from America's Most Notorious Lobbyist."
"Capitol Punishment" is a candid account of the inner workings of Washington that still leaves unanswered questions of how and why ten American Indian tribes allowed Abramoff to take so much money.
As an Indian man who lives in an urban setting and has never been involved directly with tribal politics, I can only imagine how $45 million could have helped the American Indians back home on the reservations.
It ranged from Abramoff getting money for himself and his employer, to Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, to sending a group of Congressmen to Scotland to play golf. It appeared to be a free-for-all courtesy of American Indian tribes.
Abramoff writes the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians was the first tribe that hired him. He got a call in October 1995 the Tribe when it was concerned about a new proposed 30 percent Unrelated Business Income Tax assessed on Indian tribal gaming revenues.
Back then when the Republicans took control of the US House of Representatives after the 1994 Congressional election, several Republican Congressmen vowed not to raise taxes, yet some had no problem inserting the Unrelated Business Income Tax into legislation. There seems to have been many Congressmen who felt Indians were making too much money off of gaming and had no problem with assessing Indian gaming tribal enterprises. Even, then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich - and now Republican presidential candidate - had no problem with this provision thrown into the legislation, according to Abramoff.
Once hired as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw's lobbyist, Abramoff and team worked hard to get the proposed Unrelated Business Income Tax stricken from the legislation. Had Abramoff stopped there, he would be afforded hero status in Indian Country today, but he did not.
He went on to get nine other tribes to sign on with his lobbying efforts and the rest is history.
Abramoff charged as high as $150,000 per month to alter legislation so that one tribe could be pitted against another in blocking development of casinos or pressuring federal agencies to select tribes for grants. In some cases, the final dollar value of grant awards were substantially less than what it cost to secure the funding.
Ironically enough, in "Capitol Punishment," Abramoff cites those in tribes who came to his defense and is proud and grateful for the support they gave him during his legal ordeal. I am sorry, but anyone who calls American Indians monkeys in emails did not deserve support from those American Indians who he mentions in his book.
Of course, Abramoff did not do himself any favors in the minds of many Americans who saw television footage of him leaving the US Federal Court building wearing a large brimmed black hat and black overcoat looking like a villain on the day he made a plead guilty. Abramoff explains in "Capitol Punishment" that it was raining when he was leaving for court that day and slipped on the hat. He further explains he wanted to shield his face for bringing shame his Jewish faith.
In some ways, his Jewish faith causes Abramoff to be a paradoxical figure. Throughout the book, there are references how he practiced and observed his religious beliefs to the point he would not even ride in a motorized vehicle on the Sabbath. Typically, devoted Jews are not admitted felons, as he is now.
In "Capitol Punishment" Abramoff wants to paint the picture he simply was caught up in a corrupt Washington. He played their game and even offers recommendations in the book as to how to fix the corrupt Washington.
As Abramoff seeks redemption and preaches about how Washington should be fixed, one would hope American Indian tribal councils have checks and balances in place so that the likes of Abramoff can never rip off tribes ever again.
Proceeds from his book have been court ordered to pay back American Indian tribes he is obligated to pay, so purchasing the book is worth the read of how Abramoff simply added another sordid chapter to a history of vast mistreatment of American Indians.
updated August 17, 2013 6:00 am edt; posted November 19, 2011 8:59 am est