The Magazine

Money, Mobsters, Murder

The sordid tale of a GOP lobbyist's casino deal gone bad.

Nov 28, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 11 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Yet little attention has been paid to Abramoff's relationship with Adam Kidan, or to Kidan's relationship with the mob. At first blush this is understandable. Between Boulis's murder in early 2001 and the recent arrests of Moscatiello, Ferrari, and Fiorillo, little was known about the circumstances of the shooting. But it is now clear that Gus Boulis links all these men. He sold SunCruz to Kidan and Abramoff six months before he was murdered. The sale was highly irregular, and afterwards Boulis feuded constantly with Kidan and Abramoff about how the company should be run. Kidan, moreover, had known Anthony Moscatiello, the man allegedly at the center of the conspiracy to murder Boulis, since the early 1990s.

In fact the story of SunCruz Casinos is less remote from the better-known tale of Abramoff's Washington wheeling and dealing than one might think. There are three chief similarities. Leading players in the Washington saga make cameo appearances in re SunCruz (Michael Scanlon, Scanlon's old boss Tom DeLay, and Ohio Republican congressman Bob Ney). In both stories the action unfolds against the backdrop of casino politics. And the moral in both is the same: the blinding allure of money; the black depths of human avarice and greed.

KONSTANTINOS BOULIS was born in Kavala, Greece, in 1949. His father was a fisherman, and his family was poor. In 1968 the young Boulis joined the Merchant Marine. It was an escape route. Boulis jumped ship in Nova Scotia that year. He settled in Toronto, where he took a job as a dishwasher at a Mr. Submarine sandwich shop. Within five years he had bought the shop and had become Mr. Submarine's CEO. Eventually, under Boulis's leadership, the chain grew to over 200 stores. The sale of the company in the mid 1970s made Boulis a multimillionaire. He was 25.

In 1978 Boulis moved to Florida. At first he thought he was moving south to retire; but by 1983 he had started to put his fortune to work, buying another sandwich franchise, Miami Subs, and also buying property throughout south Florida, including apartment buildings and hotels and restaurants. Boulis started SunCruz in 1994, and sold Miami Subs--which had grown to over 150 franchises throughout the United States--to Nathan's fast-food company in 1998. The price: $4.2 million. That sum probably seemed like small fry to Boulis, whose net worth then hovered around $40 million. His was, needless to say, a success story, an example of the plasticity of American life--Boulis could reinvent himself at will, from Greek to Canadian to American, from restaurateur to Ft. Lauderdale Donald Trump to casino impresario, rising from dishwasher to powerbroker in a few decades.

But there was a problem. Boulis was not a U.S. citizen. On August 3, 1998, he was indicted on charges of violating the U.S. shipping code, which forbids foreign nationals from owning American commercial vessels. Boulis had clashed with the authorities before. SunCruz boats had been raided by police, who argued that gambling had occurred in Florida waters. And community activists in Hollywood Beach, Florida--midway between Ft. Lauderdale and Miami, where Boulis had a home--had fought the basing of a SunCruz boat in their community. Boulis had won those battles.

Not this time. It took over a year to reach settlement with the government, but Boulis was able to work out a deal in which he would pay a fine, sell his interest in SunCruz, and thereby escape a jail sentence. So that Boulis's selling position would remain uncompromised, the deal with the feds would be kept a secret. It was January 2000. Boulis needed a buyer.

He discussed possibilities with his attorney, Art Dimopoulos. Dimopoulos worked at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, a megafirm in Washington, D.C. One day in the winter of 2000, Dimopoulos discussed his client's plight with the firm's star lobbyist, the vice president for government affairs, Jack Abramoff. Abramoff mentioned to Dimopoulos that he might know someone who would be interested in purchasing the casino line.

That person was him. Abramoff had represented Indian gaming interests for some time; why not get in on both ends of the action? After all, casinos held a lot of profit for little work, and Abramoff had many contacts in the industry. Besides, his most recent venture, Potomac Outdoor Advertising, a small company that placed ads on Potomac River water taxis, had sunk like a rock. The casino line seemed much more promising.

But there was a catch. Preston Gates ethics rules prevented employees from entering into business deals with entities represented by the firm. SunCruz Casinos was such an entity. Abramoff's solution was to not tell his employer about the deal. Instead he floated the idea to his partners on the water taxi scheme, Adam Kidan and Ben Waldman. Both had known Abramoff since his days as national chairman of the College Republicans, and both were enthusiastic.