The Magazine

The Friends of Tom DeLay

What was the staff of the former majority leader up to anyway?

Apr 17, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 29 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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On October 3, 2005, a Texas grand jury empaneled by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle indicted DeLay on charges of money laundering. The indictment, which came on the heels of a separate indictment on conspiracy charges, accuses DeLay and his co-conspirators of improperly funneling money into local elections in 2002. Republican victories in those elections enabled DeLay and his allies in the statehouse to push through a controversial redistricting plan that led to a historic GOP pickup of House seats in the 2004 elections. (Later this year, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of DeLay's plan.) DeLay, who awaits trial, says Earle, a prominent Democrat, is playing politics, and he denies all the charges.

On November 21, 2005, DeLay's former press secretary, Michael Scanlon, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, and admitted that he and Abramoff had plotted to defraud their clients and influence members of Congress and officers of the executive branch. Released on a $5 million bond, Scanlon agreed to cooperate with investigators, pay $19.7 million in restitution to the tribes, and face a jail sentence of up to five years. He awaits sentencing.

On January 3, in Washington, Abramoff pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy. The next day, he flew to Miami, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and wire fraud in connection with his 2000 purchase of the SunCruz casino company. On March 29, a federal judge in Miami sentenced Abramoff to 5 years and 10 months in prison on those charges; he awaits sentencing for the crimes he confessed to in Washington.

Oddly, DeLay seems to make major announcements regarding his future just days after significant developments in the Abramoff investigation, only then to deny any connection to that investigation. On January 7, when he announced he would no longer seek to retain his post as House majority leader, Washington was still reeling from Abramoff's plea bargain. And last week, when DeLay announced his retirement, analysts were still chewing over the implications of Rudy's deal with prosecutors.

This tendency suggests there may be further major announcements from DeLay, because the Abramoff probe is far from over. There are 13 FBI field offices across the country where some two dozen full-time (and as many part-time) officers spend hours unraveling the threads connecting Abramoff's power networks, according to reports in Time magazine. In addition to the guilty pleas of Scanlon, Abramoff, and Rudy, Abramoff's business partner in the SunCruz fiasco, Adam Kidan, has also pleaded guilty in Florida to wire fraud and conspiracy.

Last October, the former director of the White House's procurement office, David Safavian, was indicted on five counts of making false statements and obstruction of justice. The government alleges that Safavian masked his dealings with Abramoff and lied to investigators about his relationship with the lobbyist. Safavian denies the charges. His trial is set for May 22.

Meanwhile, Republican representative Bob Ney of Ohio appears in Abramoff's, Rudy's, and Scanlon's plea agreements, where he is referred to as "Representative #1" or "Legislator #1." Separately, the plea agreements allege that Ney accepted a stream of gifts from Abramoff and his associates, including free meals at the lobbyist's restaurant, tickets to sporting events, and expensive golf trips, in exchange for official action. Ney denies all the charges and has said that he is a victim, not an accomplice.

Last October, federal prosecutors informed Ney that an indictment on charges of bribery was being prepared against him in connection with statements he entered into the Congressional Record in the fall of 2000, according to Susan Schmidt and James Grimaldi of the Washington Post. Those statements, critical of South Florida gambling impresario Gus Boulis and supportive of Abramoff business partner Kidan, aided Abramoff and Kidan's attempt to purchase SunCruz, which Boulis owned.

The SunCruz deal was an unmitigated catastrophe. (See my "Money, Mobsters, Murder," November 28, 2005.) In February 2001, Boulis was shot and killed on his way home from a business meeting. Last September, three men, all tied to organized crime families in New York and Miami, were arrested in connection with the murder; they await trial. One of those men, Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, a former adviser to mob boss John Gotti who also spent 15 years as an FBI informant, has told southern Florida media that Kidan was aware of the plot to kill Boulis. Kidan denies this, and has not been charged in connection with the homicide.

This landscape of human wreckage, littered with the careers of former employees and associates, is central to Tom DeLay's legacy. And at its epicenter--and the place where the Abramoff investigation is almost certainly headed--is the townhouse at 132 D Street.