Washington lobbyist Abramoff, associate indicted in Florida
ASSOCIATED PRESS | August 11, 2005
By Curt Anderson
MIAMI – A trail of intrigue that has followed an ill-fated gambling boat deal, including a Mafia-style hit and lawsuits over alleged financial irregularities, has now ensnared a man House Majority Leader Tom DeLay once called one of his "dearest friends."
Jack Abramoff, once a powerful Washington lobbyist and major Republican fundraiser, was accused Thursday in a federal grand jury indictment with conspiring with a partner to defraud two lenders out of $60 million in the casino boat deal.
A few months after the September 2000 transaction, the man who was selling the SunCruz Casinos fleet, Greek-born Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, 51, was shot to death in his luxury car near his Fort Lauderdale office. Police described it as a gangland-style slaying that remains unsolved.
The six-count conspiracy and wire fraud indictment stems from the $147 million purchase of SunCruz by Abramoff and a partner, New York businessman Adam Kidan.
Prosecutors say they concocted a fake $23 million wire transfer to Boulis to make it appear they were putting a cash stake into the transaction.
"That document was counterfeit. The defendants never transferred these funds and never made a cash equity contribution toward the purchase of SunCruz," said U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta of Miami.
Abramoff is also under investigation by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee for deals in which he and an associate received at least $66 million from six Indian tribes to lobby for their casinos and other interests. The tribes question whether the charges were excessive.
Congressional Democrats have also raised questions about Abramoff's ties to DeLay, who is not named in either an earlier SunCruz civil lawsuit filed by the lenders nor the indictment released Thursday.
DeLay has asked the House Ethics Committee to review allegations that Abramoff or his clients paid some of DeLay's overseas travel expenses. DeLay has denied knowing that the expenses were paid by Abramoff, whom he once described as "one of my closest and dearest friends."
Abramoff collected more than $100,000 for President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign and raised thousands of dollars for DeLay and other Republican members of Congress. He also was friends with former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, now a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia.
Abramoff denies any wrongdoing in the SunCruz deal and insists that his signature on the wire transfer was obtained under false pretenses, said his Miami defense lawyer, Neal Sonnett.
"He was not involved in an effort to defraud any of the partners or lenders in the SunCruz deal," Sonnett said.
Kidan's attorney in Florida, Martin Jaffe of Hollywood, said his client would surrender voluntarily to federal authorities in Fort Lauderdale on Friday.
"I have cooperated fully with the federal investigation for the past three years because I have nothing to hide," Kidan said in a statement issued by Jaffe's office. "I did nothing wrong and these allegations are totally unfounded."
Abramoff was negotiating his surrender Thursday with the FBI in Los Angeles, bureau spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Abramoff and Kidan each face up to 30 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if convicted on all six counts of conspiracy and wire fraud. Prosecutors also plan to seek forfeiture of the $60 million lost by the lenders.
The two lenders who were allegedly defrauded in the SunCruz deal were Foothill Capital Inc., a subsidiary of Wells Fargo, and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd., based in the Cayman Islands, according to court documents.
They had required a $23 million equity contribution from Abramoff and Kidan as a condition of financing the SunCruz deal. The allegedly fake wire transfer on Sept. 21, 2000, indicated that the pair had contributed that amount to Boulis, who is named as an unindicted co-conspirator in court documents.
In addition to the allegedly fake wire transfer, prosecutors say Abramoff and Kidan made a series of false statements on their loan applications to beef up their assets and limit liabilities.
The SunCruz fleet of 11 ships had 2,300 slot machines and 175 gaming tables and sailed from nine Florida ports and Myrtle Beach, S.C., to international waters. The company continues to operate gambling cruises under new ownership after emerging from bankruptcy.
Boulis, who also founded the Miami Subs restaurant chain, was shot to death on Feb. 6, 2001. According to police records, Boulis' car was blocked in front and behind by two other cars on a quiet street near his office. A third car pulled alongside and its driver shot Boulis three times.
Kidan, who had owned a Dial-a-Mattress franchise in Washington, once obtained a restraining order against Boulis claiming that Boulis beat, kicked and threatened to kill him during a November meeting over the gambling ship deal.