U.S. Fraud Charge for Top Lobbyist
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 - Jack Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist involved in ethics allegations facing Representative Tom DeLay, was indicted in Florida on Thursday on unrelated fraud charges involving his purchase of a fleet of gambling boats from a businessman who was slain amid bitter wrangling over the sale.
The indictment by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale charges Mr. Abramoff and a business partner with conspiracy and wire fraud in the $147.5 million purchase of the shipping line, SunCruz Casinos, in 2000. They are accused of presenting lenders with a counterfeit document suggesting that they had arranged a $23 million wire transfer to the seller.
Mr. Abramoff's lawyer in the case, Neal R. Sonnett of Miami, said Mr. Abramoff would plead not guilty. "We've made the point since the beginning of this investigation that Jack Abramoff has done nothing wrong," Mr. Sonnett said. "He's anxious to defend himself."
There is no accusation that Mr. Abramoff or his partner, Adam R. Kidan, had any involvement in the death of the Fort Lauderdale businessman, Konstantinos Boulis, but the unsolved gangland-style killing produced extensive news coverage in Florida over the disputed sale of SunCruz. Mr. Boulis was gunned down while driving home in February 2001.
Mr. Sonnett had no comment when asked if the indictment would provide the Justice Department with leverage in pressing Mr. Abramoff to cooperate in a separate grand jury investigation here focused on his multimillion-dollar lobbying contracts with the gambling operations of Indian tribes.
The Florida indictment charged Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Kidan with one count of conspiracy and five counts of wire fraud - each count carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine - and asked that they be forced to pay $60 million in criminal penalties.
Mr. Abramoff has long been one of Washington's best-connected and best-paid lobbyists. In a statement released with the indictment, the agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s Miami field office, Michael S. Clemens, appeared to be referring to Mr. Abramoff's former influence in Republican circles when he said that the criminal charges demonstrate "that regardless of position, status, wealth or associations, fraudulent activity will not be tolerated."
Mr. Abramoff's lobbying for Indian tribes is under scrutiny in Washington by the Justice Department, the Interior Department, the Treasury Department and two Senate committees.