By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Abramoff was an odd man in the Republican Party. An Orthodox Jew and former high school weightlifter, the then-wet-behind-his-ears true believer had parlayed his stewardship over College Republicans into a gig as CFA's executive director. The CFA, leaning on such wealthy right-wingers as Joseph Coors and Ivan Boesky, would go on to steer millions in U.S. taxpayer funds to terrorists in Angola and apply force to Congress to support the contras.
As Reagan left office in 1988, Rohrabacher also packed his bags for Huntington Beach, where he won his congressional race -- thanks to an assist from Iran-Contra figure Ollie North. Abramoff founded and chaired the aggressive right-wing think tank International Freedom Foundation and ran the Conservative Caucus PAC until the early 1990s. He took a brief break from politics in the '80s to produce the action movie Red Scorpion, which featured U.S.-backed guerrillas fighting Soviet agents in Africa.
Abramoff, Rohrabacher and the gang would go on to fight the Right cause from their respective corners for the next several years.
Then Greek millionaire Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis turned up dead in Fort Lauderdale on Feb. 6, 2001. Months before his slaying, Boulis had sold his fleet of casino ships to a partnership that included Abramoff. But SunCruz Casinos ran aground shortly after Abramoff and his partners bought it in September 2000.
Then came the revelations: that Gus Boulis never really wanted to sell SunCruz in the first place. That Abramoff and Kidan, the Dial-a-Mattress merchant who'd formerly worked with the super lobbyist in the College Republicans national office, secretly negotiated to buy SunCruz. That DeLay and other members of the Abramoff 6 helped the deal along. When Boulis learned that his prospective buyers did not have the $145 million it would take to buy his ships, he renegotiated to keep himself on as a consultant. The Abramoff 6 sprang into action. Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay spokesman Abramoff had just hired at his lobbying firm, asked Ohio congressman Bob Ney to insert remarks into the Congressional Record that would pressure Boulis: "Mr. Speaker, how SunCruz Casinos and Gus Boulis conduct themselves with regard to Florida laws is very unnerving," Ney said in the March 30, 2000, Congressional Record. "I don't want to see the actions of one bad apple in Florida, or anywhere else . . . affect the business aspect of this industry or hurt any innocent casino patron in our country."
The SunCruz negotiations dragged on. When the partners tried to secure financing, Abramoff's list of loan references included -- wait for it -- Dana Rohrabacher.
"I don't remember it, but I would certainly have been happy to give him a good recommendation," Rohrabacher later told the Washington Post. "He's a very honest man."
Like all honest men embroiled in fraudulent deals, Abramoff watched this one unravel. The press reported on Kidan's alleged links to the New York mob (and the possible Boulis murder suspect, if you're real good at between-the-lines reading). The Boulis estate settled its differences with Abramoff and Kidan by having them declare bankruptcy and relinquish most of their SunCruz interest to the estate. A federal Court of Appeals tossed that settlement out, claiming there were too many conflicts of interest and that Kidan's management was "riddled with fraudulent and dishonest transactions." New owners picked up SunCruz after a bankruptcy auction. Banks are still suing Abramoff and Kidan over the $60 million they were lent using folks like Rohrabacher as their references.
And when the shit really hit the fan, DeLay claimed he did not know about Abramoff's ties to casinos, said he felt betrayed by his lobbyist friend and that he was now cutting all ties with him. This was somewhat strange given that casinos had always been one of DeLay's largest source of campaign cash, that he'd hosted events in Washington for SunCruz and that his staffers had all flown -- on Abramoff's dime -- to the Super Bowl in Tampa followed by a night on a SunCruz ship.
A postscript: We began this tale by wondering whether Rohrabacher's run in Congress will be jeopardized by his ties to DeLay and Abramoff. Perhaps voters in his district will never know. Rohrabacher has always received the kid-glove treatment from his former employer, the now Orange County Register, and it's the world's worst-kept secret that he's the primary local politics source for Jean Pasco, the Orange County political reporter for the Los Angeles Times.
Despite stories in the national media, on the web and -- natch -- in the Weekly, the Times and Register have reported nothing on Rohrabacher's alarming ties to Islamic terrorist groups, even when local challengers have raised this on the congressional campaign trail. And while with the Register in 1996, Pasco for four months failed to identify Carmony, then a Rohrabacher aide, as being among the central organizers of a local GOP plot to plant a decoy candidate in the Assembly race eventually won by Scott "Slime" Baugh, who is now the party's Orange County chairman. After pleading guilty to two charges of falsifying campaign papers, Carmony was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and a $2,800 fine. Pressed by the Weekly, Pasco eventually blamed her editors for the omission.