The First Shoe to Drop

Ah well, what we’ve come to know and wait for is the first guilty plea. Smaller fish trade prison for bigger fish, it’s the way of the oceans. Michael Scanlon, partner to lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty yesterday, the first shoe to drop in what I think will become a major congressional scandal. How major? Biggest in decades is my guess and that’s why everyone on Capitol Hill is so quiet. They’re all running scared. Mike is a very knowledgeable fish.

MichaelscanlonScanlon pleaded to ‘conspiring to bribe a congressman and other public officials’ but the plea-deal has become the wedge with which most conspiratorial timber is split.

Mike agreed to pay back his share of a kickback from Jack Abramoff, some $19 million that came from him and Jack playing both sides of various Indian casino issues. He’s got five possible years in the clinker hanging over his head as well as a possible quarter-million dollar fine. The quarter mil is chump-change for a high roller, but prison time is another matter and you can bet Scanlon will be a talker. He’s close to Tom DeLay as well (isn’t everyone?), having served as his press secretary. Public disclosure of his unburdening to a prosecutor could be very interesting.

So, this first-shoe to drop is a real boot, one that’s been simmering for more than six months of negotiations with prosecutors. Sweat sessions, no doubt. "C’mon, Mike, we can’t deal on that, you gotta give us more." But the perspiration is mostly in the halls of Congress as Senators and Representatives scan their e-mails for any reference to Scanlon, Abramoff, or Tom DeLay. If you think this is about casinos and Indian tribes, think again. This is about the mechanics of lobbying.

CongbobneyWhen the shoe dropped, it landed directly on the toupee of Representative Robert W. Ney, a Republican from Ohio. If the allegations are true, Ney will prove to be a minor character in the drama to come, a low-budget co-conspirator not worthy of much other than some golf trips and ten grand in his name to the National Republican Campaign Committee. A small-change guy, at the moment Ney is full of righteous indignation, claiming to have been defrauded by Scanlon and his partners, which is a good quick-grab for the time to think through a defense.

Most interesting is the first of the other issues mentioned besides Indian casinos. Sun Cruz Casinos, a Florida fleet of gambling boats taken over by Scanlon and Abramoff under dubious circumstances (which may or may not include fraudulent loan documents and the murder of the owner) are yet (thump) another shoe. Yet another all-expenses-paid trip to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands promises to be a shoe in the act of free-fall.

Northern Marianas? Their Commerce Department web site says their ‘mission and goals set hereunder are geared fundamentally toward developing sound solutions that would help stimulate the Commonwealth economy, create wealth and minimize poverty by way of promoting favorable business environment, attract private capital investment, infrastructure investment, research grants, and job development.’

Yeah, well garment production is by far the Marianas most important industry, employing 17,500 mostly Chinese workers, many of whom have had their documents impounded and claim to be virtual wage-slaves.  DeLay and Ney staffers are said to have golfed, while assuring local officials that their sound solutions included wage autonomy and a continuation of sizable shipments to the US under duty and quota exemptions. Good guys to know, Ney and DeLay.

So one can expect a number of Congressmen and Senators to carve their Thanksgiving turkeys under just the slightest shadow of impending worry over who is connecting dots. For his part, Mike Scanlon seems to be the most at-ease of any of the so far indicted.

Which is either because he’s lost it all or has the most to gain.

For more comments on Washington at work, see my personal web site.

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