How Rotten Are These Guys?
By Robert Parry; October 5, 2005
The separation of the Bush political machine from organized
crime is often like the thin layer of rock between a seemingly ordinary
surface and volcanic activity rumbling below. Sometimes, the lava spews
forth and the illusion of normalcy is shattered.
In the weeks ahead, a dangerous eruption is again threatening to
shake the Bush family’s image of legitimacy, as the pressure from
intersecting scandals builds.
So far, the mainstream news media has focused mostly on the
white-collar abuses of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for
allegedly laundering corporate donations to help Republicans gain
control of the Texas legislature, or on deputy White House chief of
staff Karl Rove for disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer to
undercut her husband’s criticism of George W. Bush’s case
for war in Iraq.
Both offenses represent potential felonies, but they pale beside
new allegations linking business associates of star GOP lobbyist Jack
Abramoff – an ally of both DeLay and Rove – to the
gangland-style murder of casino owner Konstantinos “Gus”
Boulis in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2001.
These criminal cases also are reminders of George H.W.
Bush’s long record of unsavory associations, including with a
Nicaraguan contra network permeated by cocaine traffickers, Rev. Sun
Myung Moon’s multi-million-dollar money-laundering operations,
and anti-communist Cuban extremists tied to acts of international
terrorism. [For details on these cases, see Robert Parry’s
Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to
Now, George W. Bush is faced with his own challenge of
containing a rupture of scandals – involving prominent
conservatives Abramoff, DeLay and potentially Rove – that have
bubbled to the surface and are beginning to flow toward the White House.
On Sept. 27, 2005 – in possibly the most troubling of
these cases – Fort Lauderdale police charged three men, including
reputed Gambino crime family bookkeeper Anthony Moscatiello, with
Boulis’s murder. Boulis was gunned down in his car on Feb. 6,
2001, amid a feud with an Abramoff business group that had purchased
Boulis’s SunCruz casino cruise line in 2000.
As part of the murder probe, police are investigating payments
that SunCruz made to Moscatiello, his daughter and Anthony Ferrari,
another defendant in the Boulis murder case. Moscatiello and Ferrari
allegedly collaborated with a third man, James Fiorillo, in the
slaying. [For more on the case, see Sun-Sentinel, Sept. 28, 2005.]
The SunCruz deal also led to the August 2005 indictment of
Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, on charges of conspiracy and wire
fraud over a $60 million loan for buying the casino company in 2000.
Prosecutors allege that Abramoff and Kidan made a phony $23 million
wire transfer as a fake down payment.
In pursuing the casino deal, the Abramoff-Kidan group got help,
too, from DeLay and Rep. Robert W. Ney, R-Ohio, the Washington Post
reported. Abramoff impressed one lender by putting him together with
DeLay in Abramoff’s skybox at FedEx Field during a football game
between the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.
Ney placed comments in the Congressional Record criticizing
Boulis and later praising the new Abramoff-Kidan ownership team.
[Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005]
After the SunCruz sale, tensions boiled over, as Boulis and
Kidan got into a fistfight. Kidan claimed that Boulis threatened his
life. Two months later, however, Boulis was the one who was shot to
death when a car pulled up next to him and a gunman opened fire.
Lawyers for Abramoff and Kidan say their clients know nothing about the
Police, however, are investigating financial ties between the Abramoff-Kidan group and Moscatiello and Ferrari.
In a 2001 civil case, Kidan testified that he had paid $145,000 to
Moscatiello and his daughter, Jennifer, for catering and other
services, although court records show no evidence that quantities of
food or drink were provided. SunCruz also paid Ferrari’s company,
Moon Over Miami, $95,000 for surveillance services.
Kidan told the Miami Herald that the payments had no connection
to the Boulis murder. “If I’m going to pay to have Gus
killed, am I going to be writing checks to the killers?” Kidan
asked. “I don’t think so. Why would I leave a paper
Kidan also said he was ignorant of Moscatiello’s past. In
1983, Moscatiello was indicted on heroin-trafficking charges along with
Gene Gotti, brother of Gambino crime boss John Gotti. Though Gene Gotti
and others were convicted, the charges against Moscatiello –
identified by federal authorities as a former Gambino bookkeeper
– were dropped.
White House Ties
Abramoff’s influence has reached into Bush’s White
House, too, where chief procurement officer David H. Safavian resigned
last month and then was arrested on charges of lying to authorities and
obstructing a criminal investigation into Abramoff’s lobbying
Rep. Ney and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed were
among influential Republicans who joined Safavian and Abramoff on an
infamous golf trip to Scotland in 2002. Safavian is a former lobbying
partner of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, another pillar of
right-wing politics in Washington and another longtime Abramoff friend.
[Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2005]
Abramoff also has boasted of his influence with Bush’s top political adviser Karl Rove.
While helping the scandal-plagued conglomerate Tyco
International Ltd. fend off new taxes and insure continued federal
contracts, Abramoff cited his influence with Rove as well as powerful
congressmen, including DeLay, according to a written statement by Tyco
general counsel Timothy E. Flanigan.
Abramoff told Tyco officials that “he had contact with Mr.
Karl Rove” about Tyco’s concerns, said Flanigan, who made
the disclosures to the Senate during his confirmation hearing as
Bush’s nominee to be deputy attorney general.
A White House spokesman said Rove had no recollection of a discussion
with Abramoff about Tyco, but Rove’s personal assistant Susan
Ralston had previously worked as Abramoff’s secretary.
[Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2005]
The roots of these latest scandals reach back a quarter century
to the early days of the Reagan Revolution. During that heady period
for young conservatives, Abramoff and Norquist won control of the
College Republicans organization in Washington, with Abramoff as
chairman and Norquist as executive director.
In the book, Gang of Five, author Nina Easton wrote that the
Abramoff-Norquist leadership transformed the College Republicans into a
“right-wing version of a communist cell – complete with
purges of in-house dissenters and covert missions to destroy the enemy
Under Abramoff and Norquist, the College Republicans also
allegedly began tapping into Rev. Moon’s mysterious well of
nearly unlimited cash. In 1983, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, then chairman
of the GOP’s moderate Ripon Society, released a study saying the
College Republican National Committee “solicited and
received” money from Moon’s Unification Church in 1981.
Leach said the Korean-based Unification Church has
“infiltrated the New Right and the party it wants to control, the
Republican Party, and infiltrated the media as well.”
Before Leach could finish the press conference, Norquist
disrupted the meeting with accusations that Leach was lying. For its
part, Moon’s Washington Times dismissed Leach’s charges as
“flummeries” and mocked the Ripon Society as a
“discredited and insignificant left-wing offshoot of the
To this day, largely through lavish spending on right-wing
causes, Moon has made his cult-like movement a political powerhouse
within conservative circles. However, evidence has continued to mount
that Moon’s operation is a complex web of secretive businesses
and groups that launder millions of dollars from suspicious sources in
Asia and South America into the U.S. political system.
Moon has subsidized not only media outlets, such as the
pro-Republican Washington Times, but conservative infrastructure,
including direct-mail operations, think tanks and political
conferences. Moon’s organization also has funneled money directly
into the pockets of former President Bush and other leading
politicians. [For details, see Secrecy & Privilege.]
Abramoff and Kidan, the co-defendants in the SunCruz fraud case,
also became friends from their time with the College Republicans.
After leaving the College Republicans, Abramoff and Norquist
moved over to a Reagan-support organization called Citizens for
America, which sponsored a 1985 “summit meeting” of
anti-communist “freedom fighters” from around the world.
The Nicaraguan contras – who were gaining a reputation for
brutality, corruption and drug trafficking – were represented at
the summit, as was Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi, who was
condemned by human rights groups for gross abuses, including widespread
murders, rapes and mutilations.
As the Cold War was ending in 1989, Abramoff tried his hand at
movie producing, churning out an anti-communist action thriller called
“Red Scorpion,” which was subsidized by South
Africa’s white-supremacist regime. [For details, see
Salon.com’s “The Tale of Red Scorpion.”]
The Republican conquest of the U.S. Congress in 1994 gave
Abramoff’s career another twist as he found himself in position
to exploit his close ties to hard-line conservatives, such as DeLay and
House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Abramoff signed up with the lobbying firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds before moving to Greenberg Traurig.
Last year, on the tenth anniversary of the Republican takeover,
conservative writer Andrew Ferguson lamented Abramoff’s key role
in getting Republicans to forsake their rhetorical war on big
government and corruption, in favor of dividing up the spoils.
“For 25 years Abramoff has been a key figure in the
conservative movement that led to the 1994 Republican Revolution, which
once promised ‘to drain the swamp’ in Washington,
D.C.,” Ferguson wrote.
But instead, Abramoff became “the first Republican to
discover that pretending to advance the interests of conservative
small-government could, for a lobbyist, be as insanely lucrative as
pretending to advance the interests of liberal big-government,”
Ferguson wrote. “The way a winner knows he’s won is by
cashing in his chips.”
Abramoff scored big by representing Indian tribes that needed political clout for their gambling operations.
Ferguson wrote, “Abramoff's ingenuity quickly earned him a
reputation as the premier lobbyist for Indians in Washington –
though he only worked for casino-owning tribes, who were, after all,
the only ‘free market laboratories’ that could afford
Washington lobbyists. He regularly arranged fact-finding trips for
congressmen and their staffs to the casinos, especially those with golf
Branching out, Abramoff represented the textile industry in the
Marianas islands, a U.S. protectorate that could stick “Made in
the USA” labels on clothing produced in sweatshops free from U.S.
labor regulations. Abramoff flew in congressmen for tours and a chance
to play golf at a scenic course. DeLay was so impressed that he hailed
the islands as “a perfect Petri dish of capitalism.”
[Weekly Standard, Dec. 20, 2004]
Abramoff had learned the flexible ethics of Washington politics
during the final days of the Cold War when ideology justified rubbing
shoulders with corrupt “freedom fighters.” But he and his
legion of protégés managed to adapt those dubious lessons
to the “free market” era of Republican rule.
The end result has been a noxious “crony capitalism”
that has seeped into nearly all U.S. government policies, from the War
on Terror to the Iraq War to the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort.
Now the ground under George W. Bush and the Republican
congressional majority is beginning to shake as fissures crack the
surface, warning of a volcanic eruption that could transform the
political landscape of Washington.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the
Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy &
Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be
ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com,
as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press &