Sunday, September 7, 2008
Tribal members spoke at Abramoff's sentencing
By PATRICIA ECKER
Sun Staff Writer
Members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe spoke both for and against disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff at his sentencing in Washington, D.C., last week
Several council members, including Chief Fred Cantu Jr., flew to the U.S. capital to speak in court on Thursday about how Abramoff had victimized the Saginaw Chippewas.
But former council member Delores Jackson also made her way to Washington in a van without air conditioning to give her testimony. Jackson lost her seat on the council after going public with her support of Abramoff, and continues to say Abramoff did nothing wrong.
"We paid him to do a job, and he did it," Jackson said. "I just told the truth."
A federal judge sentenced Abramoff to four additional years in prison. "Councilman Bernie Sprague testified on behalf of the Tribe," Joe Sowmick, spokesman for the Tribe, said.
Sprague testified that Abramoff defrauded the Tribe out of millions of dollars, and he urged the judge to impose a harsh sentence, according to a report in the New York Times.
Sowmick said the Tribe reached an agreement with Greenburg Traurig, the lobbying firm that Abramoff worked for, as did other Tribes across the country who were clients of the former lobbyist.
But Jackson argues that Abramoff, not the Tribe, was the victim. She said the lobbyist ran into the presidential ambitions of Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.
"He was a scapegoat," Jackson said. McCain's Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigated Abramoff, and Sprague provided documents and powerful testimony before the committee.
Jackson accused Sprague of colluding with McCain.
"I don't know why Bernie would lie to a Senate investigation," Jackson said.
"I did my own research when I was on council," Jackson said. "He did the work he said he would do.
"He got us $3 million for schools," Jackson said. That money, however, came through a federal program designed to assist poor Tribes with schools run by Bureau of Indian Affairs; the Cantu administration gave the money back.
Jackson said Abramoff helped the Tribe fund Andahwod Senior Center, the Behavioral Health Department and road projects. Abramoff's defenders pointed to nearly $20 million in federal aid to the Tribe and local governments that they credit to Abramoff's lobbying work.
"They destroyed a man's career because he went against them," Jackson said. "I showed the council the proof."
Federal prosecutors recommended leniency because Abramoff cooperated in his own corruption case against lawmakers and former Bush administration officials.
He currently is serving a six-year term on unrelated charges and the new sentence will be served after that is complete.
Jackson points to a book by self-described liberal Boston investigative journalist Gary S. Chafetz, to be released next week, called "The Perfect Villain: John McCain and the Demonization of Lobbyist Jack Abramoff."*
The book charges that Abramoff was a victim of "a Shakespearean tragedy of deceit, betrayal and political vendetta in which the true villains are presidential aspirant John McCain, the Washington Post newspaper and the U.S. Department of Justice, all of whom participated in the railroading of an innocent man," according to pre-release publicity materials posted on Amazon.com.
"I am angry that John McCain has used our Tribe to further his own agenda," Jackson said.
"I apologized for our Tribe," Jackson said to Abramoff. "After the hearing, his son and wife came up to me and hugged me."
Jackson and several other Tribal members have started an online petition to free Abramoff at http://www.originalsagchip39.org/.
Sprague and Jackson were the top two vote-getters for an open seat on Tribal Council during a special election in July. Sprague won the seat by 11 votes over Jackson.
Product Description: Gary Chafetz is a liberal Boston journalist who set out to chronicle the scandal involving conservative gun-for-hire and super-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. Instead he uncovered a Shakespearean tragedy of deceit, betrayal and political vendetta in which the true villains are Presidential aspirant John McCain, the Washington Post newspaper and the U.S. Department of Justice--all of whom participated in the railroading of an innocent man. Chafetz benefited from exclusive and unconditional access to the jailed Abramoff and to many never-before-released documents. The blizzard of stories originating from the Washington political machine painted Abramoff as an implausibly greedy lobbyist who cheated Indian tribes, bribed politicians and corrupted the political process--a fascinating tale but, ultimately, untrue. The true story, as Chafetz recounts in The Perfect Villain, is even more riveting and compelling.