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Charities Offered Fertile Fields for Abramoff Schemes

LA Times, February 11, 2006:
Abramoff used the $1 million as seed money forhis athletic foundation, which he had formed in 1999 and was his favorite "charity." It was established with the stated mission of funding sports programs in the Washington area. Tax records show that little money went for that purpose.

In early 2002, the bank account grew when another tribal client -- the Mississippi Choctaws -- made the first of two $500,000 payments to the athletic foundation. Tribal leaders testified that they had been led to believe it would be "passed through" to other organizations that would educate voters about American Indian gaming issues.

Around the time the first $500,000 was received in the foundation's bank account, $200,000 was transferred out of the account to Livsar, the holding company that Abramoff had set up to establish Signatures, a high-end restaurant he was opening the following month in Washington, the Los Angeles Times learned.

An e-mail exchange with his restaurant partner showed that Abramoff was anxiously awaiting the Choctaw money to get the restaurant opened. The Choctaw money arrived Jan. 3. His partner wrote that night that a banker "really saved us today" by transferring money from the athletic foundation to the restaurant account. The money was transferred back a few weeks later.

The restaurant became a centerpiece of Abramoff's lobbying operation, where he wined and dined congressmen as part of his bribery schemes.

The athletic foundation gave Abramoff access to millions for his pet causes, many of which dovetailed with his orthodox Jewish beliefs. The biggest beneficiary was Eshkol Academy, an Orthodox Jewish boys school he founded in Columbia, Md., which one of his sons attended. The foundation also sent $100,000 to an Israeli settler who ran a sniper training workshop for militant Jews.

Abramoff used the foundation to pay the $166,000 cost of a trip to play St. Andrew's golf course in Scotland, which included Rep. Robert Ney, R-Ohio, two top aides and others. Abramoff admitted in his plea agreement that the trip was part of a bribery scheme intended to offer "things of value" to Ney in exchange for a series of official acts. Ney, who has denied any wrongdoing, is under federal investigation.
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