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The Greenberg Traurig law firm has forced out its biggest Washington rainmaker amid controversy over tens of millions of dollars in fees charged to four Indian tribes over the past several years. Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist and fund-raiser with close ties to powerful House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, resigned on Tuesday at the request of the firm. He was the head of Greenberg’s Washington lobbying office. “Greenberg Traurig has accepted Jack Abramoff’s resignation from the firm, effective today,” the firm said in a statement. “Last Friday, Feb. 27, Mr. Abramoff disclosed to the firm for the first time personal transactions and related conduct which are unacceptable to the firm.” Cesar Alvarez, president and chief executive of the Miami-based firm, said the firm has hired Henry F. Schuelke III, a partner at Janis Schuelke & Wechsler in Washington, to conduct an internal investigation. Alvarez declined to comment directly on the Abramoff matter until the firm’s investigation is completed. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Frank R. Wolfe, R-Va., have called for a congressional investigation of the fees. Hired by Greenberg Traurig in December 2000 as senior director of government affairs, Abramoff, an attorney, played a big role in making the firm a major lobbying shop in Washington. The firm hired Abramoff and 10 of his fellow lobbyists from Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds to jump-start its Washington lobbying practice. Abramoff also caused a stir in South Florida when he and two other investors purchased Dania Beach-based SunCruz Casinos from South Florida businessman Gus Boulis in late 2000, not long before Boulis was murdered gangland-style. Abramoff is listed on the Internet site for President Bush’s re-election campaign as a “pioneer,” meaning he has raised more than $100,000. He also has been active on behalf of Mel Martinez, a former Bush Cabinet member and partner at Akerman Senterfitt in Orlando who is running for the GOP nomination for Bob Graham’s U.S. Senate seat. Last month, The Washington Post reported that over the past three years Abramoff and former DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon, who owns a Washington-based public relations firm, accepted more than $45 million in fees for lobbying and public relations from four American Indian tribes newly rich from gambling revenues. The four tribes were the Saginaw Chippewas in Michigan, the Agua Caliente in California, the Choctaws in Mississippi and the Louisiana Coushattas. Abramoff and Greenberg Traurig took in $15.1 million — collecting a $180,000-per-month fee from the four tribes — over that stretch. Scanlon took in a whopping $30 million, according to The Post. In the case of the Saginaw Chippewa, who paid $3.9 million to Greenberg Traurig and $10 million to Scanlon over about two years, the fees accounted for 25 percent of the tribe’s entire 2002 budget, according to The Post. It was reported that Abramoff counseled his clients to make political donations, the majority of them to Republican politicians. In addition, according to the newspaper, Abramoff advised tribes to contribute to groups that have little connection to American Indian issues. In one case, he suggested that the tribes contribute to a large Greenberg Traurig client. Members of some of the American Indian tribes represented by Abramoff since have complained they received little in return for the hefty fees. Also puzzling was that there were no major gambling issues pending either in Congress or before federal agencies at the time of the tribes’ big fee payments to Greenberg Traurig and to Scanlon. While requesting a congressional investigation, Wolfe called the enormous lobbying fees, which rival amounts spent by the largest multinational corporations, “shocking.” It is unclear whether the lawmakers’ proposed investigation would focus solely on Abramoff and Scanlon, on Greenberg Traurig’s broader lobbying effort on behalf of the tribes, or on representation of tribes generally. Greenberg Traurig has bulked up its government affairs practice across the country. Its governmental affairs practice in Washington includes 28 attorneys and non-attorneys. Firmwide, it has 75 in its lobbying practice. Last month, Greenberg announced that it was expanding its Albany, N.Y., office. It has a lobbying presence in Tallahassee and in the state capitals of Illinois, Georgia, Massachusetts and Colorado. Greenberg’s Alvarez said he did not become aware of the allegations until last month when a reporter began calling with questions. He denied that the alleged problems with Abramoff had anything to do with the rapid expansion of the firm’s lobbying operation. “This could happen to anyone at any time,” Alvarez said. “We have over 1,100 lawyers who do the right thing every morning. This is one individual, and we are certainly not happy about it.” While acknowledging Abramoff’s departure will hurt the firm’s Washington lobbying practice, Alvarez maintained it was not his chief concern. “He was definitely an important lobbyist,” Alvarez said Wednesday. “But to us, it is not important what it will do to our lobbying practice. What is important is how we will treat the clients.” In the past, Abramoff has represented Microsoft and former Zaire dictator Joseph Mobutu. Abramoff was one of three conservative Republicans who purchased 90 percent of SunCruz Casinos, a gambling cruise-to-nowhere operation, for $147.5 million from Boulis in September 2000. He and his partners, Washington mattress mogul Adam R. Kidan and former Reagan White House aide Ben Waldman, came under the scrutiny of Fort Lauderdale police homicide detectives after Boulis was gunned down in his car near Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale in February 2001. The murder remains unsolved. In the weeks before his murder, Boulis had gone to court alleging the three men were trying to cheat him out of tens of millions of dollars in the deal. Abramoff, who Kidan later testified was drawing a $500,000-a-year base salary, relinquished his 35 percent stake in SunCruz amid an onslaught of litigation pursued by Boulis’ estate. This article originally appeared in the Miami Daily Business Review , a publication of American Lawyer Media.

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