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The Senate last week probed into the finances of companies and nonprofit organizations controlled by lobbyist Jack Abramoff and public relations executive Michael Scanlon that senators said were used to funnel money into their own pockets. At the center of the Indian Affairs Committee’s three-hour hearing June 22 was Abramoff’s relationship with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a longtime Abramoff client who senators said paid Abramoff and Scanlon $7.7 million for political consulting work, of which the duo pocketed $6.5 million. Abramoff and Scanlon termed the scheme to overbill clients and pocket the difference “gimme five,” according to witnesses and e-mails between the two released by the committee. Documents and e-mails released by the committee revealed that $1 million of the amount overbilled was given by the Choctaw to the National Center for Public Policy Research � a conservative nonprofit group on whose board Abramoff served � and ended up going to a charity controlled by Abramoff, toward the repayment of one of his personal loans, and to Scanlon’s public relations company. It was also revealed that funds the tribe paid to Abramoff were used to finance a sniper academy in an Israeli West Bank settlement, which ranking member Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said was operated by Abramoff’s cousin. Andrew Blum of Chadbourne & Parke, Abramoff’s spokesman, declined to answer questions about accusations made during the hearing, citing a separate, ongoing Justice Department investigation, but in an e-mailed statement, he wrote that “The fees earned by Mr. Abramoff and his law firms were more than justified given the amount of cost savings and economic benefit realized by the tribes as a result of his efforts.” New allegations against Abramoff, his former law firm Greenberg Traurig, and two of Abramoff’s former associates at Greenberg surfaced at the hearing. Senators, along with Donald Kilgore, the Choctaw’s attorney general, alleged that Abramoff and lobbyists at Greenberg overbilled the tribe for hours worked and fabricated expense reports. Upon hearing Kilgore’s testimony, Dorgan interjected, “We assumed someone would have some oversight” over billing practices. In his testimony, Kilgore said that “positive settlement negotiations are under way” between the tribe and Greenberg, and he praised the firm for “respond[ing] to this situation in an admirable way.” Jill Perry, a Greenberg spokeswoman, would not comment specifically on the overbilling allegations, but acknowledged that Abramoff “appears to have participated and directed egregious practices” and that the firm “has been engaged in a dialogue with the tribe since Abramoff’s departure from the firm about redressing any injuries that may have resulted from such conduct.” Kilgore also said that his tribe’s experience with Abramoff at Greenberg has caused it to examine its relationship with Abramoff while he was at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, where the tribe was a client from 1995 until 2000. Kilgore said he suspected improprieties at Preston Gates, “though on a much smaller scale.” He did not elaborate. Rob Rehg, a spokesman for Preston Gates, responded, saying, “Recently, we were surprised to be told of possible irregularities in Jack Abramoff’s billings for the tribe and will explore this further with them. The tribe has not made any claim concerning this or any other aspect of our work for them.” Records released by the committee also showed that former Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, who worked under Abramoff at Preston Gates and Greenberg Traurig, accepted $25,000 from Grassroots Interactive LLC, a company that senators said Abramoff controlled , in December 2003. Documents also show that Ring paid the company $25,000 in February 2004. Ring, currently a lobbyist at Barnes & Thornburg, left Greenberg last October when it was revealed that he accepted a separate $135,000 payment from Capitol Campaign Strategies, Scanlon’s firm. Ring, who was a witness at the hearing, declined to answer the committee’s questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. He also shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with Charlie Benn, the Choctaw’s director of administration. It’s unlikely that there were hard feelings, as Ring now lobbies for the Choctaw at Barnes & Thornburg. Ring declined to comment for this story. Andy Metzger is a reporter for Influence , a sister publication of Legal Times . He can be contacted at [email protected].

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