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Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig is not a named defendant in the Alabama-Coushatta tribe’s federal racketeering lawsuit against Greenberg’s convicted former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his cohorts. But that could change in the future. The tribe, which is deep into settlement talks with Greenberg, has a tolling agreement with the law firm. Such an agreement stipulates that if a settlement is not reached, the tribe still may sue the firm, regardless of whether the statute of limitations has passed, according to Frederick R. Petti, a Phoenix lawyer who represents the Alabama-Coushatta tribe. Although the suit does not name Greenberg Traurig, it accuses the firm of allowing Abramoff associate Michael Scanlon to bill hours through the firm, and of allowing checks sent by the tribe to a bogus Abramoff-linked think tank to be funneled and cashed through Greenberg Traurig. “There was a nexus between Greenberg, the enterprise and the pattern of racketeering,” the suit states. “Jack Abramoff was an employee of Greenberg Traurig and, at the end of the day, law firms are like other employers,” Petti said in an interview. “They are responsible for the actions of their employees.” The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas, on July 12, names as defendants Abramoff, two other former Greenberg Traurig lobbyists, Jon Van Horne and Neil Volz, Abramoff’s former close associate Scanlon, and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, who just lost the Georgia Republican primary for governor. The lawsuit also provides fresh evidence of a closer connection between Greenberg Traurig and Scanlon than the law firm has ever acknowledged. Scanlon was Abramoff’s close partner in many widely criticized lobbying practices. He pleaded guilty last year to bribing a congressman. Greenberg has always maintained that Scanlon, who ran a Washington-based public relations company called Capital Strategies, was not a Greenberg employee. But, according to the suit, internal Greenberg e-mails showed that Scanlon “billed hours to tribal clients through Greenberg and that members of the law firm, including attorneys Kevin Ring, Shawn Vasell, Stephanie Leger, Todd Boulanger and others, fabricated hours and time entries for Scanlon.” Greenberg fired Abramoff in early 2004 and has received praise from federal investigators and members of Congress for its cooperation in the Abramoff investigation. A Greenberg Traurig spokesman tried to distance the firm from the Alabama-Coushatta suit. “The suit addresses past conduct by former employees, and the firm is not a defendant nor has it engaged in such conduct,” the spokesman said via e-mail. As to the Scanlon allegations, the spokesman said: “Consistent with our ethical obligations to clients, our firm has cooperated fully with ongoing government investigations, and refrains from commenting on matters that are the subject of such investigations.” The Alabama-Coushatta suit is the first civil suit filed against Abramoff and his associates. Last January, Abramoff, the once-powerful Republican lobbyist, pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials in a deal that requires him to flip members of Congress and other political figures. In March, U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck in Miami sentenced the former lobbyist to 70 months in prison. Scanlon was sentenced to 51 to 63 months in prison on the charge of bribing a congressman. None of the other defendants in the civil suit have been charged criminally. The Alabama-Coushatta suit accuses the defendants of cooking up a scheme to block the tribe from opening a casino on its reservation, thereby benefiting the defendants’ lobbying client, the Louisiana-Coushatta tribe. The Louisiana tribe is a casino competitor of the Alabama tribe. According to the new suit, the defendants convinced the Louisiana-Coushatta tribe, which operates a casino in Kinder, La., that the Alabama tribe posed a threat to its business. The lobbyists “manipulated the Louisiana-Coushatta tribe into paying millions of dollars to stop competition in Texas,” according to the suit. The Louisiana tribe’s goal was to halt Texas legislation that would grant the Alabama tribe the right to operate a casino under Texas state law. In doing so, they “violated Texas lobbying laws, set up sham entities and waged a lobbying battle fraught with misrepresentation and lies.” Ralph Reed’s alleged part of the scheme was to rally Christian conservative groups to oppose the gambling bill�even though the Alabama-Coushatta tribe is a Christian community and planned on operating a nondrinking casino, the suit says. “They pitted Christian against Christian, tribe against tribe and cousin against cousin,” according to the suit. The defendants’ plan worked and the bill was killed. Still, the tribe was able to open a small casino in Texas in November 2001. But the defendants continued targeting the casino, causing it to close less than one year later, resulting in 300 layoffs. At that point, the suit alleges, the defendants solicited the Alabama-Coushatta tribe as a client. “They wrangled money from the Alabama-Coushatta tribe and used it for corrupt schemes and bribery at the federal level,” the suit states. According to the suit, after Greenberg hired Abramoff in 2001, he catapulted Greenberg’s Washington lobbying practice into one of the top 10 in the country. Abramoff alone generated $10 million a year in lobbying fees. In 2000, before Abramoff joined the firm, Greenberg had $3.3 million in lobbying fees, according to the suit. After he joined in 2001, the firm took in $16.2 million in fees. By 2002, that number jumped to $17.7 million, and $25.5 million by 2003. After Abramoff was fired in early 2004, the firm’s lobbying practice nosedived by 90 percent, according to the suit. A Greenberg spokesman stated that its federal lobbying revenue in 2005 was 1 percent of its total revenues of $860 million. According to the suit, the Louisiana-Coushatta tribe sent checks to Reed to lobby the Texas Legislature, and the checks were funneled through Greenberg Traurig. The Louisiana-Coushatta tribe wrote checks to the American International Center, a “bogus international think tank” set up by Scanlon. The checks would be sent by FedEx to Abramoff at Greenberg. The funds were transferred from Greenberg Traurig to AIC and AIC would send a check to Reed for the amount owed. The total amount of money paid to Reed was $3.4 million, according to the suit. The plaintiffs are seeking recovery of “tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions,” Petti said. That’s the amount of economic damage the tribe sustained after the casino was shuttered, he said. Petti said he was confident about collecting damages in the event of a favorable jury verdict. But his best chance may lie in his settlement talks with Greenberg Traurig. The Miami law firm already has settled with the Tigua tribe of Texas, the Choctaw tribe and Tyco International. Greenberg repaid Tyco $1.5 million of about $1.8 million Tyco spent while working with Abramoff on a tax loophole issue in Congress. According to news reports, Abramoff had promised Tyco, a large Bermuda-based conglomerate, that he could help the corporation avoid incurring some taxes and continue receiving federal contracts. He said he had promises from as high up as Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser. The Greenberg spokesman declined to state the total amount the firm has paid in Abramoff-related settlements, calling the details confidential. Julie Kay can be reached at [email protected]

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