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When ex-Justice Department official Robert Coughlin pleaded guilty last month to a corruption charge stemming from the Jack Abramoff scandal, prosecutors filed court papers detailing how his improper influence helped win millions of dollars for Abramoff clients. The documents also reveal how he helped Abramoff with a personal matter — arranging for student visas. What was the academic bent? According to the staff of the now-defunct Eshkol Academy, an Abramoff-founded Orthodox Jewish boys’ school in Maryland, Abramoff was stacking the basketball team with Israeli ringers. The lobbyist was fanatical about the athletics program, recalls then-coach Ari Braun, and was regularly in the bleachers during games. Recruited by an Israeli consultant, the players were the school’s only international students, Braun says. But they couldn’t get the job done, and the team never produced a winning record. Abramoff “mentioned to me at one time that he wanted to have a nationally ranked basketball program,” says Braun, who now teaches and coaches in Baltimore. “A nationally ranked basketball team full of Orthodox Jewish players — I just don’t see that happening.”
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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