Who Were Abramoff's Victims?

The Indian tribes aren't among Abramoff's victims.

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Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is off to the hoosegow for another four years after a judge sentenced him today for his role in the tribes-and-bribes scandal. In 2006, you'll recall, Abramoff and his cohort Michael Scanlon pleaded guilty to crimes that resulted in fraud and corruption, and ever since the two have been helping federal prosecutors in an attempt to lessen their punishments. Abramoff received 9 months more than prosecutors asked for.

"The true victims here are the public," Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for D.C. declared from the bench. "You have impacted severely the public's confidence in the integrity of the government."

Kudos to Huvelle for acknowledging the "true" victims in the scam—although that designation may not sit well with at least one of the tribes, the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan.

"The Tribe's history is not unlike the history of other tribes from the standpoint that we once controlled land much larger than our current reservation," Saginaw chief Federico Cantu wrote in a doleful letter ahead of today's sentencing urging the court not to be lenient. Cantu continued:

The Tribe dealt with traders, trespassers, land speculators, and the whiskey peddlers, all of whom wanted something of value that we possessed. The United States government was the tool used by these people, and Treaty-making was the device to take from the tribe what it would not agree to give voluntarily. These were dark times in our history. Little did we know that history would repeat itself in the contemporary schemes of Mr. Abramoff.

It's hardly a matter of dispute that Abramoff sold the Saginaws and other tribes snake-oil. But Cantu's lament aside, the tribes were hardly innocents. While Abramoff and Scanlon certainly were behind the slick election campaigns of Council members who later pushed business their way, it was these Council members—not Abramoff or Scanlon—who sold the Saginaw down the river.

And in exchange for millions, what job did the Saginaw have in mind for Abramoff? To screw over other Indian tribes. According to this February 2004 article in the Washington Post, Maynard Kahgegab, who has since been displaced as chief of the Saginaw Chippewa, "defended the spending in an interview. Abramoff won federal funds for the tribe and Scanlon built a database ' market protection program ' to try to defeat the slot machines of other tribes and at racetracks, he said." [Emphasis added.]

So while the Saginaw chief accuses Abramoff of pillaging their tribe, another view might hold that the Saginaw hired Abramoff to dispossess other tribes. So much for solidarity.

There are victims in the sorry Abramoff affair, but the Indian tribes aren't among them.