Abramoff Scandal: Trail leading to CNMI

Saipan garment factory, Photo from New York Times

August 25, 2009

The indictment of Horace Cooper, the latest in a long chain of indictments in the Abramoff scandal, combined with the evidence list revealed in the Kevin Ring case connect more dots to bring the murky picture of the Abramoff scandal into sharper focus. The scandal goes deeper than the greed, corruption and arrogance of Abramoff and his army of ethically-challenged members of the U.S. Congress. The scandal extends well beyond the halls of Congress. Some of the dots can be connected to lead directly to the White House, U.S. Departments of Labor and to the CNMI.

The Anti Corruption Republican who lives in former Rep. Tom Delay's district in Texas revealed interesting developments from a status conference in the Ring case last week. He reported that in a courtroom discussion before U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle, the U.S. attorneys told the judge that there are thirty identified co-conspirators in the Abramoff case and 17 have been named.

He noted that previous documents filed in the Kevin Ring case revealed that Julie Doolittle, the wife of former Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) was already identified as a co-conspirator. Additionally, co-conspirators named at Ring's August 20, 2009 status conference were Susan Ralston, White House aide to Karl Rove; Padget Wilson, a lobbyist with Abramoff; and Jennifer Farley of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. That left nine co-conspirators who have not been named. If Horace Cooper was among the nine, then after he was indicted Friday that leaves eight co-conspirators to be named and who knows how many more to be identified.

The unnamed co-conspirators in the Abramoff scandal could be a former high level White House staffer, a couple of U.S. congressmen (one with dancing shoes), additional former congressional staffers, another Abramoff team member or two, or maybe an official, garment magnate or attorney or two from the CNMI.

Horace Cooper and his friends
By outward appearances Horace Cooper seemed an unlikely person to toss aside reputation, integrity and morals to work for Abramoff and his army of co-conspirators. He seemed to have a lot going for him career wise. Still he joins the ranks of other morally bankrupt former congressional staffers, turned Abramoff groupies, turned political appointees or lobbyists, turned indicted criminals. Greed and power were like addictive drugs to the Abramoff team members. After they had a little taste, they had to have a bigger dose to fulfill their cravings.

The GOPUSA web site praised Cooper as a "Republican top-gun", a political commentator and a senior fellow with the Washington, DC based think tank, Project 21, National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives. This group was affiliated with the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank run by Amy Mortiz Ridenour.

Ridenour was a close friend of Jack Abramoff. They helped to organize the College Republican National Committee along with other pals, Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Abramoff was once director of the National Center for Public Policy Research and eventually used it to launder money for Abramoff-sponsored trips and junkets, as documented by email exchanges.

Horace Cooper was among seven congressional aides who took the first Abramoff-sponsored junket to the CNMI in April 1996. Amy Ridenour took the November 1996 junket with other conservative think tank executives. The aim of the junkets was to convince the visitors that the CNMI should maintain control of their immigration and minimum wage. Billing records and email exchanges between the Abramoff team, members of Congress, staffers and CNMI players reveal that the junkets were staged to conceal the reality of the dysfunctional system and to instead reflect the illusionary image of an "economic miracle" and "petri dish of democracy." The CNMI was even billed for preparing the briefings and talking points that were given to the junket-takers.

A few of us vocally challenged the validity of the trips and the propaganda that the the junket takers spewed out. The A-team members were claiming labor abuses were "old news" even as garment factories were hit with enormous fines from the U.S. Department of Labor and OSHA.

Abramoff used conservative writers like Peter Ferrara and Doug Bandow to plant stories that he pre-approved in publications like The Washington Times. Their stories promoted the A-team talking points, claiming that there were no labor problems and the CNMI was an economic miracle.

Amy Ridenour was also one of the Abramoff writers. She wrote (or she signed her name to) several editorials between 1999 and 2001. An editorial from her website praised the CNMI's free market system and low wages and opposed federalization. It also supporte the garment industry:
Legislation providing for a federal takeover of the immigration authority of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI), a U.S. possession near Guam, is designed to shut down the Islands' garment industry and should be understood as such, says The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Her editorial went on to repeat the same Abramoff-CNMI lines that have been repeated for two decades to oppose federalization and maintain the status quo.

In 2005 Ridenour was called to testify before the Senate concerning her involvement in the Abramoff scandal. In her testimony she said:
The National Center's focus during approximately its first decade was on issues related to the Soviet Union. However, with the fall of the Iron Curtain, the National Center's focus turned to other conservative programs and issues.

One such program is Project 21, which highlights the views of conservative and moderate African-Americans by helping them get op-eds published in newspapers, arranging interviews on talk radio and other media, and issuing press releases based on information provided by this previously under-represented group. Since Project 21's inception in 1992, the news media has quoted its members approximately ten thousand times.
Project 21, the organization which featured such members as conservative spokesperson and dedicated Abramoff soldier Horace Cooper, was another Ridenour-Abramoff propaganda tool.

Ridenour was also an outspoken supporter of the Western Pacific Economic Council, the group of garment manufacturers and wealthy business leaders that contracted Abramoff to lobby to block federalization and minimum wage. They paid Abramoff $2.3 million in 1999 and 2000.

WPEC collaborated with Ridenour and Abramoff as this May 1999 Saipan Tribune story discussing "Made in USA" legislation reveals:
WPEC Chairman Ron D. Sablan referred to reports from WPEC’s public affairs firm in Washington D.C., while talking about it’s impact on the CNMI. "This legislation blindly and recklessly undercuts our ability to maintain our already reeling economy, while it dangerously attacks the fiber of the Covenant by amendments which border on discrimination."

"WPEC was formed to protect the spirit and intent behind the Covenant’s creation, and our friends in Washington report someone is about to carelessly end the good work the original negotiators had worked so hard to politically unionize," Sablan.

"Fortunately with the help of our public affairs firm others have joined to argue against this intrusion into our economic sustenance. The Americans for Tax Reform, the Council with Citizens Against Government Waste, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the National Center for Public Policy Research supported the WPEC’s stance that this legislation does not only discriminate against a member of the America family but also makes CNMI dependent on the United States," he said.
WPEC was part of the tangled web of deceit. The Washington-based organizations backed the CNMI agenda, not because they believed in it, but because they were Abramoff tools. Actually, the CNMI was paying for these organizations to back their position through their lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, who Sablan called their "public relations firm." Just check the billing records. Every time someone from the lobbying firm so much as emailed or called someone from these groups the CNMI was billed. Cha-ching!

Abramoff treated directors of these conservative think tanks to all-expenses paid junkets to the CNMI. Audrey Helen Mullens, executive director of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, Amy Moritz Ridenour, president and chair of National Center for Public Policy and Andrea Sheldon Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition all took junkets to the islands. Each one returned to Washington, DC praising the two-tiered society that promoted indentured servitude. All denied that there were any abuses, labor violations or any problems with the guest workers- such an economic miracle!

Citizens Against Public Waste and the other organizations were accused of laundering money for Abramoff. The Washington Post covered the story in October 2006:
The Senate report released yesterday states that the nonprofit groups probably violated their tax-exempt status "by laundering payments and then disbursing funds at Mr. Abramoff's direction; taking payments in exchange for writing newspaper columns or press releases that put Mr. Abramoff's clients in a favorable light; introducing Mr. Abramoff's clients to government officials in exchange for payment; and agreeing to act as a front organization for congressional trips paid for by Mr. Abramoff's clients."

The report bolstered earlier revelations that Abramoff laundered money through the nonprofits to pay for congressional trips and paid Norquist to arrange meetings for Abramoff's clients with government officials including White House senior adviser Karl Rove.

The groups named in the report are Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform; the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which was co-founded by Norquist and Gale Norton before she became Secretary of the Interior; Citizens Against Government Waste; the National Center for Public Policy Research, a spinoff of the Heritage Foundation; and Toward Tradition, a Seattle-based religious group founded by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.
The Traditional Values Coalition funded the $13,000 trip that former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-CO) and his wife took to the CNMI in 1999. It was Andrea Shelton from the TVC who made a scene outside the Senate Hearing in March 1998.

Gale Norton, was Abramoff's friend and co-founder of CREA, one of the organization that laundered money for Abramoff. He directed his clients, Indian tribal leaders to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to CREA.

The Abramoff scandal hit the DOI with indictments of Steven Griles and Roger Stillwell. Before Norton resigned from her position as Secretary of Interior she visited the CNMI. In January 2004 Norton was the guest speaker at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce's inauguration dinner. The Saipan Tribune reported that Pierce, Fitial and other garment industry representatives were there.

Another Abramoff-commissioned writer, John del Rosario, wrote an editorial in the Willie Tan-owned newspaper, the Saipan Tribune saying this:
The National Center for Public Policy Research believes that any concerns about employment conditions in the CNMI be handled as they are on the mainland: by U.S. and local government inspectors who have the authority to enforce government employment regulations. These inspectors are on the job in the CNMI.
He ends the editorial with this remark, "The National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan Capitol Hill think-tank established in 1982." Non-partisan? Well, as non-partisan as Act Blue, I suppose.

Horace Cooper figures prominently in the CNMI billing records. He appears only once in the 2000 records:
9/22/00 1.90 Meeting with H. Cooper (Majority Leader Armey) and T. Casey (House Resources Committee) to review client interests in minimum wage, appropriation, and immigration bills; discussions with S. Vassell regarding appropriations projects; email update to J. Abramoff.
But Cooper has dozens of entries in the 1996 and 1997 billing records. My friend, Dengre from the Daily Kos, compiled a list of some of the entries:
3-13-96: Work on immigration bill Rule with calls and visits to Horace Cooper with Majority Leader Armey

4-15-96: Calls from Chris Myers with Chairman Crane; Horace Cooper with Majority Leader Armey and Matt Miller, AA for Rep Gutknecht regarding ongoing review of trip; possible committee/floor action on minimum wage and immigration issues important to CNMI

4-19-96: Meetings and discussions with Horace Cooper, Matt Miller and Chris Myers to frame issues and review questions for Friday afternoon meeting

6-10-96: meeting with Horace Cooper to review latest difficulties in CNMI; discuss ways to frame problems in a positive way, etc.

6-17-96: meeting with Horace Cooper to update on hearings, what to expect, latest DOI report.

7-9-96: Meeting with H. Cooper with Rep. Armey to review recent House and Senate Hearings and potential future actions by House and Senate staff, attempts to attach damaging language to appropriations bills and other vehicles between now and end of Congress; review issues with J. Abramoff;

8-29-96: Meeting with Leadership office staffers including H. Cooper, K. Knott and B. Gunderson regarding timing of September floor action, legislative priorities for GOP Leadership as related to Delegate bill;

2-24-97: meeting with H. Cooper, Leg Counsel for Majority Leader Armey to review agenda for 105th Congress leadership agenda.

4-6-97: Business dinner with Horace Cooper of the Office of Majority Leader Armey to discuss a range of issues.

5-13-97: Phone calls to the Hill to monitor a variety of issues; follow-up with Horace Cooper, General Counsel to-the Office of the Majority Leader;

9-4-97: call to H. Cooper (Majority Leader Armey) regarding fall floor schedule, Interior Appropriations bill.
Cooper was a seriously addicted Abramoff junkie always looking for more ways to score a stronger fix of greed and power. He was also a soldier in Majority Leader Dick's Armey, even having a private email address: armeyman@netscape.net. Armey, of course was a major "ally" of the CNMI.

Cooper's alleged illegal acts in conspiring with the CNMI garment manufacturer, Abramoff, and Volz and the unnamed CNMI garment representative were not victimless. When he conspired to stop or hide labor violations related to a Saipan garment manufacturer, he inflicted harm on the victims by covering up the violations and allowing them to continue. Volz tells Abramoff, "Horace has been good at inserting himself through reorganizations at holding off punitive action (could be couple million dollars) and getting some of the 'problems' moved to other offices."

Neil Volz who was named in the Cooper indictment had a history of corrupt dealings in the CNMI. He was the former chief of staff for convicted felon former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) who was identified in documents as Representative #1. After leaving the House, Volz joined the Abramoff team as a lobbyist. Volz was convicted in May 2006. In his Factual Basis for Plea it states (links added):
While Volz was a congressional staffer:
a. in January 2000, while he was chief of staff to Representative #1, Volz, with Representative #1's knowledge and approval, traveled to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands ("CNMI") in part to assist Scanlon and others with their lobbying businesses.

d. in March 2001, Representative #1 agreed to support legislation which would have permitted manufacturers in the CNMI to attach "Made in the USA" labels to their goods while exempting the manufacturers from compliance with federal labor standard applicable to manufacturers operating inside the fifty states.
The January 2000 trip to the CNMI is well publicized. Volz joined Michael Scanlon staffer of former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX) and Ed Buckham, former Chief of Staff for Delay, who was working as a lobbyist. They conspired to ensure that Benigno Fitial would become Speaker of the House so he could get Abramoff's contract renewed. They allegedly bribed two congressmen, Rep. Norman Palacios (Tinian) and Alejo Mendiola (Rota), to switch votes in exchange for promises of infrastructure projects for their islands. The scheme worked. (See this post, Bribes and Corruption in the CNMI for more on this story.)

The Cooper indictment reveals that their latest scheme was to aid the garment manufacturer to conceal violations by getting rid of the U.S. Department of Labor investigator:
73. On or about April 28, 2003, Volz e-mailed Abramoff, telling him that "Horace [COOPER] is talking with General Counsel at DOL to assess options [on the CNMI Garment Manufacturer issues]."

74. In or about late-April 2003, COOPER suggested to Volz that the best way to remove an attorney on the U.S. Department of Labor investigation into the CNMI Garment Manufacturer would be to identify an actual or perceived conflict of interest, which would lead to removal of that individual from the investigation.

75. On or about April 29, 2003, COOPER inquired of colleagues within the U.S. Department of Labor regarding the process for removing an attorney from an investigation.

76. In or about late-April 2003, COOPER told Volz that he was "putting someone in place in [the U.S. Department of Labor office in] San Francisco who could help with the next stage of the process - getting a negotiated agreement with DOL to stop all this madness."

78. On or about June 9, 2003, COOPER corresponded with an official at another executive branch agency seeking information on a "renegade attorney."

79. On or about October 5, 2003, Volz sent an e-mail to Abramoff updating him on the assistance he believed COOPER had been providing: "Horace [COOPER] has been good at inserting himself through reorganizations at holding off punitive action (could be couple million dollars) and getting some of the 'problems' moved to other offices."
80. On or about October 8, 2003, during a meeting between COOPER, Volz and a representative of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer in his office at the U.S. Department of Labor, COOPER reaffirmed his commitment to assist the CNMI Garment Manufacturer with respect to the U.S. Department of Labor investigation and advised Volz and the CNIMI Garment Manufacturer representative that they should direct their allies on Capitol Hill to contact the U.S. Department of Labor as another method of influencing the Department's position. COOPER never disclosed to his supervisors or other U.S. Department of Labor officials involved in the CNMI Garment Manufacturer matter that he was hosting this meeting with an adverse party.
In order to stop a professional labor investigator who threatened to expose and stop abuses, Cooper and the A-team conspired to have the attorney removed from the case. Wouldn't it have been a better idea to actually stop the abuses instead of covering them up and allowing them to flourish? In the minds of the A-team members news of abuses and violations would have put holes in their fabricated image of the perfect paradise, and those dedicated investigators had to be stopped.

The Abramoff-CNMI team wrote the playbook describing the tactics that are still used today - manipulate, bury the truth at all costs, and keep spinning that illusionary story of the economic miracle. The violating garment manufacturer appears to have gotten off at the expense of the innocent guest workers.

There is mention of another play from the Abramoff-CNMI playbook in the indictment. Getting "allies on Capitol Hill to assist." Elected members of Congress who had been treated to junkets or received favors and gifts from the A-Team penned numerous "Dear Colleague" letters, letters to the editor, and speeches that would be given on the House floor regurgitating the Abramoff-CNMI talking points. The CNMI and taxpayers paid for all of this, as the billing records indicate.

Who is the renegade attorney? The indictment contained the statement that Cooper had corresponded "with an official at another executive branch agency seeking information on a "renegade attorney." Was that "renegade attorney" former U.S. Department of Labor attorney, Faye von Wrangel who had moved to the Department of State to accept a position as Labor Attache in the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh? She was the attorney who successfully won a lawsuit against Tan Holdings that resulted in a $9 million settlement, the largest labor settlement imposed by the U.S. Dept. of Labor in U.S. history. Tan also had to pay $76,000 in OSHA violations and pledged $1.3 million in factory renovations. Over the years many more labor cases would be filed against the company, including EEOC cases against Tan factories that resulted in a $1.7 million settlement in July 2009.

Who is the investigator? I knew only one U.S. Department of Labor investigator from the San Francisco DOL office who worked in the CNMI. Kwok-Wai Lau was an investigator with the Wage and Hour Division, Employment Standards Administration. He was a brilliant bilingual investigator who could read, write, and speak fluently in the Chinese dialects of Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghai. He worked as an investigator with U.S. DOL attorney Faye von Wrangel on the Tan case in 1991 and 1992 so it would not be unlikely that it was Kwok who they were trying to silence. But any dedicated attorney or investigator who worked in the CNMI could have been the target.

Who is the Saipan garment manufacturer and who is the CNMI garment representative? We can only guess because the manufacturer and their representative were not identified, but the only garment manufacturer I saw mentioned in the emails or in the billing records was Willie Tan of Tan Holdings and Luen Thai. I believe that the garment manufacturer named in the indictment will prove to be Tan Holdings.

Tan and those connected to the garment industry poured campaign contributions into U.S. races of "allies" who they thought would push their agenda in Congress.

Willie Tan, Eloy Inos and Beningo Fitial were guests of Jack Abramoff's at the 1996 Republican Convention in California. Abramoff hosted Saipan garment magnate Willie Tan, his company executive, Benigno Fitial (former speaker of the CNMI House and present governor), and another Tan executive, Eloy Inos (former Secretary of Finance and present lt. governor

It appears that the three CNMI garment industry visitors had a busy schedule at the GOP convention. Abramoff billed the CNMI for five days of meetings, meals, introductions to conservative members of Congress, and parties. Strategies were developed including plans to recruit still more potential CNMI-backers for junkets to the CNMI. From the billing records:
8/10/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 2.70 Dinner meeting with W. Tan, E. Inos and B. Fitial re: CNMI issues—minimum wage , immigration and upcoming congressional elections and CNMI legislation; discussion re: upcoming trips of journalists and think tank representatives to CNMI and visits to Tan Holdings factory.
8/11/96 PP [Patrick Pizella] 4:30 Participate in event sponsored by Sen. Santorum's “FIGHT PAC” with W. Tan, E. Inos, B. Fitial and Senator Jim Jeffords (R-VT); follow-up luncheon/discussion with staff director of Senate Energy committee- G. Renkes; introduction of B. Fitial to Cong. Dan Burton (R-IN).
8/13/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican Party support for CNMI
8/13/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 4.00 Meetings at the Republican National Convention regarding Congressional Conservative Movement and Republican party support for CNMI
8/14/96 JA [Jack Abramoff] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
8/15/96 JB [ Jonathan Blank ] 8:00 Meet with Saipan officials.
In exchange for all of the opportunities to network and gather support, John Pangelinian, Publisher of the Tan-owned newspaper, The Saipan Tribune, made two $5,000 contributions to Santorum's Fight PAC in August 2006.

The Cooper indictment centers on emails that Volz, Cooper, and Abramoff exchanged, some during April 2003. In the Kevin Ring exhibits there is mention of two 2003 emails sent between Ring and Pierce, one sent March 27, 2003 and one sent April 22, 2003:
Exhibit 397 3/27/2003 Email from Pierce to Ring, "please review" and attachment

Exhibit 401 4/22/2003 Email from Ring to Pierce (no subject) and attachments
Pierce was the main spokesperson for the garment industry, and defender of Fital and Tan. He held high level leadership positions in the Western Pacific Economic Council (WPEC), the Saipan Chamber of Commerce and SGMA, the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association.

Pierce was also tight with Abramoff. In March 2000 he lobbied to get Abramoff's contract renewed using his position in the Saipan Chamber of Commerce in appealing to then Governor Juan Babauta. From the Saipan Tribune:
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce is urging the Babauta administration to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and retain the services of Washington lobbyists who could help the CNMI protect its interests in Washington D.C.

In a letter addressed to Gov. Juan N. Babauta, Chamber president Richard A. Pierce said that, although the Murkowski bill has been removed from the Senate calendar, thus removing imminent threats of a federal takeover, a similar bill may be introduced through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where immigration matters rest.

...Like most employers in the CNMI, Pierce stressed that the Chamber knows that, without the continued local control on immigration matters, there would be difficulties encountered in sustaining businesses in the Commonwealth.

“This local authority that provided skilled employees, where no local personnel were available, still affords a workforce where there are not even enough local hires to fill existing jobs created since the CNMI’s economy grew to what it is today,” he said.

In light of this, Pierce said the Chamber is asking the new administration to use every means at its hands, which includes the retaining of public affairs consultants, to protect the local control of immigration authority.
In the 2000 CNMI billing records there are these entries:
9/13/00 4.00 Conduct Democratic group client strategy discussion for 107th Congress; draft memos to R. Pierce; research on H.R. 4986; conference with A. Slomowitz on same; conduct WPEC/CMMI team meeting; review materials.

09/14/00 PP 1.30 Confer on phone with R. Holmes (LD, Hayworth R-AZ) regarding federal minimum wage law impact on CNMI; e-mail to WPEC team regarding M. Kirk (Nickels, R-OK) comments on minimum wage legislation negotiate; e-mail WPEC team response from C. Conda (LD, Abraham, R-MI) regarding S. 922; e-mail WPEC team regarding advertisement in RollCall; confer on phone with B. Loper (Delay, R-TX) regarding House appropriations issues.
The campaign to renew Abramoff continued. In February 2001 Jack Abramoff was in the CNMI speaking to various CNMI organizations and fans including Richard Pierce. From the Saipan Tribune:
The Saipan Chamber of Commerce’s Government Relations Committee held it’s first meeting of the year by inviting Mr. Jack Abramoff to speak to its members and other partners in the CNMI business and political community.

Those who sat down for the meeting were officials from the Chamber, the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association, the CNMI Contractors Association and members of the Saipan Bankers Association.

Also present were major CNMI business entities from the communications, shipping, and retail industries, as well as Senate Vice President Thomas P. Villagomez, House Speaker Benigno R. Fitial and members of the CNMI Bar Association.

Abramoff updated the committee on changes in the US administration, new jurisdictional Committee heads and expected federal legislation affecting the CNMI with emphasis on the continued control of minimum wage, immigration authority and tariff and trade privileges.

The Saipan Chamber of Commerce will continue to support any and all efforts, through friends and allies in Washington DC, to maintain the economic incentives embodied in the Covenant Agreement between the US and the Commonwealth.
In September 2001 Pierce organized an informal meeting with Abramoff and "some friends" according to the Saipan Tribune:
In what was described as an “informal” gathering, the CNMI government's lobbyist in Washington D.C. updated Commonwealth officials on the status of CNMI-related issues and bills now pending before the US Congress.

According to Richard Pierce, president of the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, Jack Abramoff of Greenberg & Traurig presented his federal legislative report and update at the Hyatt Hotel's Chinese Restaurant yesterday noon.
...“Abramoff was just passing through Saipan and I asked him to sit in and talk with me today with a few friends about the affairs back in Washington, D.C. It was not a formal meeting, just an informal gathering of friends, mainly community business people,” Pierce told reporters after the luncheon presentation.

Pierce said that Abramoff covered all issues pertaining to the CNMI with respect to minimum wage and immigration, the Miller bill, the Murkowski bill, some appropriation talks, changes in the US Senate, “just a lot of stuff over what's happening in Washington. Kind of an update on federal activity,” he said.

Pierce quoted Abramoff as saying that things have changed a little bit “and he told us a little about those changes-changes in the US Senate, a difference in the attitude that goes along with the difference in the administration in the United States.

“The issue of bills that would affect the CNMI, as varied as they are, is coming probably from a slightly different perspective or is being received differently based upon the changes in the administration,” he said.

Abramoff himself refused to issue any comments or statements to the media.

This was not the first time that Abramoff presented such a report, “as he has given these insightful, informative and fascinating perspectives into the Washington D.C. scene and affairs on prior occasions to the Saipan business community,” Pierce said.

When asked if he thinks there is still a need for a lobbyist, Pierce said that it is always good to have friends in Washington, D.C. “I don't think there's any doubt about that. The rights and privileges and protection that the Commonwealth has had until now have to be taken cared of. It's always good to stay on top of things. It's difficult for the CNMI government which is 8,000 miles away, to stay on top of it,” he said.
How does one "just pass through Saipan?" Pierce was still lobbying to get his friend another lobbying contract.

In August 2002, Pierce was in San Francisco representing the Saipan Garment Manufacturing Association in what the Saipan Tribune called a series of meetings with top U.S. Department of Labor officials:
The industry official was at U.S. Labor Region IX offices in San Francisco, California on Aug. 9, meeting with Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials led by Region IX OSHA Administrator Frank Strasheim and OSHA officials Connie Hunt and Adrienne Huey.
After the OSHA meetings in San Francisco, Pierce met with Judy Biviano Lloyd who is the Region IX Representative of U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. They discussed industry matters, progress in federal compliance and future cooperative efforts such as the Excellence 2000 Partnership.

The last round of meetings was with U.S. Labor Wage & Hour Division Region IX Administrator George Friday and his director of Targeted Enforcement, Rolene Walker.

Pierce said Friday has indicated his division's desire to sign a memorandum of understanding with SGMA, similar to Excellence 2000, the successful occupational safety partnership with OSHA.

Under such MOU, Wage & Hour would provide SGMA members with more educational consultancy to ensure increased compliance.
Friday also said the department would soon release a report on federal investigative findings for factories in Saipan. He stated that there are still issues to be addressed, but nothing on the scale of problems encountered in former visits.
Pierce found the meetings especially encouraging: “SGMA is, of course, pleased to continue our cooperative effort with OSHA. Our buyers are more than satisfied with the federal reports on our factory conditions.
Isn't this what the Abramoff-CNMI team did in the U.S. Congress? Make friends with those in power to cover-up abuses and move the CNMI agenda forward? Was the A-team using the same agenda in the U.S. Department of Labor that they had successfully used in the Congress to block federalization?

The indictment mentioned that Cooper conspired with a "high level official from the DOL" to reassign investigators:
55. On or about December 18, 2002, in an e-mail to Volz regarding the CNMI Garment Manufacturer's interest in postponing an upcoming meeting with the U.S. Department of Labor, COOPER claimed: "[I] just had a good conversation with [a high-level U.S. Department of Labor official] and she accepted my view that I should recommend to [another U.S. Department of Labor official] that the meeting be postponed."
56. On or about December 20, 2002, COOPER advised Volz that he spoke with a senior U.S. Department of Labor official regarding the rescheduling of the meeting.
57. On or about December 22, 2002, COOPER e-mailed Volz from his personal account to tell him about the meeting with the senior U.S. Department of Labor official, stating "While I think we're heading into the endzone (sic) on this, I'll continue with an update when I return from break on the 27th."
Could one of the unnamed senior officials who conspired with Cooper and the garment manufacturer be Judy Biviano Lloyd, the Region IX Representative of U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao who Pierce met with in San Francisco?

In October 2002 Pierce was back in San Francisco meeting with the Department of Labor officials. From the Saipan Tribune:
Pierce recently met with US DOL in San Francisco and anticipates signing a similar memorandum of understanding with them, as that with OSHA.
In May 2003 Pierce was in the news again. He was upset because there was news in the mainland that Saipan garment factories were under investigation:
Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association chairman James C. Lin and executive director Richard A. Pierce stressed that there are no SGMA member-companies that have impending association actions for violations of the group's Code of Conducts and/or non-compliance with federal health and safety laws.
“Imagine our surprise, when visiting U.S. Department of Labor officials, in a meeting we had on May 20, 2003 at our SGMA offices, showed us this front page newspaper story that five of our members may shut down and have actions to be initiated against them for violations of federal labor laws,” Pierce said.

He added: “Although SGMA suspended a member company from the association on May 12, 2003 for violations of the Code of Conduct and a board-approved conditional agreement, we have no other SGMA members in willful violation of our industry standards.”
In January 2004 Secretary of Interior, Gale Norton and Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) took toured a Sapian garment factory. From the Saipan Tribune:
“We had the opportunity to tour one [garment factory] today and see the workers at work, see the facilities provided for them, to ask about their wages and hours. I'm pleased to say that there has been a great deal of improvements and that we look forward to continued improvements but it certainly has made a lot of progress since the 1990's,” she said. “I was pleased with what I saw; I think the conditions that we saw were clean and were something that.it seems to be well-enforced and regulated and policed and it's also something that the companies are trying to do on their own.”

When asked if she saw any areas that could be further improved, Norton said that overall, the wages and conditions at this point are good “but I think over time we will see things getting better.”

“We were especially focused on things like the OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] requirements, health and safety kind of requirements and we do continue to see progress and we will continue to work with people on those issues,” she added.
Richard Pierce, outspoken pro-garment, anti-federalization Tan-defender appears to have been the point man for WPEC and Abramoff with the U.S. Department of Labor. He is the most likely person who could be the garment representative who met with Cooper at the U.S. Department of Labor. Yet Tan had many "representatives" including attorneys like Matt Gregory and consultants like Ben Fitial, former Tan vice-president.

We also know that Kevin Ring and Abramoff corresponded with Willie Tan and Ben Fitial as documented by the email exchanges introduced as evidence in the Kevin Ring exhibits. Their correspondence centered on discrediting a former garment factory work turned spokesperson for U.S. textile unions.

Tan did not just contract Abramoff as his lobbyist to protect the garment industry's interests, but he gave Abramoff hundreds of thousands of dollars to bribe members of Congress, staffers and clients with tickets to sporting events and concerts. On March 28, 2000 Abramoff sent Willie Tan an email requesting payment for suites at Camden Yards, MCI Center, and JKC stadium. The bill indicates that the total was $223,679 and Arbamoff was asking for the quarterly fee of $55,919.75.

Who was using these skyboxes? Horace Cooper for one. In 2000 alone the tickets he accepted from the A-Team for events at the MCI Center and Camden Yards were valued at over $2,000. Ring, Boulanger, Blackann, Copland, and many of the other indicted Abramoff co-conspirators accepted tickets.

All of the evidence appears to point to Tan Holdings as that unnamed CNMI garment manufacturer. A January 2006 article in The Standard states that federal agents were in Hong Kong investigating the Abramoff scandal. From the article:
Among the likely subjects of interest here is a previously unknown company called Rose Garden Holdings. In May 2002, Abramoff notified the US Senate that Rose Garden had hired him and Greenberg Traurig, his firm at the time, to represent Rose Garden's "interests before federal agencies and [the] US Congress."

Abramoff recorded Rose Garden's address as a luxury flat in Tai Hang, above Causeway Bay, and its business as international trade. Over the next year and a half, the records show, Rose Garden paid Greenberg Traurig US$1.4 million (HK$10.92 million) for putting its case to the Senate, House of Representatives and US Department of Labor.

Hong Kong's Companies Registry has no record of Rose Garden Holdings; nor does the telephone directory. The apartment listed by Abramoff as Rose Garden's premises has been owned since 1992 by Luen Thai Shipping and Trading, according to the Land Registry.

Luen Thai Holdings and its controlling shareholders, the Tan family, were leading beneficiaries of Abramoff's Washington lobbying.
Rose Garden Holdings paid Greenberg Traurig $700,000 in lobbying fees in 2002 and $720,000 in 2003 according to the Open Secrets website.

The Washington Times reported that Cooper is claiming his innocence:
"Horace Copper is innocent," his lawyer, Solomon L. Wisenberg, said Friday. "We are very disappointed the Department of Justice decided to go forward with these charges, and we intend to fight them vigorously in a court of law."
The evidence is stacked against Cooper. With most of the indicted defendants accepting plea bargains that require them to cooperate and talk, we can assume that those who have already been indicted are providing the evidence needed to convict Cooper and the other remaining co-conspirators.

©2009 Wendy L. Doromal


Anonymous said...

Too bad the WPEC or Rose Garden Holdings billing records aren't public. That would provide a feast of information.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another informative post, Wendy.

Whenever I read about the Abramoff scandal and the lobbying efforts, one thing always strikes me. That is how many of the details could be innocent, could be within the parameters of acceptable business as usual, could be legal.

Trying to discredit someone, for example. Lawyers think about this for every trial they have--who will testify and how could their credibility, their testimony be impeached.

The first amendment gives a right to free speech, even speech that is sometimes abhorrent. There's nothing necessarily illegal about being a stupid loudmouth or pushing around a lot of lies to "protect" your personal and business interests (unless you do that under oath or on mandatory reports to the feds, etc.).

Also, the "bribery" of local officials to support Fitial as Speaker of the House--was it only a promise of government projects for their constituents? Isn't this the kind of tit-for-tat that falls within the rubric of politics? Politics is so often about forging coalitions, even with those you disagree with on many levels.

And so I always come back to thinking how slippery the slope is, how the line blurs. How difficult it is to sort out this lobbying, and the "ethics" of it. It seems to me there is much real harm that can be done legally, and perhaps it is this this situation that encourages the crafty and unscrupulous to push the limits and slide over into the realm of dirty tricks and illegal tactics.

And so people who do have a lot going for them--education, talent, experience, etc.--get caught up in doing stupid things like accepting gifts of sky boxes and entertainment/sporting tickets.

The Abramoff scandal is really ugly. The whole sordid affair reeks of conflicts of interest and personal agendas by those elected to represent the public. Abuse of position and power, and an atmosphere that means we get poor governance, and real harm to a host of things, including our morals, the environment and most especially people.

Wendy said...

Anonymous 1:44

Your comment gives a good perspective. I think when I read the indictments it is the breach of public trust and waste of tax dollar money that I consider the most repugnant. The people who were indicted were either lobbyists, elected officials, former congressional staffers, or public employees. All of them ended up with some of our tax dollars in their pockets.

The elected officials such as Horace Cooper seriously abused the public trust. We are paying their salaries. We paid more than once in the case of the CNMI. (I mean taxpayers when I say we.) We paid the salaries of the US DOL officials, of the members of Congress, of the staffers and then the taxpayers also paid for the lobbyists because public funds were used when the CNMI was paying Abramoff.

Getting rid of an investigator, punishing them for doing their job is a disgusting act. It hurts the innocent investigator and it hurts the workers. That is not a victimless crime. Having an enemies list is chilling. The list really was a list of person who did their job, who went after the violators in the CNMI. I have no pity for those who participated in this.

The skyboxes were bribes. They accepted tickets in return for favorable action such as pushing legislation that would benefit Abramoff's clients. I am sure that Willie Tan knew that the huge amount of money that he gave to Abramoff for tickets was to be used to bribe people in power to push legislation favorable to the CNMI and garment industry's agenda. Imagine if that money was used to improve factory conditions, or pay the correct wages, or as a charitable contribution to PSS or CHC, or NMC? It was given so that Tan could protect his own selfish interests.

The Abramoff scandal is ugly because it shows a dark side of people, mainly people who the public trusted to protect others, do a good job for us and be honest.

the teacher said...

The notorious Saipan Chamber Of Commerce was a big supporter of Jack Abramoff and his corrupt influence peddling strategies. But the "chamber" move I find most repugnant, is lobbying to freeze (and stall) the CNMI minimum wage so another generation of youth here will struggle to find the American dream.

Anonymous said...

I lived on Saipan in the 90's. It was corrupt then and probably worse now. I know people there who have their names(a millionaire for one)on an employee list for the government collecting $18,000 a year without ever going to work a day in their life. Real close family there - real close. Check out those in Washington that allow this type of thing to happen.