Horace Cooper Indicted in Abramoff Scandal: illegal connection with CNMI garment manufacturer

August 21, 2009


Late today news broke that Horace Cooper, who was a top aide of former House majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) was the latest domino to fall in the Abramoff scandal.

Several of Dick Armey's staffers were among the very first staffers, think tank members, and members of the U.S. Congress to accept Abramoff-funded junkets to the CNMI. Horace Cooper was on the very first junket of many lobbyist-funded junkets to the CNMI taking his trip in April 1996. He was accompanied by David Hobbs, Armey's chief floor assistant, Kerry Knott, Armey's chief of staff, April Lassiter, communications and policy advisor for Delay and three other staffers.

Armey partnered with Rep To Delay (R-Texas) Ralph Hall (R-TX) and other ethically-challenged members of the U.S. Congress who allowed their offices to be used by Abramoff to push the CNMI's agenda, which included blocking federalization and minimum wage increases.

More recently Dick Armey has been in the news for his Freedom Works astroturf organization, which has encouraged conservatives to disrupt health care town halls across the nation during this August recess. (See this post: Poisoning the Healthcare Debate.)

Cooper was indicted today in the District Court of the District of Columbia for one count of conspiracy, one count of concealment scheme, two counts of false statements and one count of obstruction of justice.

The illegal activities involving Jack Abramoff and fellow lobbyist, Neil Voltz occurred while Horace Cooper held three separate U.S. government positions. Cooper worked as a staffer and legislative director for former Rep. Dick Armey from 1994 to 2001. He was employed as chief of staff with Voice of America from 2001 to 2002. Finally, he served as Chief of Staff with the Employment Standards Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor from 2002 to 2005. According to the indictment Cooper used all of these positions to benefit the lobbyists and their clients in exchange for gifts.

Who were the clients who benefited from these illegal activities? Woven throughout the indictment are statements concerning a garment manufacturer based in the CNMI. The indictment states that Abramoff and fellow lobbyist, Neil Voltz represented the CNMI garment manufacturer that was working with Cooper in his position at the U.S. Department of Labor and lobbyists Abramoff and Coltz to make charges against the garment manufacturer go away.

From the indictment:
In exchange for, influenced by, and rewarded with the stream of things of value, COOPER provided and agreed to provide a stream of favorable official action to, and to use his influence on behalf of, Abramoff, Volz, Firm B, and their clients. These official actions included, but are not limited to, assisting Abramoff in his efforts to secure from Voice of America and the U.S. Department of State federal funds for Abramoff's newly-formed television production business, and assisting Abramoff' s client, the CNIMI Garment Manufacturer, with respect to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor into the company's wage and hour practices.
Over the years Cooper accepted tickets to baseball, basketball, hockey and football games, and he accepted tickets to attend the U.S. Open in New York. He also accepted tickets to attend concerts including those featuring country music performer Alan Jackson, boy band, N'Sync, Bruce Springsteen, Amy Grant, Christine Auguilera, Destiny's Child, Dixie Chicks and Matchbox Twenty. Abramoff even hosted a Super Bowl party at Stacks for Cooper and 50 of his friends.

Abramoff also treated Cooper to thousands of dollars worth of free meals at his Signatures Restaurant, coming up with a scheme to conceal the exchange:
COOPER and Abramoff's associates utilized a scheme whereby COOPER would be served "comped" food and drinks at Signatures restaurant, but would typically present his credit card to the server to create the appearance that he was paying his entire bill. Instead of charging COOPER for the actual amount of food and drink provided, the server would charge COOPER for a nominal item, such as a lemonade or soft drink, and COOPER would leave a tip on the credit card. COOPER intended that this would make it appear to observers that he had paid for his Signatures meals and drinks when he actually did not. COOPER also dined at Signatures or other restaurants on numerous additional occasions during which his meal was either paid for directly by a lobbyist or dining companion or for which he left a cash tip and did not use a credit card in the manner described above.
His gifts even dwarf those taken by Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran's staffer, greedy Anne Copland who was indicted in February 2009. Cooper earns first place at the top of the greedy gift taker list.

Who was paying for the gifts? Abramoff or Willie Tan? An email exchange between Tan and Abramoff reveals that Tan reimbursed Abramoff for sky boxes used to bribe staffers. (More in an upcoming post.)

Clearly the illegal acts he engaged in while at the U.S. Dept. of Labor take up the bulk of the indictment. Abramoff asked Cooper to check out an investigation of the CNMI Manufacturing Company by the U.S. Department of Labor. From the indictment:
45. On or about October 15, 2002, Abramoff responded to COOPER's e-mail by stating: "What does Employment Standards do? I'll check on the tickets availability. . ." and ultimately agreed to provide COOPER with five tickets, which did not get used when the concert was cancelled.
46. On or about November 27, 2002, in an e-mail to a representative of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer regarding a pending investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, Abramoff informed the client: "I have a contact now at DoL who will look into this. . . he knows nothing, so you have to summarize the situation and give him the ideal action item."
47. On or about November 27, 2002, Abramoff informed COOPER both in person and by e-mail to his personal account that he would provide him with information on the investigation, and wrote a follow-up e-mail to the lobbying client and Volz, stating: "I saw [COOPER] tonight and he will take care of this."
48. On or about November 29, 2002, Abramoff sent COOPER a white paper on the U.S. Department of Labor investigation of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer.
49. On or about December 4, 2002, Abramoff e-mailed COOPER at his personal account, providing "more info on [the CNMI Garment Manufacturer's] situation. Please let me know what can be done."
50. On or about December 13, 2002, COOPER c-mailed Abramoff from his personal account regarding the U.S. Department of Labor investigation, stating: "Let's chat on Sunday. I think we can get something done here. The asst sec (my boss) appears to give me wide latitude to help oversee [Wage and Hour Division] people here."
51. On or about December 15, 2002, Abramoff infonned Volz by e-mail that: "Horace [COOPER] wants to meet with us to get marching orders on how to sort this out for [the CNMI Garment Manufacturer]."
52. On or about December 16, 2002, Abramoff and Volz discussed plans to meet with COOPER to discuss postponing an upcoming meeting between the U.S. Department of Labor and the CNMI Garment Manufacturer.
53. On or about December 17, 2002, Volz sent an e-mail to a representative of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer, requesting a list of "EVERY person you have worked with at Labor Department (and if you know whether they could be classified as "friendly" or "enemy") so we can get our contacts out here in touch with the right people at Labor to get meeting postponed as well as expanded [to other favorable topics]."
54. On or about December 17, 2002, Volz forwarded the requested list of U.S. Department of Labor employees working on the CNMI Garment Manufacturer matter to COOPER by e-mail at his personal account.
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."
61. On or about January 27, 2003, Volz e-mailed COOPER at his personal account regarding the CNMI Garment Manufacturer's issues with the U.S. Department of Labor, stating: "Nice seeing you at the Super Bowl party, Horace. Thanks for being willing to get re-engaged in this important issue. I will get you the names of the problem people at the regional level who are playing politics with this.
66. On or about March 20, 2003, COOPER e-mailed Volz from his personal account suggesting that they "get together to check on where things stand [on the U.S. Department of Labor investigation of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer]."
69. On or about April 7, 2003, Volz sent an e-mail to Abramoff, summarizing a luncheon meeting with COOPER several days earlier and explaining that "due to some of the reorganization efforts which Horace is helping out with (and the names we gave Horace) in December, somehow, several of our enemies have taken new jobs."
70. On or about April 21, 2003, after COOPER and Volz agreed to meet at Signatures to discuss the CNMI Garment Manufacturer issues, Volz sent COOPER by e-mail to his personal account additional information relating to the U.S. Department of Labor investigation of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer, stating that "this should lay it out a little more.
71. On or about April 22, 2003, after meeting with COOPER to discuss the CNMI Garment Manufacturer's issues with the U.S. Department of Labor, Volz summarized their meeting by stating that COOPER "[was] looking into the background of [a U.S. Department of Labor attorney] . . . and discussing with his team how best to proceed -and get the outcome we need," and asked a client representative regarding the U.S. Department of Labor attorney: "Do you know more about him as [COOPER] will raise alarms if he starts nosing around too much." suggesting that they "get together to check on where things stand [on the U.S. Department of Labor investigation of the CNMI Garment Manufacturer]."
72. On or about April 28, 2003, Volz e-mailed COOPER at his personal account,asking: "Can we discuss our favorite issue when you get a chance? Looks like class action case is moving forward quickly which changes the equation quite a bit. Thanks Horace."
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.
This indictment reveals just how low those entrusted to work for the public will go to enrich themselves. Trading integrity, morals, ethics and breaching the public trust to the for tickets and food?

The indictment also shows that Abramoff was not just out to benefit his clients and advance their agenda, which ultimately would result in renewal his lobbying contracts, but to advance his personal agenda as was illustrated in the VOA scheme. While working at Voice of America, Cooper assisted "Abramoff and one of Abramoff's associates with respect to their efforts to participate in a Voice of America broadcasting project and to secure approximately $10-15 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of State." According to the indictment this was connected to Mount Vernon Studios, a new business which Abramoff planned to use to obtain federal funding for the production of television content for Voice of America and the Department of State. He actually showed Abramoff a confidential proposal by a rival. From the indictment:
33. On or about June 25, 2002, COOPER e-mailed Abramoff from his personal e-mail account, armeyrnan@netscape.net, stating: "this is a test," causing Abramoff to send an e-mail to COOPER a day later stating that: "[Abramoff's associate] is jazzed and wants to do the studio deal! Things are going to move now!"
34. On or about June 26, 2002, Abramoff instructed an associate to establish an Internet domain for Mount Vernon Studios, the new business which Abramoff planned to use to obtain federal funding for the production of television content for Voice of America and the Department of State.
37. In or about early-August, 2002, COOPER met with representatives of a California-based production company interested in participating in the Voice of America broadcasting project and received a presentation tape that the company representative hoped would assist his company in being chosen to participate in the Voice of America broadcasting project and in receiving federal funding.
38. On or about August 8, 2002, during a meeting with an Abramoff associate regarding the Voice of America broadcasting project, COOPER provided the Abramoff associate with a copy of the California-based production company's presentation tape, shared sensitive information on the work that company had done in preparing its proposal, and promised to recommend to the State Department officials responsible for distributing approximately $15 million in funding that they should hire Abramoff's company, Mount Vernon Studios.
This indictment, like the indictments of former Rep. Doolittle staffer, Kevin Ring and former Rep. Tom Delay staffer, Tony Rudy is particularly damning to the CNMI. More than any other, Cooper's indictment concentrates on the CNMI garment industry and its solid ties to Abramoff. Which representative of the CNMI Garment manufacturer was in Washington, DC on October 8, 2003? Stay tuned...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

This latest info suggests there may be an indictment with Wiilie's name on it gathering dust in D.C.

dengre said...

Nice post.

Cooper's indictment presents a man without morals, conviction and honor. No doubt there are some more shoes to drop around this new development.

It also shows that the DOJ is basing indictments for some folks on illegal actions committed as far back as 1998. This should have many folks in tied to the sweatshops of Saipan worried.

This would be a good time to review Dick Armey: Our Man in Saipan from the Dallas Observer, 2-19-1998

Cheers

free and breezy said...

Can emails be used as evidence in court?
Isn't there a thing called the statue of limitations? After seven years you skate?

the teacher said...

Is it 7 years from the crime, or 7 years from the time the crime is discovered?

I wish the CNMI government would pursue and take all action available to prosecuting all perpetrators of these abominable crimes. The only way to clear our reputation is to have our residents and representatives seek justice with Wendy's zeal. Bribing the US Congress to profit on labor abuse should be worse than treason. Or to quote Chamberonomics I:

"Did you ever wonder why the world's most influential people have all visited twenty Caribbean islands, have vacationed countless times in Hawaii, own homes throughout Asia, and have never visited the tropical paradise here in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands? It is because the world's most influential people would never want their good name associated with the CNMI's international reputation for exploitation of poor, disenfranchised people by greedy garment factory owners. Any politician that denies this fact is a liar or should have stupid tattooed on his or her forehead. The most serious concern MVA should addressis our stained reputation for decency and equality.

We need to pack the textile industry remnants on a slow boat to China, sue them for human abuses, indict them for damage to our fragile environment, freeze their bank accounts here and abroad, and add another C holiday (C as in cockroach) on our calendar in memory of their exodus. The international community would applaud us for decency at the cost of economic hardship, and our reputation in the eyes of our children and the world would be on the mend."

captain said...

Teacher your comments are well taken. As you know, there can never be anything done in the NMI because the Gov controls the AG. Also the many people that "should be shipped to china" are most of the "connected" families here in the NMI.How many of the Legislatures , past and present were involved?
Fitial is another one involved and maybe if Willy gets indicted then Fitial may go down also along with Pierce, Paul Zack and many others. They all may fall anyway.

And many of us would like to know how the "statute of limitation" works, both under NMI regs and Fed regs. Maybe one of the lawyers out there could answer that.

Anonymous said...

Wendy - Was it Dick Pierce, Paul Zak, or confessed felon Mark Zacharas?

Anonymous said...

Mark Zachares.

Criminal Defense Lawyer said...

captain said...
And many of us would like to know how the "statute of limitation" works, both under NMI regs and Fed regs. Maybe one of the lawyers out there could answer that.

Wendy said...
Cooper was indicted today in the District Court of the District of Columbia for one count of conspiracy, one count of concealment scheme, two counts of false statements and one count of obstruction of justice.

In particular, here are the statutes from the indictment you helpfully linked to:

Count One: Conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371

Count Two: Concealment Scheme,
18 U.S.C. § 100l(a)(l), l00l(c)(l) & 2(b)

Counts Three & Four: False Statements, 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2) & 2(b)

The maximum imprisonment sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States) is five years. The maximum imprisonment sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (fraud and false statements -- statements or entries generally) for non-terrorism conduct is also five years. These are contained in the statutes themselves.

Offenses are classified according to the maximum term of imprisonment authorized by statute. See 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a) (Sentencing classification of offenses). An offense punishable by less than ten years but five or more years, is a Class D felony. 18 U.S.C. § 3559(a)(4).

However, the statute of limitations is generally five years for non-capital federal criminal offenses. 18 U.S.C. § 3282(a). Specific exeptions are set forth in 18 U.S.C. §§ 3281-99 (Chapter 213). I haven't read each of them, but just on the subject headings of each section, it would seem like none of them would apply, so five years it is.

Nevertheless, note carefully what Mr. Cooper is charged with. It's not the substantive crimes, corruption, misuse of government office, etc. It is, as Wendy pointed out, conspiracy, concealment, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

That kind of criminal cover-up can continue long after the original sordid deeds are long gone (but not forgotten), and thus can be prosecuted as separate crimes. Lying to investigators is a federal offense. So is destroying evidence.

And no, Captain, it is not true that "the Gov controls the AG."

But why haven't our legislators passed the constitutional amendment to have an elected AG? Who in the legislature is speaking up about that?

Criminal Defense Lawyer said...

I left out the link for Obstruction of Justice, 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), but you get the idea.

On the conspiracy, note paragraph 88 of the Indictment:

"88. On or about May 13, 2005, COOPER signed and filed an Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Report for calendar year 2004 in which COOPER concealed that he had received reportable gifts from Abramoff, Volz, Firm B, or their clients during calendar year 2004."

This is enough to bring in all the earlier acts of the consipiracy, just like the USAO did in the case of former Lt. Governor Villagomez in the Rydlyme case.

And sure, e-mails can be used in court, along with letters, text messages, and even testimony about smoke signals.

Wendy said...

Criminal Defense Lawyer

Thank you very much for explaining this!

captain said...

I and many else are also very glad about the clarification, I hope that you are correct about the AG office, as in the past it seems as if the Governor has control with the people he has put in this slot, I hope this new AG will do his job without interference. This person seems like he would as he has been there for many years and knows the "system" we shall see.
And yes the legislature will not,pass any elected AG, probably because they will get indicted also. (but only my assumption)
Lets see where this will go now.
Thanks again

Anonymous said...

An indictment(s) is(are) headed to the CNMI.

Anonymous said...

Noni 9:23

Who are you to say that? The U.S. Attorney General? If you have some specific knowledge, share it. Otherwise, I disagree with your wishful thinking.

Anonymous said...

"Stay tuned" is an expression which pretty much sums it up! The sordid aftermath of the garment industry will continue to haunt the CNMI for many years to come. The fact that one garment mogul paid almost $56,000 to Jack Abramoff for seats at various sporting stadiums in DC is probably just the tip of the iceberg.This gift was given to promote one garment factory and ,if it was made for the purpose of convincing US Department of Labor officials to compromise the results of a labor investigation on Saipan and destroy the reputation of a labor attorney in San Francisco, those involved should be punished accordingly. Where it all leads is anyone's guess , but we can rest assured that the reputation of the CNMI will suffer greatly. There is no happy ending!

Criminal Defense Lawyer said...

Notably, this line of dominoes would seem to lead to a garment factory owner or executive, not to a government official, which is somewhat of a silver lining.

It will be interesting to see what overt act the target may have taken within the past five years in furtherance of the conspiracy.

If he or she is well-counseled, I wouldn't think there would be any lies to (or even meetings with) federal investigators.

Anonymous said...

Criminal Defense Lawyer--Have you forgotten that our Governor is a former garment factory executive? What silver lining are you trying to promote?

Saipan Writer said...

Staying tuned--which representative was in D.C. on 10/8/2003?

A quick review of Saipan Tribune articles from around that time yields no answer.

Pete A (a government official, but not a garment mfg. rep) was in San Francisco on the 7th and back in the CNMI on the 9th, Guam on the 10th.

Ed Stephens (a Willie-Tan employee working for the Tribune) was in Orlando about the 9th for a conference on "bizjet" transports.

Governor Babauta was in the CNMI.

So garment manufacturing representatives?
Willie Tan
Benigno Fitial
Richard Pierce
Lynn Knight

Who else? Who is it?

And why do we want to know? Oh yeah: this bit from the indictment:

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.

I wonder if the CNMI Garment firm's lawyer was there, too? Now that would be interesting. :-)

Anonymous said...

My guess -Pierce