Another Felon, Former Lobbyist Writes a Book

January 1, 2012

Team-Abramoff lobbyists with former CNMI Congressmen on Rota in front of Wedding Cake Mountain: (Left to right) Felon and former lobbyist, Neil Volz, former Tinian Rep. Norm Palacios, felon and former lobbyist, Michael Scanlon, former Rota Rep. Alejo Mendiola, and Speaker Boehner's new policy director, former Team Abramoff loyalist, Brett Loper (Photo by Jigsaw Productions)
It appears to be a trend for criminals to publish books about their crimes as a way to get closure, to seek redemption, or to gain public favor and acceptance. In November 2011 felon and former lobbyist, Jack Abramoff released Capitol Punishment, the Hard Truth About Washington Corruption From America's Most Notorious Lobbyist. In December 2011 convicted felon and former lobbyist Neil Volz, one of Abramoff's proteges, released his own self-published book, Into the Sun.

Volz was directly involved as a lobbyist with the CNMI's anti-federalization campaign. The lobbying efforts of Abramoff, Volz and others ensured the continuation of suffering and abuses for tens of thousands of foreign contract workers in the CNMI. Theirs were not victimless crimes.

Neil Volz had a history of dealings in the CNMI that included some of the most notorious dealings involving corrupt CNMI officials, including Benigno Fitial. Before joining the Abramoff team to become a lobbyist, Volz was the former chief of staff for convicted felon former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio). 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 other Abramoff lobbyists, Michael Scanlon, staffer of former Rep. Tom Delay (R-TX), and Ed Buckham, former Chief of Staff for Delay, in a trip to the CNMI with one goal: to get Benigno Fitial elected as Speaker of the CNMI House of Representatives so that Fitial could get Abramoff's expensive lobbying contract renewed. The lobbyists admitted to bribing 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.)

Volz may be the one former Abramoff-connected lobbyist who actually takes responsibility for his actions. He appears to have turned his life around and is currently working as a homeless advocate in Fort Meyers, Florida. I have not read Into the Sun, and I am hesitant to buy it since I am not sure I want to profit Volz. (Profits from Abramoff's book go to paying victims of his crimes.) Still, I am going to see if I can locate a copy in the library to determine if Into the Sun is another attempt at self-promotion or a sincere apology.

Capitol Punishment
In November 2011 I wrote a post about Jack Abramoff's book, Capitol Punishment. It is a rather self-serving attempt to re-write history and to portray himself as a man merely doing his job. About his book and a disappointing 60 Minutes interview with the felon, I wrote in part:
If Abramoff was trying to apologize for his wrong doings or seek redemption, he fell short. Redemption requires full admission and truth; forgiveness is seldom granted to those who cannot take full responsibility for their bad actions that cause irreversible harm to innocent people. He did not even acknowledge one of the thousands of people that he hurt. His were not victimless crimes. The victims included the CNMI's legal, long-term foreign workers. Abramoff came across like a sleazy snake attempting to shed his old skin to become a shiny new and better version of his old self. It did not work. He remains the same sly and less than honest conman.

The book contains such a distorted portrait of the CNMI that it is insulting to anyone with even a minimal knowledge of the history of the Mariana Island's over the last 30 years. In fact, if I did not know who wrote the pages on the CNMI, I would have thought that Governor Fitial or former Governor Tenorio authored them.

Abramoff's arguments in defense of keeping the corrupt CNMI labor and immigration system show ignorance of the reality of the true situation. Or is it denial because he realizes that his actions helped to perpetuate a system where tens of thousands of foreign workers became victims of illegal recruitment, scams, human trafficking, forced prostitution, and a host of labor abuses -unpaid wages, illegal deductions, contact violations and more? At any rate, it is an inaccurate and offensive view.

Abramoff stated that his father tired to set up a casino in the CNMI. It was his father's attorney, Randall Fennel who arranged a meeting between Governor Tenorio's niece, Brenda Tenorio and Jack Abramoff to seal the lobbying contract, according to the book. Abramoff wasn't the CNMI's first choice for a lobbyist to defeat federalization. Initially, the CNMI signed up with the lobbying firm of Verner Liipfert, but within a month Governor Tenorio wrote a contract for Abramoff.

In the book, Abramoff claimed that he defended the CNMI because he saw the "place with his own eyes." Either he is blind or he saw what he needed to see to defend some of the scummiest, most self-serving politicians ever, in exchange for millions of dollars in lobbying fees. While the dump was burning, the infrastructure was crumbling, schools needed repairs and tens of thousands lived in extreme poverty in ramshackle barracks, millions were poured into Abramoff's pockets.

His attacks of Rep. George Miller (D-CA), Alan Stayman, 20/20, Washington Post reporters and others who helped to expose the corruption, decry the abuses of the foreign workers and urge reform came across like he was a sore loser in a game of chess. The book is full of sour grapes and misplaced partisan criticism. He failed to mention that his own Republican hero, Ronald Reagan also complained about the CNMI guest worker program and warned island leaders to institute reforms. He also failed to mention that the takeover legislation that he fought so hard to prevent was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush.

Abramoff painted the Democrats as "hostile bureaucrats and Congressmen bent on their destruction." (Their meaning the people of the Marianas.) He claimed that Rep. George Miller (D-CA) was "vehement in his hatred of the CNMI." Abramoff is delusional, at best. Rep. Miller hates corruption, human rights abuses, and undemocratic systems, like the CNMI guest worker program.

Abramoff's narrative shows that if there is any hatred at all, it is his hatred for Miller and Stayman. He wrote about Governor Pedro P. (Teno) Tenorio's inauguration with disdain, stating that Rep. Phil English was "placed in a back row of dignitaries" while "Congressman George Miller and Interior Department Office of Insular Affairs head Allen Stayman, both implacable foes of the CNMI, were in the front row." In Abramoff's mind, those who support reform are foes.
Read the entire post here.

Since I wrote the article about Abramoff's book, several articles about Capitol Punishment have been published in the Saipan Tribune. They detail Abramoff's view of his lobbying effort on behalf one of his most profitable clients, the CNMI. The CNMI government spent an estimated $11 million to pay lobbyist Abramoff to defeat federalization of immigration, kill attempts to raise the minimum wage and to vilify advocates who documented the truth, myself included.

The Tribune reporter, Haidee Eugenio interviewed some of the key CNMI politicians who were intimately involved with felon-lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. Their remarks suggest that they are arrogant, self-serving politicians who fail to recognize the fact that they wasted over $11 million and inflicted harm to tens of thousands of foreign workers in the process.

In response to questions about the book, Froilan Tenorio was quoted by the Saipan Tribune:
“It was during my term that the CNMI collected the most revenue from 1994 to 1998,” Tenorio told Saipan Tribune. “After that, the economy kept coming down. Mr. Abramoff's work was worth the money. If he had asked for more money and if we had that money, I could have given him more. He was effective, successful in what he was hired to do, to prevent damage to the CNMI. We were helpless out here.”

Tenorio, also a former speaker, said if he were still governor today, he would retain lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

“For me, I'd rather have a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. than a [nonvoting] delegate. You can't compare the job of a lobbyist to that of a delegate,” he said.

Tenorio said Gov. Benigno R. Fitial is now just waiting for the next election when Congress could be controlled again by Republicans.

“I hope it will be a Republican Congress again so we can ask them to give us back control of our immigration,” Tenorio said.
What a distorted view Tenorio had then and maintains today. Abramoff successfully manipulated Congress and his clients to the detriment of the Indian tribes, foreign workers, and taxpayers. Does he seriously believe that corrupt lobbying work is a better solution than a delegate?

Tenorio is completely delusional if he thinks that any Congress would reverse its decision to federalize immigration and give back local control to the CNMI.

Fitial was quoted by the Tribune as saying:
“Mr. Abramoff can come here anytime if he wants to. If he comes here, I will entertain him as my brother.”
This remark is a direct reflection on the character of the top leader of the CNMI. Like a member of a mafia crime family, he wears his corrupt connections and illicit acts like badges of honor. He acts like he is above the law because he has never been prosecuted for any of his questionable acts, including interference in the election of the speakership in 2000. While most politicians aim to amass accolades for praiseworthy legislation, extraordinary public service or improving the quality of life for their constituents, Benigno Fitial, the governor of the CNMI accumulates scandals: massage-gate, election-gate, ARRA-gate, drug dealer driver-gate, Aldan-gate, OGA-gate, political party-gate, and on and on. While Republicans in the U.S. Congress attempt to distance themselves from any Abramoff or DeLay connections, the CNMI governor flaunts his connections. Stunning.

The Tribune also reported that Abramoff organized over 150 junkets for U.S. members of Congress, staffers, reporters, and those supporting the CNMI agenda. This is accurate; however, the article incorrectly suggests that Congressman George Miller (D-CA) was among the Abramoff junket takers. While the congressman did take a trip to the CNMI, Miller's trip was not arranged by Abramoff, nor was it paid for by CNMI lobbying money as the other trips were.

It was an independent trip that he made in January 1998 to attend the inauguration of Governor Pedro Tenorio and also a fact-finding mission arranged to determine the status of the the foreign workers and CNMI guest worker program. Unlike the Abramoff-CNMI sponsored trips that were mere dog and pony shows aimed at promoting the CNMI agenda, Miller's trip focused on interviewing officials, workers, attorneys, religious leaders, business owners and advocates. He made visits to barracks and work sites to determine the real status of the CNMI's foreign workers and the guest worker program. The report that Miller prepared after his CNMI trip painted a portrait of the CNMI where abuses and problems flourished "Beneath the American Flag."

In contrast, Abramoff's view of the CNMI was clearly portrayed as his client, the CNMI government paid him to portray it. In his book, Abramoff claimed that he defended the CNMI because he saw the "place with his own eyes." Either he is blind or he saw what he needed to see to defend some of the scummiest, most self-serving politicians ever, in exchange for millions of dollars in lobbying fees. While the dump was burning, the infrastructure was crumbling, schools needed repairs and tens of thousands lived in extreme poverty in ramshackle barracks, millions were poured into Abramoff's pockets.

It is interesting to see how felons and lawbreakers defend their actions and try to redeem themselves through public statements, interviews and books. In the end, it is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress to clean up Washington and introduce legislation to lessen the power and influence of special interest groups and lobbyists and restore a government for the people, by the people, for the people.

5 comments:

It's not your money! said...

Wendy,

You are spot on. Abramoff's ignorance of the CNMI and its recent history was readily apparent from the excerpts of his book quoted in the Variety. For example, according to him, the demise of the garment industry was due to federal minimum wage law and loss of local immigration control, when in fact, the WTO rules made the garment industry's departure a foregone conclusion more than 10 years ago. How many millions of dollars did we give to this ill-informed ideologue?

Anonymous said...

INYM: Actually, Jack is right. It was the wage increases that finally chased away the factories. Look at the dates they left versus the scheduled increases. Even with free U.S. access to Chinese garments under the WTO, there were competitive advantages to certain specialty products. SH3 t-shirts, for one. Or military clothing.

Moreover, there were proposals to reduce the CNMI content percentage introduced by Rep. Flake. Unfortunately, these were collateral damage from the extreme partisanship promoted by Tom DeLay and Abramoff himself, responded to in kind by George Miller (egged on by fellow environmentalist Ken Govendo) and Allen P. Stayman.

Anonymous said...

3:26 Facts, not hype. Do some research. Jack was not right. Fitial was not right. Tenorio was not right. It was new trade laws,not wage increases that made the greedy factory owners leave. The NMI knew about the laws and did nothing. Just like now. We're doing nothing to raise revenue thinking the US will bail us out.They won't. Maybe Jack will.

Anonymous said...

The majority were long gone before the wage increases kicked in.

Anonymous said...

You need to look at when the wage increases and immigration changes were proposed and enacted, not when they became effective. Employers are in the business of planning.

Read the contemporary press coverage, too.