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Abramoff scandal

Abramoff scandal, in U.S. history, political corruption scandal resulting from criminal conduct on the part of lobbyist Jack Abramoff (1959–) and his associates. Abramoff was a Republican activist while attending Brandeis Univ. and, through his leadership role in the National College Republicans, became friendly with such future conservative activists as Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed. Abramoff became a successful and powerful lobbyist after Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, widening his circle of powerful conservative Republican associates to include Tom DeLay and others, building a well-connected client base, and spending freely.

Although Abramoff and some of clients engaged in ethically and legally questionable activities, much of his and his associates' fraudulent activities involved Native American tribes grown wealthy from gambling. In 1995 he signed his first such client, the Mississippi Band of Choctaws; he quickly signed up several other tribes. Promising profitable links to the most powerful legislators in Congress and even to the White House, Abramoff collected huge commissions and directed the tribes to donate large sums to various politicians. He and his cronies pocketed enormous sums, channeled consulting contracts to associates, dealt in massive kickbacks, and treated chosen politicians to lavish entertainments. The tribes saw little if any benefit from their money; in one case, Abramoff worked behind the scenes to close a tribal casino in order to win millions in fees from the tribe.

Investigative newspaper reports finally brought Abramoff's activities to public attention. Caught (2000) defrauding lenders in his purchase of a fleet of gambling boats, he stood trial in 2006. He pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to bribe public officials, and was sentenced to nearly six years in prison. Largely as a result of the scandal, Representatives Tom DeLay and Robert Ney (R-Ohio) were disgraced, and Ney went to prison; a number of Abramoff's associates and White House and congressional aides were also convicted.

See Abramoff's Capitol Punishment (2011); studies by M. Continetti (2006) and P. H. Stone (2007).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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