Tribal Chief Who Participated in McCain’s Sham Abramoff Hearings Has Died


Richard Milanovich, the Chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, who participated in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee sham tribal lobbying hearings, has died, inside sources said.

Milanovich was advised to fire Republican superlobbyist Jack Abramoff by a rival lobbyist, Scott Dacey of PACE-Capstone, who had represented the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin alongside Chesapeake Enterprises lobbyist Scott Reed in 2004, when McCain had called for hearings into Abramoff’s lobbyist. Reed, a McCain fundraiser who ran the Senator’s presidential campaign in Arizona in 2000, advised each of the Tribal Councils who had hired Abramoff on their participation in the hearings for a $10,000 consultancy fee.

(For background on how Reed sabotaged rival gaming interests within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, please refer to an article that appeared in the Village Voice on April 13, 2004, “A Dirty Trickster’s Bush Bonanza”: www.villagevoice.com/content/printVersion/182682/)

Recently, another tribal lobbyist, Tom Rodgers of Carlyle Consulting, who has admitted to coordinating the media and reform groups in a deliberate effort to set up Abramoff for prosecution, brought tribal members from the Wisconsin Oneida tribe to a National Press Club event where Abramoff offered his thoughts on reform.

Rodgers and his Native posse used the event to reiterate the false narrative against Abramoff and smear his name further throughout Indian Country. The Oneida representative, who had never worked with Abramoff, called the former super-lobbyist a “coyote,” or trickster, who should apologize to the Indians, based upon his misinformation he had received from Rodgers.

Dacey, who lost the client to Abramoff, shared articles on the superlobbyist’s controversial efforts to purchase the SunCruz gaming fleet in Florida to the attention of Milanovich in an effort to discredit his rival so that he could reclaim the client.

The PACE-Capstone lobbyist also reiterated Saginaw Chippewa witness testimony against Abramoff verbatim, arguing that it was “unheard of” for a non-Indian to interfere in tribal elections as the superlobbyist had allegedly done.

As tribal documents confirm, however, Larry Rosenthal of Ietan Consulting intervened in the Saginaw Chippewa election of 1999 to seat the tribe’s witness who advanced this false characterization before Committee leadership. A judge even characterized that intervention as “arbitrary and illegal.”

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee attempted to make the case that Abramoff and Scanlon had interfered improperly in this tribe’s election process in order to guarantee themselves lucrative contracts. However, sources within the Agua Caliente tribe affirm that the superlobbyist did not interfere in their tribe’s election, and Milanovich himself could not corroborate this characterization.

In his testimony, Milanovich said that he had “retained the services of Darryl Wold, a former Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, to conduct an internal tribal inquiry into whether (the lobbyists had violated) tribal law.”

However, this representation is disingenuous by virtue of what Milanovich did not disclose: Wold was not an independent investigator, but had, in actuality, been retained by Agua Caliente as counsel on a separate legal issue before the hearings were even held.

When queries were placed with Wold inviting him to discuss the results of his investigation, the former FEC Chairman offered this response via email: “Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can help you. My work for the Tribe concerning outside interference in the Tribal elections, including the results of my investigation, are confidential. I have been asked to refer all inquiries concerning this subject to the Tribe’s counsel, Art Bunce.”

Yet, Wold had served alongside Bunce in a case involving the tribe’s alleged violations of campaign finance disclosure laws in which both are listed as counsel for the Agua Caliente tribe.

Abramoff has yet to be charged with having violated tribal election law.

Milanovich was represented in the hearings by Akin Gump, a firm with extensive ties to McCain and which enjoys a “strategic alliance” with Ietan Consulting.

Both firms acquired a number of former Abramoff clients through the scandal. For example, Ietan acquired the Kickapoo tribe of Texas and Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Texas while Tyco International and the Agua Caliente retained Akin Gump.

Like other dissidents who appeared before the Committee, Milanovich, who was an extremely powerful and influential tribal leader, began pulling on heartstrings. “We have done nothing wrong, but still we are having our names drug through the mud,” he said, bordering on tears.

It is not clear why Milanovich was brought to testify in the hearings if not to lend the impression that Abramoff had consistently “victimized” each of his tribal clients.

According to the Committee’s Final Report, despite the millions of dollars the Agua Caliente had paid Abramoff, the tribe was potentially “damaged” by a mere $5,000 given to an Oakton, VA-based Sierra Dominion Solutions, Inc., run by Julie Doolittle, the wife of Congressman John Doolittle (R-CA).

After stumbling upon this accounting error, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee declared: “This gives rise to concerns that Abramoff defrauded the Tribe because the payments were not used for the benefit of the Agua Caliente.”

However, at Greenberg Traurig, clients were paid a fixed fee which included expenses. It was common practice at the firm was for the lobbyist who brought in those clients to determine a rate for expenses charged against the client since those fees diminished that person’s take on the client revenue.

So, if Agua Caliente paid $100k, the lobbyist could receive $30k of that as salary (or 30%, though it did change over time).

If a lobbyist wanted to bill against that fee (such as $10k for Sierra Dominion), then he would receive 30 percent of 90k and so on. The clients were not impacted at all by this, only the firm. Greenberg Traurig was knowledgeable about this practice.

Somehow the Sierra Dominion error amounted to careless oversight entangled in an accepted firm-wide practice and yet was portrayed in the Committee as evidence of fraud.

During Dacey’s representation, the tribe was sued by the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) after it neglected to report $7.5 million in campaign contributions years earlier.

Located in Palm Springs, California, the tribe was also being challenged by the state’s government after it missed a deadline for filing a report on political donations it had made in support of an Indian gaming initiative.

Reflecting the cavalier attitude of its leadership, Agua Caliente responded to these complaints by stating that as a sovereign nation, the tribe could not be sued unless it agreed to be sued – and that was not a concession the tribe was willing to make.

FPPC Spokeswoman Charity Kenyon immediately countered that constitutional protections for tribes were meant to be a “shield,” not a “sword.”

Before Abramoff replaced him, Dacey had also fallen out of favor with tribal members for representing two other tribes within Agua Caliente’s market share, including the neighboring Morongo and Barona Band of Mission Indians. Since tribal nations are essentially businesses with competing commercial interests, representing more than one tribe within the same market posed a conflict of interest for Dacey from the perspective of the Indians.

In order to prevent this conflict from recurring, the tribe requested that Abramoff sign a no-conflict cause before hiring him.

At the invitation of the tribe, Abramoff and his public relations executive, Michael Scanlon, met with a group of prospective Tribal Council candidates, who had formed what Milanovich called a “collaborating faction.”

Similar to nontribal elections, successful candidates are likely to hire professionals with whom they have an established relationship.

Once Abramoff’s allies prevailed, he and his public relations executive, Michael Scanlon, made their pitch for a contract, which would cost the tribe $150,000 a month for the lobbying effort.

Milanovich had even shared Abramoff ’s proposal with Dacey, who was allowed to pitch a counter proposal.

“From the outset, Richard was opposed to hiring Jack,” Dacey said. “As a businessman, he was concerned with getting the best value for his money. Richard preferred to work with me as I only charged between $5,000 and $10,000 per month. Anyway, Jim Wise and I put together a competing proposal. Their fees were unethical.”

The PACE-Capstone lobbyist could not fathom how his competition could deliver on his promise to obtain a gaming compact of unlimited slots for the tribe without making any concessions to the state in a revenue sharing arrangement

“Richard told me their plan made no sense,” Dacey said. “This was a Republican lobbyist telling the Tribal Council that he could get a Democratic Governor, Gray Davis, to sign an unlimited slot position for the tribe without paying any money in taxes. Jack said he would exert political pressure by getting a public relations machine in place, and that he would succeed through a grassroots effort. This was such baloney.”

What Dacey couldn’t imagine, Abramoff effortlessly delivered. For an investment of a few million dollars, the tribe might have reaped returns in the hundreds of millions – if not, billions – of dollars for a 99-year compact.

Scanlon successfully mobilized the tribe’s vendors and patching through their calls to the governor’s office, enabling each to individually express his support for the compact.

Since the vendors had a financial interest in the success of the compact, they were willing to make their case directly to the governor.

Despite achieving this highly profitable result, Milanovich told the Senate India Affairs Committee that Abramoff and Scanlon’s “ill-motivated actions were a critical element of what appears to be a scheme to obtain large and unjustified payments from the tribe.”

However, the failure of the tribe to reap the benefits of this compact was really not the fault of either Abramoff or Scanlon as the incumbent governor, Gray Davis, was recalled before the compact could be implemented.

While Davis’ staff was not on hand to affirm or deny whether the governor had approved the compact, an email from Tigua representative Marc Schwartz to Abramoff, which was released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, reported that this tribe had heard of the lobbyist’s results with the Agua Caliente tribe and “wishes it could be them.” (Abramoff was retained by Tigua for the sole purpose of acquiring a gaming compact.)

A source close to the Tribal Council, who worked with the lobbyist, indicated that Abramoff was retained to acquire two compacts for the tribe and that he was successful with the first.

In addition, during the Davis recall, Milanovich aggressively tried to block the Governor’s successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who opposed Proposition 70 during the November 2004 General Election ballot, which would have provided renewable 99-year gaming compacts for federally recognized tribes in the state.

Joining the governor in opposition were the California Taxpayers’ Association, the First Vice President of the California State Sheriff ’s Association, California UNITE HERE, and the California Senior Action Network. The only proponent listed on the ballot initiative was Milanovich, whose tribe contributed to the nearly $26 million treasure chest which supported its passage.

The tribe also contributed $10 million to the campaigns of Schwarzenegger’s rivals in an effort to frustrate this candidate’s efforts. In the end, however, Davis was recalled, and the tribe’s compact was left dead in the water.

In addition to securing a lucrative compact for the tribe (prior to the recall), Abramoff ’s team assisted the Agua Caliente with environmental concerns, state lobbying efforts, and federal issues, including but not limited to, federal appropriations, tax matters, public relations, federal-tribal relations, among other

“Jack was excellent in raising the federal taxation issue with tribes,” Dacey said. “In the end, Richard justified the multi-million dollar fees by saying that Jack promised to get it all back through appropriations and other deliverables. For all of Jack’s faults, he was incredibly brilliant and had this capacity to turn an issue on his head. He was a very effective advocate. It is really a shame that he was such a flawed character. When all was said and done, the tribe was not duped. Richard knew exactly what he was doing.”

After Milanovich participated in the hearings, he shored up his position of power on Tribal Council and eliminated his political rivals who had brought in Abramoff, Virginia Silva and Candace Patencio, whose reputations were maliciously smeared throughout the reservation to ensure they would not return to either challenge him or reclaim power.

Susan Bradford is the author of Lynched! The Shocking Story of How the Political Establishment Manufactured a Scandal to Have Republican Super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff Removed from Power. For more information, please visit: www.susanbradford.org.

© Susan Bradford 2012