Strange Twists in 'Casino Jack' Prosecutions Aired

By Andrew Kreig / JIP Director's Blog

As the movie Casino Jack debuts, a former client of  Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff described on MTL Washington Update radio Dec. 23 why the movie starring Kevin Spacey, at left, accurately portrays Abramoff's good qualities. Isidro Garza, Jr., the former Kickapoo Tribal Council representative with significant responsibilities at the Kickapoo Lucky Eagle Casino, the only legalized gambling facility in Texas, revealed for the first time why he has remained friendly with the notorious lobbyist through the years. Garza maintains that Abramoff, recently released from prison and a halfway house after corruption convictions, has taken more than his share of blame and has a great promise for making a positive contribution to society. Garza believes he was himself a victim of a political prosecution on corruption charges after he ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for a Texas-Mexico border congressional seat then held by Republican Henry Bonilla. Garza and his son, among others, were convicted on corruption charges and served some two years in prison. A federal appeals court vacated all their convictions, and remanded their case back to the federal trial court. They are free on bond after being granted a new trial.

"Jack did so much work without charging us," Garza says. "He worked very hard to use his contacts in Washington to help the Kickapoo Tribe get the casino off the ground, and he did a lot of good." Garza gave the New York Times the first photo of Abramoff at the White House at a meeting with President Bush and a Kickapoo leader at a time when White House officials denied knowing Abramoff. The denial was even though Abramoff's former secretary, Susan Ralston, had moved on to become the secretary of White House advisor Karl Rove. The latter is visible at the far right of the White House photo at right, separated from President Bush by Abramoff's client, with Abramoff visible over the President's left shoulder.  Casino Jack, which describes itself as as a dramatized version of events based on a true story, is a powerful tale of pervasive corruption in Washington.

Access the radio show nationwide on the My Technology Lawyer (MTL) network Live! or by archive later. MTL Co-host and Network founder Scott Draughon and I began the show we've done together for four years with an insider commentary on little-reported Washington news. Among the week's topics (summarized below) was news about politically motivated federal prosecutions during the Bush era and continued under Obama.  

Casino Jack, which is a different production from a documentary called Casino Jack and the Unied States of Money, released last spring and portrayed below, was the final film of Director George Hicklooper, who died suddenly last month, before the opening last Friday in New York City and Los Angeles.  The video trailer for the movie may be seen here.  The film is close to home for this editor, who works just two hundred feet or so from the restaurant Signature's that Abramoff' owned as a lobbyist hang-out virtually across the street from both FBI headquarters and the headquarters of the Justice Department.

The begining of our radio show will drawing on a shocking acquittal in New Jersey last week and recent developments in the WikiLeaks probe to explore why allegations of political prosecutions persist despite the conventional wisdom that the Justice Department pursues only justice -- and that the two political parties provide effective oversight plus checks-and-balances against the possibility of political abuse.  If you have a question call in to 866-685-7469, or send an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

These stories provide further background:

Harper’s No Comment, Rethinking Public Integrity Prosecutions, Scott Horton, Dec. 22, 2010. In the last month, Texas prosecutors secured a dramatic conviction of former House Republican leader Tom DeLay, and the Justice Department announced it was not going anywhere in its long-standing inquiries into ethics violations involving Senator John Ensign, Representative Jerry Lewis, and a number of other prominent political figures (including DeLay). These developments have led to pointed criticism of the Justice Department’s public integrity section, whose nose has been badly bloodied by a number of disclosures of serious misconduct, including a criminal probe focused on its past leaders arising out of their botched handling of a case against Senator Ted Stevens.

New York Times, Justice Dept. Is Criticized as Corruption Cases Close, Charlie Savage, Dec, 20, 2010. The Justice Department has shut down a wave of high-profile investigations of members of Congress over the past few months, drawing criticism that the government’s premier anticorruption agency has lost its nerve after the disastrous collapse last year of its case against former Senator Ted Stevens….“They’re gun-shy,” said J. Gerald Hebert, the executive director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that seeks greater disclosure of how money influences politics.  But in interviews, Jack Smith, chief of the Public Integrity Section at the Justice Department, and his supervisor, Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division, hotly contested the contention that prosecutors were in retreat from taking on Congressional corruption.

Salon/Unclaimed Territory, U.N. to investigate treatment of Bradley Manning, Glenn Greenwald, Dec. 23, 2010.  Both The Guardian and the Associated Press are reporting that the U.N.'s top official in charge of torture is now formally investigating the conditions under which the U.S. is detaining accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning.  Last week, I described the inhumane terms of his detention at a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, including being held 23 out of 24 hours a day in solitary confinement for seven straight months and counting as well as other punitive measures (such as strict prohibitions on any exercise inside his cell and the petty denial of pillows and sheets).

Huffington Post, Trial by Newspaper, Bianca Jagger, Dec. 23, 2010. I condemn and abhor rape and as an advocate of women rights, I will denounce any man who forces his sexual attention on women. I have found the sequence of events in the case against Assange, disturbing to say the least. At the end of the day, the issue here is justice and due process for all. Denying justice for men will not achieve justice for women.

Media Watchdogs
Meanwhile, we at the Justice Integrity Project have long been disappointed at the unwillingness of the Washington Post to delve into the outrageous miscarriages of justices we have been documenting. We've feared that a serious conflict of interest between the newspaper's public service mission and its power-broker role, including protecting its suspicous Kaplan revenue stream, is at the heart of the paper's shortcomings. For those reasons, JIP expanded its mission of legal reform to include media criticism, with our first major story about the Post's Kaplan conflicts earlier this month: The Washington Post's Hidden Agenda? We note below that this problem is attracting increasing public attention, including two major Huffington Post columns this week.

Huffington Post, At Kaplan University, 'Guerrilla Registration' Leaves Students Deep In Debt, Dec. 22, 2010. Managers at Kaplan--the highly profitable educational arm of the Washington Post Co.-- have for years pressured academic advisors to use this method to boost enrollment numbers, the former employees said, offering accounts consistent with dozens of complaints filed by former students with the Florida Attorney General's Office and reviewed by The Huffington Post.

Huffington Post, Kaplan Tarnishes Washington Post Legacy, Peter S. Goodman, Dec. 23, 2010.  Inside the corporation today, the newspaper is vastly overshadowed by a fast-growing business known as Kaplan Higher Education -- a sprawling empire of for-profit college campuses and sundry online course offerings alongside the test preparation business that first made the brand famous. The Kaplan name has be
en doing no favors for the Washington Post's reputation or that of the Graham family.