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Abramoff Co-Defendant Agrees to Help Prosecutors

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Justice Department prosecutors are increasing the pressure on indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Early next month, Abramoff is due to stand trial on federal fraud and conspiracy charges. Under similar pressure, yesterday his co-defendant pleaded guilty and agreed to help prosecutors. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

Adam Kidan pleaded in federal court in Miami, but the development is likely to make some people in Washington extremely nervous. That's because not even a month ago, another close associate of Jack Abramoff's did exactly the same thing--agree to cooperate with prosecutors in building their investigation of Abramoff and his lobbying activities. Washington consultant Michael Scanlon admitted that he and Abramoff conspired to defraud Indian tribes they lobbied for and conspired to bribe public officials. Outside the Miami courthouse yesterday, Kidan's defense attorney, Joseph Conway, didn't try to ease anyone's anxieties.

Mr. JOSEPH CONWAY (Adam Kidan's Defense Attorney): Mr. Kidan is committed to assisting both federal and state authorities in any pending or future cases that they might pursue.

OVERBY: Kidan pleaded guilty to charges arising from a business deal in 2000. Kidan and Abramoff, old college buddies, bought the SunCruz Casinos fleet of gambling boats in Florida. According to the government and now according to Kidan, they lied to their lenders, defrauding the lenders on loans totaling $60 million. Abramoff's lawyers had no comment on Kidan's plea, but Mark Elias(ph), a Washington lawyer specializing in ethics cases, said the plea might leave the defense to try to push back Abramoff's trial, now set for January 9th.

Mr. MARK ELIAS (Attorney): But there is no question that whenever that trial begins, this is going to be a powerful blowtorch in turning up the heat on Abramoff.

OVERBY: And Kidan's plea, along with the one from Scanlon, may induce Abramoff, the father of five, to consider his own deal with the Justice Department's public integrity section, which is leading this investigation. If Abramoff were to talk, the people he could talk about would be members of Congress, congressional staff members and perhaps other government officials. Again, ethics lawyer Mark Elias.

Mr. ELIAS: Anytime the Department of Justice, and particularly the public integrity section, has the ability to move up the food chain, from associates of lobbyists to lobbyists and from lobbyists to public-elected officials, they do. I mean, the public integrity section doesn't exist to pursue lobbyists.

OVERBY: One congressman, Ohio Republican Bob Ney, has a connection to the SunCruz deal. When Abramoff and Kidan were negotiating the deal, Michael Scanlon gave Ney's office two statements to insert in the congressional record. Ney did so. He criticized the former SunCruz owner, Miami entrepreneur Gus Boulis, and a few months later, he praised the new owner, Adam Kidan. Last night, Ney denied any wrongdoing. Responding to Kidan's plea bargain, he issued a statement saying, quote, "If Mr. Kidan conspired to commit crimes with others, I have no knowledge of that, and I was certainly never part of any criminal activity," unquote. But Scanlon's plea agreement cites the congressional record statements along with gifts and favors that Abramoff gave Ney as part of the conspiracy to commit bribery.

A darker element in the SunCruz case is also affected by Kidan's plea. After Kidan and Abramoff bought SunCruz and before the deal fell apart a short time later, the former owner, Gus Boulis, was killed in a mob-style hit. Ft. Lauderdale police recently arrested three men. One of them is a longtime acquaintance of Kidan's. But yesterday, Kidan's lawyer, Joseph Conway, said Kidan has agreed to cooperate in that case, too.

Mr. CONWAY: Mr. Kidan has no knowledge or had no knowledge of the murder. He had no participation in the murder of Mr. Boulis, and he stands ready to assist state authorities in their prosecution of that case.

OVERBY: It's not clear how much Kidan knows about either Boulis' death or Abramoff's lobbying. He attended Washington events with Abramoff, and congressional staffers were known to come down for jaunts on SunCruz boats. Conway predicted brighter days ahead for his client.

Mr. CONWAY: I think Mr. Kidan is happy as to where the proceedings are going at this point.

OVERBY: But it could be quite the opposite for some people here in the nation's capital. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.
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