GUAM JUDGE HIRED D.C. LOBBYIST ABRAMOFF

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By Gina Tabonares First in a series

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Mar. 6) - Now it can be told. The decision to pay disgraced Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff significant sums of public funds to fight a turf battle between the Guam Superior Court and the Guam Supreme Court in Congress was made by Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena.

Lamorena’s link to the controversial lobbyist and how he orchestrated efforts to control the reigns of Guam judicial administrative power were shown in a paper trail uncovered by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Reform which launched an investigation into the lobbying work of Abramoff.

Abramoff entered a plea of guilty in one case, was sentenced to jail time, and is awaiting sentencing in another case. He is cooperating fully with prosecutors in Washington, D.C. by providing lists of his clients through his firm, Greenberg & Traurig.

The House committee subpoenaed Greenberg & Traurig on August 7, 2006. The committee demanded that the firm produce two categories of documents: all billing records from January 1, 1998 to the present related to matters involving Abramoff, and all records related to contacts between the disgraced lobbyist or any person working with him and the White House.

The documents included a detailed description of professional services rendered by Greenberg & Traurig to Guam officials and the exchanges of e-mails between former Superior Court administrative director Tony Sanchez, California-based attorney Howard Hills, and Abramoff.

Sanchez, who is now facing criminal charges involving the lobbying scheme that resulted in the disbursement of US$479,000 from the Guam court, was Abramoff’s constant contact who would communicate with Hills and the lobbyist using the code "Nobody Guam" with a yahoo e-mail address nobodyonguam@yahoo.com.

Using this e-mail address, Sanchez allegedly hatched a plan with Abramoff who, according to Hills, was under the direction of Judge Lamorena.

Camacho-Moylan endorsement

The exchange of e-mails indicated how Judge Lamorena asked the assistance of Abramoff on "three matters" -- confirming that Abramoff was not only tapped to lobby for the court but also for other political issues such as the campaign of Governor Felix P. Camacho and former Lieutenant Governor Kaleo Moylan.

On October 6, 2002, in an exchange of e-mails between Abramoff and Sanchez, local court officials confirmed the transmittal of US$440,000 and Abramoff’s solicitation of assistance for the Camacho-Moylan campaign. The team was then running in the 2002 gubernatorial election against Robert Underwood and Tom Ada.

Citing a poll conducted by the University of Guam where Camacho’s team was only up by 5 percent over Underwood, court officials asked Abramoff to get the endorsement of President Bush and other congressmen.

Sanchez was quoted as saying they needed Abramoff to counter Underwood, who went out for his own endorsement.

Abramoff, in his reply, assured Sanchez that Bush was willing to endorse and indicated that he had already sent an email to Moylan about the plan.

"I have e-mailed Kaleo but he does not respond to me. Have him check his e-mail and get back to me. I’ll get whatever they need from the Congress," Abramoff told Sanchez in his e-mail.

Sanchez also allegedly asked Abramoff if Camacho could make a request for federal appropriations of US$21 million for Guam’s sewer system, which they suggested should be supported by former Texas Representative Tom Delay.

Abramoff replied in all capital letters saying "the appropriations process for this year is over. We could do it for next year. Delay would not be public with his support, as he never supports appropriations requests outside his district publicly. We could definitely do this for next year, but it should be done in the context of an overall approach, as we do with our other clients. One attempts like this usually fails. They have to be part of an overall strategy."

Court officials also asked the power broker if Camacho wrote Defense Secretary Rumsfeld or President Bush to order the military to ship goods to Guam in case of a West Coast strike.

The idea was apparently brought up to counter Underwood’s conversation with Pacific Fleet and union leaders.

Abramoff answered: "Possible. Get me a sample letter, which Felix would write and what you guys want as a response from Bush. I’ll get them to them and see if we can get this for you guys."

The paper trail showed how Judge Lamorena allowed the disbursement of court funds that were also spent for other lobbying programs that appeared to have nothing to do with the Guam judicial system.

While the engagement letter made by Abramoff on May 23, 2002 accepted the court as one of his clients specifically to assist the presiding judge in a House bill that would amend the Organic Act of Guam to clarify the local judicial structure of Guam, the billing records of Greenberg and Traurig reveal charges for work done on a number of other matters, including Guam’s Application for Expanded Air Service.

Between January and March 2002, there were at least a dozen entries specifically referencing "Open Skies."

In July 2002, seven entries for Duane Gibson mentioning "performance roads" that appeared to be related to work done by Greenberg & Traurig on behalf of Koch Industries were also included in the Guam billing records.

Between October and December 2002, there were a number of entries specifically referring to federal grants. A couple of entries in November 2002 referred to the Craig Amendment, which is not related to the Guam judicial bill.

In late February 2002, there were entries for fees and expenses related to meetings with former Guam Senator Mark Charfauros.

A number of the charges for expenses appeared to be unrelated to any charges of fees for the local court. There were five separate limousine service charges for Abramoff in November 2001.

There were more than two dozen entries for expenses incurred at Signatures, Abramoff’s defunct restaurant in Washington, D.C., and more than US$13,000 in fees and expenses incurred by Neil Volz, who earlier pleaded guilty to honest services fraud.

Discrepancies were pointed out by Hills’ lawyer, Carol Elder Bruce, who also told Guam Judiciary Staff Attorney Bruce Bradley in a letter that her client forwarded a total of US$324,000 to Greenberg & Traurig on behalf of the court, but Abramoff’s firm only produced billing records accounting for less than half of the amount -- US$144,620.49.

In a confidential letter to Bradley dated Sept. 1, 2006, Bruce noted discrepancies in the timeframe of the Greenberg & Traurig billing records to the court as it included fees and expenses going back to November 13, 2001, which was six months prior to the lobbying engagement.

Furthermore, the fees and expenses for work done prior to the engagement totaling US$16,067.24 were not invoiced until Greenberg & Traurig’s fourth bill dated October 28, 2002.

Documents also showed how Lamorena initiated the Guam court lobby by retaining Hills as early as April 7, 1998.

According to Bruce, Hills was retained by the presiding judge to provide legal and policy advice to the Guam Superior Court regarding federal, state, and territorial models of judicial organization.

Hills also monitored congressional policies and activities in the U.S. Department of the Interior relating to the growing debate over Guam’s court organization.

At the request of Judge Lamorena, Bruce stated in a July 19, 2006 letter to the Guam Judiciary, Hills developed a comprehensive legal and policy analysis of how the court organization issue is related to the larger issues of Guam’s self government, including future adoption of a local Guam constitution and the resolution of Guam’s ultimate political status.

She disclosed that the analysis developed by Hills was presented to the presiding judge in meetings in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. over a three-year period.

According to Bruce, Judge Lamorena instructed Hills in 2001 to retain an expert on territorial policy, a former congressional staffer, Manase Mansur, as a subcontractor to assist the court.

It was the same year when Hills met Sanchez, who began supervising Hills’ work.

Hills’ lawyer also stated that contrary to the Office of the Public Auditor’s report, Hills was only paid US$76,000 for his services over the four-year period beginning in April 1998 and endingon May 8, 2002. Hills’ subcontractor, however, received US$90,000 for services.

Bruce said Mansur and Hills never performed any lobbying services, and the subcontractor simply monitored deliberations in the local legislature and Congress.

The court

Hills’ lawyer reiterated that the court hired Abramoff, adding that when she uses the word "court" it refers to Judge Lamorena who acted through Sanchez.

Bradley said her clients were used as part of the court’s broader scheme to conceal from the public the court’s retention of Abramoff.

She said, Hills proposed other less costly and less politically charged strategies to sustain the legislation in Congress, but this was rejected by the court, which instead contacted and sought the services of Abramoff.

"To now suggest that his accommodation of the court’s request for his assistance in referring the matter to Abramoff makes him (Hills) the scapegoat for the controversy that ensued is not something Mr. Hills can passively tolerate," Bruce said.

Hills’ legal services as retained by Lamorena are now being questioned by the present administration of the Guam Judiciary, which is asking the lawyer to return the fee for services that has no proof.

Bradley said there was no evidence to show what legal work Hills did to justify the original retainer of US$20,000 paid by the court in June 1998.

(To be continued)

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