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Choctaws spent $13 million to elect Riley, Senate reports

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A U.S. Senate committee reported that disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff told a tribal leader that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians spent $13 million to elect Gov. Bob Riley in 2002.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee issued a lengthy report that quotes William Worfel, former vice chairman of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, as saying that Abramoff told him that Mississippi Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin had spent the money "to get the governor of Alabama elected to keep gaming out of Alabama so it wouldn't hurt . . . his market in Mississippi."

The committee, headed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, used the ellipses and did not give the full quotation. It also did not say in its report whether it thought the comment was fact or fiction.

"It just obviously can't be true," said Jeff Emerson, Riley's communications director.

The $13 million would have represented nearly every dollar that Riley reported raising and spending in his 2002 campaign for governor, Emerson said. There were also no large expenditures by outside groups on Riley's behalf that could have been funded by Indian money, Emerson said.

Riley's opponent this year, Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, said she doesn't know whether Worfel's comments are true or false, but Riley needs to clear up the issue raised by the Senate committee's report, including explaining whether any Indian contributions found their way into political action committees that supported him.

"Thirteen million dollars of Indian gambling money illegally funded into an Alabama governor's race sounds like corruption of the highest level to me," Baxley said in an interview Tuesday.

Abramoff and his former associate, Michael Scanlon, have pleaded guilty in the extensive influence peddling probe in Washington and are cooperating with the Justice Department. Scanlon served as Riley's press secretary when Riley first served in the U.S. House in 1997. He later opened his own political business and became associated with Abramoff.

Both did work for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which operates two casinos in Philadelphia, Miss. The tribes wanted to keep down competition in neighboring states and build influence in Washington, the report says.

In the 2002 race for governor, Democratic incumbent Don Siegelman was pushing a state lottery that could affect Mississippi casinos. Riley, the Republican nominee, was opposing any expansion of gambling in Alabama.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee approved its report involving Abramoff, Scanlon and Indian gaming 13-0 today. Alabama Public Television's "For the Record" and The Huntsville Times first reported that the 2002 race for governor of Alabama is mentioned in a footnote on page 48 of the 373-page document.

In the report, Worfel said Abramoff made the comment about the Alabama governor's race when Worfel was talking to him about helping the Coushatta Tribe build influence like the Choctaws had.

Abramoff does not show up among Riley's contributors in his 2002 race for governor against Don Siegelman. But in May 2000, when Riley was running for his third and final term in the U.S. House, election records show he got a total of $1,000 from Abramoff and his wife. After Abramoff agreed to plead guilty to fraud, corruption and tax evasion, Riley announced he would donate an equal amount to a charity, Kid One Transport of Hoover.

Finance records

Alabama campaign finance records show Scanlon gave $100,000 in 2002 to four political action committees that contributed heavily to Riley's campaign for governor. The donations to PACs run by lobbyists Joe Fine and Bob Geddie were mixed with many others. The Fine-Geddie PACs contributed more than $625,000 to Riley's campaign for governor. But Alabama's campaign finance laws make it impossible to tell if any of the Scanlon donations went to Riley.

When Scanlon contributed the money, he was doing work for the Mississippi Indians.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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