By Suzanne Gamboa
Washington (AP) – A Texas tribe who casino was shut down after being targeted by convicted ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and several lawmakers settled a racketeering lawsuit against Abramoff’s former law firm, a tribe official said Tuesday.
The law firm, Greenberg Traurig, wasn’t named in the federal lawsuit filed by the Alabama-Coushatta tribe against Abramoff, former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and their associates. But tribe attorney Fred Petti said the settlement resolved things with all parties. Terms weren’t disclosed.
“We are satisfied with the settlement and are pleased to have the Abramoff matter resolved,” JoAnne Battise, the tribe’s chairwoman, said in a statement. “We are now focused on restoring our right to game so that we may create employment and business opportunities for us and our neighbors in the surrounding region.”
Announcement of the settlement came the day before the Texas House was to consider a bill that would open the door for the Alabama-Coushatta and Tigua tribes to conduct Class 2 gaming – such as pull tab and electronic bingo or games with prizes – on reservation land. Right now, only the Kickapoo tribe of Eagle Pass can legally run a casino in Texas.
Abramoff has been cooperating with the government after pleadings guilty in January 2006 to conspiracy, mail fraud and other charges admitting to bilking his Indian tribe clients out of tens of millions of dollars with promises to influence the decisions of Congress and the Interior Department.
The Alabama-Coushatta became entangled in the Abramoff scandal as Abramoff tried to drum up business from another tribal client, the Louisiana Coushatta, whose members are related to the Alabama-Coushatta.
The Alabama-Coushatta alleged in the lawsuit the defendants defrauded them, the people of Texas and the Legislature to “line their pockets with money” and benefit the Louisiana Coushatta tribe.
Abramoff told the Louisiana Coushatta that the Alabama-Coushatta’s casino, on its reservation near Houston, was competing for clients. He enlisted the help of Reed to launch opposition to the Alabama-Coushatta’s casino.
Several Texas Republican members of Congress, including former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, signed a letter demanding the Justice Department shut down the casino. It was closed in 1999 when a federal court ruled on a lawsuit brought by John Cornyn, then the state’s attorney general. Cornyn is now a Republic U.S. senator.
The Alabama-Coushatta had alleged that Abramoff and others conspired to defeat a bill in the 2001 Texas Legislature that would have allowed it to operate gaming on its reservation. Reed helped to rally Christians against the bill with a group he formed, Committee Against Gambling, the tribe alleged.