A Defense of Honor By Howard L. Hills
This is the untold story of corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s exploits as a carpetbagger in America’s distant tropical island territories, and one man’s refusal to be “collateral damage” in the Abramoff scandals
When the Jack Abramoff scandals rocked Washington, leaders in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, senior Congressional staff and White House political appointees all were exposed to the unforgiving glare of saturation media coverage tying them to Abramoff.
By the time Abramoff landed in federal prison the prosecutorial frenzy his corruption triggered ensnared dozens of cohorts he corrupted. Prominent figures among Washington’s political elites joined an oddball cast of Abramoff’s cronies who were investigated, interrogated, and in some cases charged with complicity in his crimes.
An intriguing subplot to the Abramoff saga was played out in the distant U.S. territory of Guam. Press reports of Abramoff’s mischief in one of America’s tropical outposts triggered investigations by hyper-vigilant federal authorities. Disappointing scandal junkies everywhere, a 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Justice concluded Abramoff’s misadventures in Guam did not warrant further federal criminal investigation.
Local politics on the island produced a very different result for those in Guam with any connection to Abramoff. The Governor’s chief of staff, a senator in the Guam legislature, and a prominent judge in Guam’s local judiciary were among those targeted in local investigations.
The legal process in Guam was hijacked by politics, leading to false accusations against Howard Hills, a respected Washington DC lawyer and territorial law scholar. In this narrative Hills traces his journey from victim to survivor of Abramoff hysteria in Guam. Once the prey hunted by the press and a predatory local prosecutor, Hills becomes the hunter of truth.
Howard Hills was the only person indicted in the Jack Abramoff scandals never convicted by a judge or jury, who never plea-bargained for reduction of charges to a lesser offense, and never paid any restitution or fines. He appeared in court only once, voluntarily, to deny all allegations against him. He was never arrested, booked or fingerprinted, and voluntarily turned all evidence in his possession over to prosecutors without waiting for a subpoena or search warrant.
Having proved his innocence Hills stood his ground, and refused pressure from prosecutors to bear false witness against others. The fabricated case against him unraveled and was dismissed on motion of the prosecution. The prosecutor of record in his case stated in writing that Hills had been “fully exonerated.”
Exoneration by a prosecutor is rare, and political hacks in the Guam Attorney General’s unlawfully delayed dismissal of the charges even after they knew Hills was innocent. Only because one prosecutor followed the evidence to the truth was a miscarriage of justice averted.
“Answering false charges in the Jack Abramoff scandals, I had to deal with some of the most dishonest, unethical and corrupt people I ever encountered. That was just the Chief Prosecutor, a Public Auditor and the press. Abramoff and his accomplices in crime were pretty bad too! Malicious prosecution in our nation is a trespass against our freedoms. Because of what it reveals about our criminal justice system, my story seemed worth telling.” Howard Hills
Chapter One: Near death experience in a faraway place
Friends and colleagues now tell me national headlines that once linked me to the infamous 2006 Jack Abramoff corruption scandals make me an even more interesting person than I was before. My family and people we spend a lot of time with are comfortable joking with me about my indictment on multiple felony counts, and I find myself laughing and making jokes of my own about that bizarre episode in my life.
It would have been funny even then if the whole fiasco had not gone a lot further than it ever should have, at times making it menacingly plausible I could actually end up in a bright orange denim jumpsuit on an involuntary vacation in one of Guam’s teeming prisons. Legally the charges against me were laughable, but the political show trial at one point planned by prosecutors to destroy me was anything but funny.
As a legal document the indictment was like a very bad joke. The punch line was that somehow I had decided it would be a good idea to commit serial felonies in a zany corruption scheme in which I stood to gain absolutely nothing. My friends who were attorneys all told me the charges were obviously a political stunt, but after our first meeting with a Chief Prosecutor conspicuously motivated to do me real harm my lawyers were not amused.
So I was forced to choose between using the skills as an attorney that had served me so well in a 35-year legal career to exonerate myself, or make a deal with a Chief Prosecutor who was suppressing evidence of my innocence. When I went public with my rebuttal of allegations against me the Chief Prosecutor fabricated new false charges just to increase the financial burden of defending myself.
It soon became clear the case was about coercing me to bear false witness against local political enemies who were the Chief Prosecutor’s true targets. Since that was not something I could live with, there was no choice but to fight for my freedom as I never had before.
That is when the charmed life I was living as a successful civil rights lawyer and constitutional scholar came to a crashing halt. Suddenly, proving my innocence became my new full time occupation. Of course, being a victim of malicious prosecution does not produce income, and usually interrupts or ends the ability of the victim to earn income, forcing falsely accused target of prosecutorial abuse to deplete savings and incur massive debt. That is why prosecutors with weak unethical cases are often able to force innocent defendants into pleading guilty to lesser offenses not committed just to end the nightmare of false accusations.
In my own case, the forces arrayed against me included a politically corrupt Public Auditor who was in cahoots with the Attorney General’s unscrupulous Chief Prosecutor. Both of these dishonest officials once had career goals higher than the somewhat lackluster dead-end jobs they held. Now they were looking to make a big splash in a high profile case to win favor with their political patrons and the public, hoping to relieve the tedium and disappointments of stalled careers.
The Abramoff scandal in Guam was the big break the Chief Prosecutor had been waiting to exploit, and all he had to do was destroy a person he knew to be innocent. That was a sacrificial breach of his sworn duty he was willing to commit for the greater good of his own selfish ambitions.
But as it turned out the Chief Prosecutor was not intellectually or professionally up to the task of prosecuting a major case personally. So the job of railroading me into jail was assigned to an Assistant Attorney General who actually was a real courtroom lawyer, a veteran criminal prosecutor.
As the prosecutor of record in my case, the Assistant Attorney General proved to be tenacious and formidable, and for more than a year he was an unrelenting adversary. But when the evidence uncovered by me and my lawyers convinced him I was innocent, he refused pressure from his superiors to suppress the truth and obstruct justice to convict an innocent man.
He followed the evidence implicating the real wrongdoers. As a result, I was the only person indicted in the Jack Abramoff scandals who was never convicted by a judge or jury, never plea-bargained or pled guilty to a lesser offense, and never paid any restitution or fines.
I did not beat the rap with a slick lawyer who got me acquitted at trial. My case was dismissed on motion of the prosecutors when it unraveled. The prosecutor of record gave me a signed statement that I was innocent and had been “fully exonerated.”
Letters of exoneration from prosecutors do not come easy or often. In fact it is extremely rare. In my case it happened because I had been a victim of malicious prosecution by Guam’s corrupt Chief Prosecutor, and the only honest official in the case set the record straight.
Chapter Two: When the good guys are the bad guys
By 2008 evidence of prosecutorial abuse had become irrefutable in the controversial 2006 local criminal prosecution of corruption involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s misconduct in the U.S. territory of Guam. That is why the entire Abramoff case was abandoned by Guam’s Chief Prosecutor, who quietly moved for dismissal of all charges in 2009 to cover his own tracks.
By doing so, the Chief Prosecutor derailed a prosecution that should have ended in convictions for Abramoff, his law firm and his actual local cohorts. Instead of relying on solid evidence of real crimes, the Chief Prosecutor stubbornly pursued politically motivated charges targeting his enemies, based on unsustainable charges riddled with legal fallacies.
From December of 2006 to February of 2009, I was an on-again, off-again co-defendant in the Abramoff corruption case in Guam. The charges brought against me arose from an intense political and legal dispute between factions in Guam’s local government over legislation in the U.S. Congress reorganizing the territorial courts.
In 1998 I had been retained by the Presiding Judge of the Guam Superior Court as a federal territorial law expert to advise on legal aspects of the court reorganization controversy. Then in 2001 the judge assigned the court’s administrative director, Tony Sanchez, to coordinate efforts to sustain the court’s official position on court reorganization.
During this period I prepared an authoritative written rebuttal by the court to a report on Guam’s judiciary submitted to Congress by the Judicial Council of the U.S. Ninth Judicial Circuit. At the judge’s suggestion I also hired a legislative analyst in 2001 to monitor proposed court reorganization legislation in Congress.
Two-thirds of all fees paid by the court for these services in 2001 and 2002 went to the legislative analyst we hired. So from 1998 to mid-2002 when Abramoff was hired, the fees I received did not even cover my time and costs.
Thus, the Guam court matter actually was a drain on my thriving and highly profitable law practice at the time. I assisted the court in what I saw primarily as a public interest law project to promote sound federal territorial policy preserving local home rule for Guam.
Abramoff did not enter the picture until mid-2002, when the judge and Sanchez asked me also to hire the famous lobbyist’s law firm as my subcontractor. Since our legislative analyst and I were not acting as lobbyists, it was entirely routine to retain a reputable government affairs law firm to oppose the court reorganization measure pending in Congress.
The judge, Sanchez and Abramoff enlisted me in this seemingly normal subcontracting arrangement, which I welcomed in hopes the high-powered lobbyist could stop the bill, thereby striking a blow for self-determination on local government issues by the people in Guam.
Little did I know at the time that both Abramoff and Sanchez were setting me up as the fall guy in an election year political scam under cover of my contract with the court. Nor could I have imagined that the seemingly principled Abramoff was busy at the same time perpetrating massive fraud to steal $90 million from a partner in a shady Florida casino gambling deal.
Eventually it was revealed that in 2002 Sanchez and Abramoff already were working through mutual accomplices, including a Senator in the Guam legislature, to perpetrate a pay-to-play scheme to buy political influence in the White House and Congress.
The scheme carried out by Abramoff and Sanchez was funded by channeling legal fees paid to Abramoff’s law firm under my contract with the court for unlawful political campaign expenditures. That is how what should have been a simple and entirely lawful lobbying effort by Abramoff to kill a flawed judicial reorganization bill in Congress became an election year campaign finance fiasco.
Abramoff and his prestigious law firm worked for the court under my contract for only about three months, but that was long enough for he and Sanchez to engage in serial corrupt practices that led to seven years of criminal investigations and prosecutions aimed at numerous defendants. Because I was the only defendant mounting an earnest and credible defense, local authorities fed prejudicial leaks to the press intended to inflame public opinion and poison the jury pool in the event my case went to trial.
For Abramoff the 2006 Guam case was a minor nuisance compared to multiple federal investigations he was facing by then, leading to his conviction and years behind bars in federal prison. The infamously corrupt lobbyist soon would be faking atonement for gullible federal prosecutors who were elated that Abramoff was so eager to take members of Congress and White House appointees down with him. Jack was far too busy making it easier for himself with the prosecution to care if fallout from his misconduct in Guam had any consequences for me or anyone else he scammed and defrauded.
For me the Abramoff scandal in Guam was the first and only time my professional conduct or personal integrity had been questioned. Worse yet, because of Abramoff’s infamy the case was a headline story in Guam and the national media.
Unlike the federal investigations that resulted in convictions and jail sentences for Abramoff and his partners in crime, the prosecutions in Guam connected to his crimes failed to produce even one conviction. Of course, the national media had lost interest in the Guam case by the time it was dismissed.
Instead, the Guam case against me was noisily exploited politically and abandoned in near silence. Sensationally biased local and national media coverage had been followed by a rigged local public audit investigation and malicious abuse of the criminal process aimed at me by a dishonest Chief Prosecutor. It all turned out to be political theatre for local consumption rather than a plausible criminal case.
Initially I did not blame senior Guam officials for suspecting me of wrongdoing, because the version of events given by Abramoff and Sanchez created a perception of wrong doing on my part. But when I proved my innocence with clear evidence and local authorities reacted by bringing more false charges against me, it gradually became obvious that this was case was more about politics than law.
Eventually I was exonerated, only to then become the target of politically motivated prosecutorial suppression of public disclosures revealing the factual and legal basis for my vindication. I learned the hard way that defending one’s honor against false charges often can be a more punishing ordeal than plea-bargaining for reduced charges or even going to trial. In the warped reality of a malicious prosecution truth can become irrelevant, and it no longer matters whether you actually committed the crime charged or not.
Evidence of my innocence available at the time I was charged was ignored, and the criminal case against me was dismissed only after I endured malicious and illegal prosecutorial abuse for three years. The crimes of Guam’s Chief Prosecutor in the case were far worse morally and legally than the crimes alleged against Abramoff and his actual accomplices.
As a Christian I am called to bless my enemies and forgive those who trespass against me, just as I seek blessing and forgiveness from those against whom I have trespassed. But while vengeance is God’s that does not mean there should not be a day of reckoning that serves truth. If it can help one other person falsely accused and charged with a crime to stand against prosecutorial abuse, mine is a story worth the telling.
Chapter Three: Political witch hunt
At the time I was prosecuted unjustly in Guam the FBI and Congressional investigators aggressively were targeting anyone even remotely connected to Abramoff’s scams and schemes. Yet, I was never made the focus of a federal probe arising from my entanglement in Jack Abramoff’s controversial incursion into the local politics of Guam.
Indeed, federal investigators concluded there was no compelling evidence of a serious federal crime in the Guam case, and a 2006 Department of Justice report confirmed my account of the experience I had in dealings with Abramoff. Specifically, the DOJ report concluded my actions facilitating payments to Abramoff’s law firm created a “paper trail” inconsistent with intent to conceal or otherwise unlawfully manipulate fee transactions in the case.
In short, federal investigators determined I would not have made the fee payments to Abramoff’s firm in the manner I did if I was actively participating in a conspiracy to hide the court’s procurement of Abramoff’s services. That should have raised enough real doubts to end any discussion of complicity by me in the scheme to conceal court payments that had been hatched by Abramoff and Guam court official Tony Sanchez.
So it was not in Washington or at the federal level, but rather at the local level in the territory of Guam, that politics and prosecutorial ambition made me the target of legally ludicrous charges cleverly and deceptively framed to appear plausible. These trumped up charges in the case were filed in late December 2006 by a failed local Attorney General with days left in office after losing his bid for reelection.
The primary target of the original indictment was court administrator Tony Sanchez, who at the time of the indictment had been appointed Chief of Staff to the Governor of Guam. At the time I had been a legal advisor to the Guam courts, Sanchez and the judge he worked for at the Superior Court were both political enemies of the Attorney General just defeated in the 2006 election, who filed the criminal case as he went out the door.
The Chief Prosecutor of Guam who retained control of the case after the Attorney General left office also was aligned against the judge and Sanchez in the intense political war over court reorganization. Get the picture?
I was charged in the politically motivated case because the Chief Prosecutor wanted to bring sensational conspiracy allegations against Sanchez. In a recklessly cavalier manner I was named as a co-defendant instead of an unindicted co-conspirator, without even being interviewed by investigators to get my side of the story or evaluate my credibility as a cooperating witness.
I simply was presumed guilty of complicity in whatever crimes might be proved against Sanchez. Yet, there never was any evidence or even any allegation that I stood to benefit from my agreement to hire Abramoff and his firm as my subcontractor. Indeed, bank records proved I had nothing to gain and did not receive any fees, pay off or kick back from fees paid to Abramoff and his law firm.
Nor was there ever any evidence to sustain the allegation that I had committed the federal lobbying law violation that was a linchpin of the flimsy criminal case. Yet, the case against me was pursued aggressively because it gave gravity to the charges against Sanchez, who prosecutors hoped would incriminate his boss, the judge.
The first wave of press reports on political mischief by Abramoff and Sanchez hit the headlines during the 2002 elections in Guam. That was followed by a politicized investigation by the Guam Public Auditor leading to a 2005 audit report that absurdly tried to frame me as the mastermind of the scam run by Abramoff and Sanchez.
A lazy and cowardly LA Times reporter whose stories on U.S. territories I had debunked years earlier as a U.S. State Department lawyer saw his chance to get even and used the bogus audit report to do a hatchet job on me. His name was Walter Roche, and he was so devoid of journalistic ethics he even revealed in his articles that I was the source of documents implicating Abramoff, after promising confidentiality.
That caused Abramoff, who was wounded but not yet dethroned, to send me a threatening message that cryptically asked “Et tu, Howard?” The subtext was as clear as it was grandiosely narcissistic, meaning that if he survived, like Caesar or the mafia mobsters he idolized Jack would seek revenge.
While the press was pandering to scandal mania over the audit report that would later be discredited, that weird little man who was Guam Attorney General steered clear of the Abramoff case. But once voters turned him out, the Attorney General had enough time before leaving office to indict Abramoff cohort Tony Sanchez, who was his political enemy and had actively supported the candidate who defeated the out going Attorney General.
I was just a prop in this political charade in the local courts of Guam, which was never about Abramoff or even Sanchez, but about the 2002 and 2006 elections in Guam. In both those elections the same two candidates fought vicious campaigns that divided the island society.
As fate would have it, in the middle of the first of those two campaigns, from 10,000 miles away in Washington DC, I gave the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court where Sanchez had worked a legal opinion on court reorganization legislation in Congress. By doing so at that time unwittingly I was caught in the cross fire of incestuous local politics in two elections in which the same two candidates were rivals to be Governor of the island territory.
The criminal case brought after the 2006 election had a political rather than legal purpose, so the cowardly Attorney General who wanted to go out with a splash also was lazy and indifferent about the substance of the accusations against me. Instead of doing the work required to sustain legally credible charges, the indictment plagiarized the untenable legal theory of the politically contrived audit report.
I naively had never connected the 2002 scandal or 2006 criminal case to the elections in those same years, at least not until the political dynamics surrounding the scandal and prosecution were explained to me by a very reliable source.
Ironically, my source for insight on what Sanchez and Abramoff were doing to help Republican Felix Camacho defeat Democrat Congressman Bob Underwood in the 2002 and 2006 races for the Governor’s mansion was not Sanchez or Abramoff, supposedly my co-conspirators. Instead, my informant was the ultimate insider who gave me insider information better than the information available to the prosecutors, the press or the other parties in the case.
Chapter Four: Unlikely “Deep Throat”
My source for details on the dirty tricks Abramoff and Sanchez played on Congressman Underwood was none other than Underwood himself. The Congressman called me repeatedly before, during and after the scandal first erupted in mid-2002, and continued to call me after he lost the 2002 election. Underwood’s calls ended in 2003, but resumed during and after his second failed race for Governor in 2006.
My odd-couple collaboration with Guam’s elected Delegate to the U.S. House of Representative and two-time failed candidate for Governor began back in 2002 as the Abramoff scandal in Guam erupted. As the press implicated me in the fiasco I requested and received the judge’s permission to talk to members and staff in Congress who asked me to explain my role in the scandal. It was just basic damage limitation for me within the Washington network I had worked in for more than two decades.
Actually, it was because Underwood had called me to ask me about Abramoff’s work for the court that I told the judge we needed to get ahead of the controversy and let our supporters in Congress know we had nothing to hide. What I did not realize is that the judge’s top court administrator, Tony Sanchez, not only had a lot to hide, but he had everything to lose. Not knowing Sanchez was not just a supporter of Underwood’s opponent in the Governor’s race, but was virtually running the campaign opposing Underwood, I naively copied Sanchez on my e-mail to the judge reporting that Underwood was among those from Congress and the press calling me with questions about Abramoff’s contract with the court.
In an e-mail Sanchez had ordered me not to talk to Underwood, but when I read the lies Sanchez was beginning to tell in the press about my role in the controversy, I called the judge on the phone and told him I could not become part of the Sanchez cover up. The judge agreed with me that Sanchez was “out of control,” and he saw both strategic value and self-interest in having me try to set the record straight for our friends in Washington.
But at the insistence of Sanchez he judge admonished me not to talk to the press in Guam. That was a mistake on his part, because Underwood was giving me a lot of facts that enabled me to connect the dots on what had happened. The judge should have joined me in telling the truth to the press in Guam as well as our political network in Washington. I thought the judge would be just as motivated as I was to prove that he too had been unaware of any improper purpose in the actions taken by Abramoff and Sanchez in his name, as well as mine.
I even proposed that the judge hold a press conference to get the facts out, remind the public we had prevailed in Congress on the merits of the argument against the court reorganization bill, until a former U.S. Senator was hired by the judge’s political enemies to lobby for its passage. That left the judge little choice but to fight fire with fire by hiring a lobbyist to oppose the bill.
I wanted to go on the offense rather than merely defend what as far as I knew was a totally legitimate public interest lobbying initiative on the court reorganization bill in Congress, but the judge was having none of it. His refusal to speak to the press himself, or allow me to do so, defied logic, and I attributed that to the fact that Sanchez become apoplectic and raving mad when he heard that I wanted to “tell all” to the press.
I attributed that to a lack of political maturity that caused Sanchez to panic and over react to what I thought was a more or less normal crisis management problem for which the truth was the antidote. What I did not realize in that what was “telling all” for me was not all there was to tell. Sanchez had information about what he and Abramoff had done with the fees paid to Jack’s aw firm through me that I did not have, and I assumed that Sanchez and the judge had the same information I had at the time.
That is why Sanchez had demanded “Don’t talk to Underwood” in his e-mail, and that is why I called the judge to tell him I had to talk answer questions from Congress. Based on the judge’s permission to do so I not only spoke to other members of Congress and Congressional staff, I also took the next call that came in from Congressman Underwood.
That was when Underwood began to reveal to me the extent of the role the judge and Sanchez were playing at that time in the 2002 election campaign. That also was when I became fully aware of the extent to which the court reorganization bill in Congress had become a major issue in the 2002 local election campaign for Governor of Guam.
Of course, I was not talking to Underwood to try to help Underwood, I was trying to help my client, the judge, and help myself to understand what was going on. For me the frenzy in the press going on at that time in 2002 seemed like a tempest in a teapot. If someone had suggested I would get indicted and charged with crimes related to the Abramoff contract with the court I would have laughed.
At that time in my mind none of it had nothing really directly to do with the election in which Underwood was a candidate, and while I knew the judge supported his opponent the court reorganization issues had been going on for years and I saw it as a federal territorial policy matter far more than a local political dispute. Indeed, if asked during the election in 2002 I probably would have said that I thought Underwood would be as good a Governor as anyone else in Guam.
But I was never asked and didn’t give it much thought. Only much later did I even remember that Underwood had called me long before Abramoff was hired and asked for a contribution, which to me was just routine campaign fundraising by a member of Congress. At the time I had no clue the court reorganization issues I had been vaguely aware of for a decade, and advised the judge on since 1998, would become a huge issue in the 2002 election for Governor in Guam.
Even though I allegedly was his co-conspirator, I also did not know Sanchez was going to be an active high level player in the 2002 election campaign. I thought Sanchez was a career civil servant for the court, who seemingly was pandering to the judge because of the latter’s active role in the local GOP. So I saw Sanchez as an after-hours Republican gadfly in Guam, and I had never even heard of much less met Felix Camacho, the candidate for Governor who Sanchez and the judge were actively supporting.
In fact, as I told Underwood when he asked me in 2002 if I was supporting his opponent, I would not have known who Camacho was if I had been on an elevator with him. Moreover, if I had been told Sanchez would be appointed Chief of Staff to the Governor if Camacho won the election I would have been astonished.
When that is precisely what happened after the 2002 election, and it led to my indictment based on the idea that I had been part of a conspiracy with Abramoff and Sanchez to use court funds to finance Camacho’s political campaign, you can be assured I was, among many other things, quite astonished.
The calls from Underwood became infrequent until he began preparing for his 2006 rematch with Camacho. That was when he tried to recruit me to make public accusations against Sanchez, who indeed had been appointed Governor Camacho’s Chief of Staff. Underwood told me I could help him make Sanchez a liability for the Governor in the upcoming campaign. He even promised reporters would cast me in the role of a good guy who was a victim, and suggested that as Governor he might be able to help me extract myself from the scandal.
Abramoff, the judge, Sanchez and the elected Guam Public Auditor, Doris Brooks, all were Republicans supporting incumbent Governor Camacho in 2006, and each of them were only too glad to see me hang for crimes they knew I did not commit. So I probably should have taken up Underwood on his offer.
But at that point the whole lot of them, including Underwood, seemed so sleazy I had more than my fill of entanglement in the snake pit of local politics in Guam. After talking to Underwood on the phone I felt like I needed to take a shower in real hot water with a lot of strong soap.
So I declined to become a campaign operative for Underwood in the 2006 election, and never spoke to him again, except once after he had lost the 2006 election and I had been indicted. It was a weird phone call.
Underwood was bitter in a surly way about his defeat, and he seemed to derive perverse pleasure from gloating about my troubles. At one point he said, “Too bad you didn’t talk to those reporters I lined up for you, and too bad you did not help me win the election. You might not be a defendant in a criminal case if you had done what I asked you to do.”
That was cleverly sadistic, but it explained a lot more about Underwood than it did about me. Here was a brilliant man, so good at the political game in Washington he could have been Guam’s delegate in Congress for life. But voters back on the island who knew him best did not trust him to be Governor with power over their lives close to home where it mattered most.
The intellectual vindictiveness and acid tongue he displayed to me proved incompatible with local island values and manners. In the privacy of the voting booths in Guam, snide personality traits that served him well in Washington proved to be a liability rather than an asset in Underwood’s relationship to his own people.
Chapter Five: Dramatic new evidence of justice denied
I would not have had to put up with Underwood’s weird phone calls, rigged audit reports or malicious prosecution if I had gotten my hands on one piece of evidence wrongfully withheld from my lawyers by Abramoff and his law firm. I refer here to an e-mail mysteriously buried out of numerical sequence in the two thousand page archives of the Guam lobbying case.
This highly material document was in possession of Abramoff’s law firm for five years before my lawyers and I were allowed to know of its existence. The Attorney General’s office in Guam had the document for two years, but never disclosed it to the press or public.
The “lost” e-mail was discovered by an academic doing scholarly research on the case. The document was sent to me in 2010 as a professional courtesy and compassionate gesture, given its clear implications.
I should have been allowed to see this new evidence in 2004 when I first requested my
files from Abramoff’s law firm partners at Greenberg Traurig. If I had my lawyers could have built a defense around it.
The newly discovered e-mail to which I was denied access by the firm in 2004 offered definitive proof I was telling the truth about the lack of conspiratorial complicity between me, Abramoff and Sanchez. By the time it was discovered in 2010, however, I had incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and I already had been exonerated based on other exculpatory evidence that forced prosecutors eventually to dismiss all charges in the case.
Dated October 9, 2002, the belatedly obtained e-mail is a snapshot of Abramoff plotting diversion of court funds for a secret political campaign-funding scheme. The plot included hidden payments to Kimo Kaloi, a former Congressional committee staff member seeking post-government employment with Abramoff’s law firm.
In the message, Allison Bozniak of the Greenberg Traurig billing office asks Abramoff if I should be consulted about payments to Kaloi:
Bozniak: “Should I ask Howard about ‘expenses’?”
Abramoff’s reply confirms that Sanchez, and intriguingly unnamed others in Guam who were directing Abramoff’s work, had agreed to diversion of court funds for the Kaloi contract. This was just one of many other questionable “expenses” Abramoff pointedly reminds Bozniak that I was not being informed about:
Abramoff: “They approved an additional amount for a consultancy for Kimo
(Howard does not know, but Tony Sanchez does)…I think it was $36K.”
This e-mail is significant because the exchange is evidence of Abramoff’s agreeing with Sanchez to divert court funds, paid to the Greenberg Traurig firm as a subcontractor under my pre-existing legal services contract with the court. This is conclusive evidence that this and other “expenses” for which funds paid by the court were diverted had been ordered without my knowledge, even though I was the prime contractor.
This e-mail explicitly rebuts the allegation that I was in complicity or a knowing conspirator in Sanchez-Abramoff schemes that crossed the line ethically and legally. Evidence first developed in the case by my lawyers also shows that Abramoff and Sanchez diverted court funds for other so-called “expenses.”
The diversion of court funds for other “expenses” was proved not by prosecutors, but by my lawyers and me in our efforts to prove my innocence of the implausible charges in the original indictment. The illegal use of court funds we discovered included fees charged by Abramoff and other Greenberg Traurig partners against the retainer paid by the court to the law firm to obtain White House endorsement of Felix Camacho, the candidate Sanchez and the judge actively supported in the 2002 race for Governor of Guam.
The list of other “expenses” improperly charged against court funds also included lobbying work by Abramoff and his Greenberg Traurig partners for political leaders in Guam on federal civil aviation matters unrelated to court business. Court funds also were diverted to pay for political favors provided to a former member of the Guam legislature and other local politicians by Greenberg Traurig, in its pursuit of fat lobbying contracts with the government of Guam.
Some of these “expenses” were for services of Greenberg Traurig in the time period before the lobbying firm even had been retained by the court as my subcontractor. In other words, the firm was paying itself back from the court’s retainer for previous work performed for political leaders in Guam unrelated to court business. All of these unethical and illegal practices were exposed by the investigation done by my lawyers and evidence we turned over to federal and local authorities.
The newly discovered e-mail message is evidence that Abramoff and Sanchez were plotting to hire Kimo Kaloi immediately after his departure from a Congressional committee staff post, where he had been responsible for territorial policy, including legislation relating to Guam. It was a signature Abramoff strategy to co-opt or corrupt Congressional staff members by hiring them to serve clients with interests previously overseen in Congress by the staffers Abramoff recruited.
Indeed, the only reason Abramoff would hire territorial staffer Kaloi was that he had been the staff point man for the House of Representatives committee with jurisdiction over the Guam court reorganization bill. The fact that Abramoff clearly did not want me to know that he and Sanchez were using court funds for this and other improper “expenses” speaks for itself.
Chapter Six: A tortured tale of corruption
In 2002 local media in Guam exposed deception by Sanchez, intended to conceal use of court funds to pay for lobbying in Congress by Abramoff on the legislation to reorganize the territory’s court system. Ignoring bank records and e-mails my lawyers and I offered, the Guam Public Auditor and Office of Attorney General embraced false claims by Sanchez that I was not only a knowing participant in the improper use of court funds, but mastermind of the scheme.
Abramoff did not merely acquiesce in what he knew to be false allegations against me, but by his silence he aided and abetted this attempt by Sanchez and his cohorts to frame me for their crimes. After local charges were brought in the case in late 2006, evidence including e-mails offered by my lawyers confirmed my account of events, and revealed that Abramoff was under supervision of Sanchez, not me.
This demonstrated that if anyone it was Sanchez not me who directed the corrupt lobbyist in his brazen use of court funds to pay for political favors and perks for Guam politicians during the 2002 elections. Several e-mails that I previously had disclosed also proved I had confronted Sanchez over improper accounting for fee payments. This further established the lack of complicity on my part with the attempt by Sanchez to hide the payments.
E-mails acquired by prosecutors in Guam only because of my cooperation also confirmed that I had requested a legal opinion from Abramoff and his law firm about its compliance with federal lobbying laws in the matter. This was strong evidence I was not in complicity with Abramoff and his law firm in what turned out to be an unfounded allegation that the law firm attempted to circumvent the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act.
Thus, after the prosecution finally looked at the actual evidence in 2007, most of it the same evidence I had been offering since 2004, I quietly was dropped as a defendant in the case. A superseding indictment named Abramoff and the Greenberg Traurig law firm as co-defendants of Sanchez, instead of me.
The new 2008 indictment was based on evidence provided by my lawyers and me. In a press report by KUAM News on March 12, 2008, covering the indictment of Abramoff and his corrupt law firm, the prosecutor who was attorney of record for the Office of Attorney General in the case, Assistant Attorney General Lewis Littlepage, stated,
“Howard Hills has been cooperating with us fully, and it’s because of his efforts that we’ve been able to uncover a lot of the information that we have used.”
Evidence developed in the case established that court administrator Sanchez had directed me in writing to subcontract Abramoff’s law firm under my pre-existing contract with the court, and every action I took in the matter was pursuant to written instructions from Sanchez on behalf of the court. The evidence also showed that Sanchez fraudulently induced me to facilitate Abramoff’s hiring and payment of fees to the firm for what I was led by Sanchez and Abramoff to believe was legitimate court business.
Chapter Seven: Perfect Storm
The evidence in the case leaves no doubt that Abramoff and his partners at Greenberg Traurig acted in concert with Sanchez to use me as “cover” to conceal fee payments siphoned off to use for political matters unrelated to court business. The newly revealed “Howard does not know” e-mail also reinforces the evidence establishing that Sanchez was directing payment of fees in increments of $9,000 (e.g. payments contemplated for Kimo Kaloi totaling $36,000).
In 2005 a local government audit concluded the court’s payments to the firm were broken down into multiple increments of $9,000 to avoid public bidding rules, and thereby hide the payments from both public auditors and the press. It later was determined that Sanchez had concocted the entire scheme of $9,000 payments to evade and avoid procurement rules that did not even apply to the court’s contracts.
Ironically, the finding that the payment scheme later confirmed to have been directed by Sanchez originated the 2005 report by elected Public Auditor and local Republican leader Doris Brooks. Even though it made Sanchez look foolish, that was a necessary part of the attempt by Brooks to protect Republican Governor Camacho. The goal of the rigged audit report was to shift blame from Sanchez, then the Governor’s Chief of Staff, to the court’s contractor, Howard Hills.
Brooks gave Sanchez embarrassing but politically necessary cover by finding that the procurement rules Sanchez would later be proven to have circumvented did not even apply to the payments made to Abramoff as my subcontractor. At the same time she accused me of being not just the instigator of the cockamamie payment scheme, but also lead co-conspirator in the “plot.”
Even though it was not against the law and everything done was pursuant to e-mails from Sanchez, Brooks refused to look at or consider any evidence inconsistent with her report. Thus, the audit emboldened Sanchez to claim I hired and paid Abramoff on my own without telling the judge or Sanchez himself. The audit report by Brooks enabled Sanchez to persist in a cover framing me, even though his own e-mails confirmed that Sanchez initiated and controlled the hiring, payment and supervision of Abramoff.
For example, the evidence Public Auditor Brooks refused to look at included an e-mail Sanchez sent to me and Abramoff on May 17, 2002, with the following instructions:
“Howard, need ASAP 3 billings for 75/week beginning start of May. Remaining over next 30-60 days. OK w/ you Jack?”
I submitted the invoices for $75,000 as instructed in writing by the court, only to then receive the following e-mail dated May 23, 2002, instructing me to convert the invoices into $9,000 installment payments:
“…please send me 22 individual invoices at no more than $9K for payments as opposed to 3 x $75K.”
Note that Sanchez asked if his instructions were “OK” with Jack. In contrast, I was never consulted or informed by Sanchez with respect to the purpose or appropriateness of the $9,000 payments, never asked to confirm his reading of the procurement rules, much less told the purpose was to avoid rather than comply with those rules.
Indeed, without any explanation for the denomination of payments, I had been compensated in multiples of $9,000 from January of 2001 to April of 2002, more than a year and a half before Abramoff’s firm was hired. The totals varied between single installments of $9,000 and aggregated installments of $18,000 or $27,000. As noted, most of that funding went to my legislative analyst who, unlike Kimo Kaloi, was a bona fide territorial policy expert recommended by the judge.
So payments in multiple denominations of $9,000 for more than a year before Abramoff came along seemed routine and unremarkable. It was the absurd volume of multiple invoices and checks required in 2002 to pay Abramoff’s law firm much larger fee amounts in small installments that became extremely vexatious and caused tensions displayed in e-mails between Sanchez and me.
That is also when Sanchez began giving the press deceptive explanations for payments to the firm, and I began to suspect there was more than met the eye in his bizarre behavior. When the lies Sanchez told made me a target in the investigation of his conduct, after notifying the judge I voluntarily offered to disclose all of my own banking and e-mail records in the matter to federal and Guam investigators.
These records confirmed that I received no compensation from the funds paid to Abramoff or his firm, or even for my own services after the date Abramoff was hired. My e-mails confronting Sanchez over billing and accounting discrepancies and disproving his lies to the public and Abramoff’s law firm about fee payments proved I was not part of his scheme to misappropriate court funds.
To clear my name I also waived my right against self-incrimination and attorney client privilege so prosecutors could obtain records of the Greenberg Traurig firm. I was certain Abramoff’s law firm had documents that exonerated me, but the firm invoked a self-serving claim of client privilege to prevent release of the documents to investigators.
This certainly was not to protect me, but rather it was to protect other partners in the law firm from federal or local prosecution for complicity in Abramoff’s misconduct, which was amply revealed in e-mails and other law firm billing documents. My own lawyers advised me not to waive my rights because there might be evidence that could be used to incriminate me, even if unfairly.
I knew in my heart that I had never acted for an improper purpose, so I had to either believe and trust in my own innocence or not. It was a huge risk in a criminal proceeding that already demonstrated bad faith by my accusers, but it proved to be the right time and place to take a risk on my honor in order to redeem my honor.
Chapter Nine: Chief Prosecutor lets Abramoff off the hook
To manage and contain the Abramoff scandal his law partners at the Greenberg Traurig firm retained Henry Schuelke, a Washington DC lawyer who thrives on the misery of others caught up in sleazy scandals. In a private meeting and follow up phone calls with me in December of 2004, Schuelke personally used threats of retaliatory actions, including referral of evidence in my own files to the FBI in order to incriminate me.
Of course, Schuelke assured me that would not be necessary if I dropped my demand for access to my own files that I had requested to defend myself against allegations in the matter. He also demanded that I waive rights to fees I earned before Abramoff was hired, which Sanchez had paid to the firm instead of me.
Yet, in a legal paradox, because I was a client of the firm under the subcontracting arrangement, Schuelke and the firm were hiding behind my attorney client privilege and right against self-incrimination to keep my client files at the firm out of the hands of investigators. Again, this was at the same time Schuelke was threatening to use my privileged client files as evidence against me if I did not withdraw my claim for fees and access to my files.
Eventually e-mails obtained from the firm revealed that Schuelke’s real mission was to cover up crimes by partners in the law firm other than Abramoff, after Jack suddenly went from the firm’s celebrated rainmaker bringing in business for his law partners to someone no one in the firm really seemed to know at all. Clearly, the law firm’s most imperative priority was to prevent evidence of crimes by Abramoff’s law partners from becoming public amid the storms of controversy and on-going criminal investigations.
Ultimately, keeping a lid on the kind of evidence later found in my files until after the statute of limitations on criminal conduct by others at the firm had expired was Schuelke’s deliverable to the firm. He accomplished that mission and was handsomely rewarded by grateful firm partners who he saved from the threat of ruin and even prison.
For example, one of Abramoff’s partners at the law firm, Michael Williams, was revealed in evidence from my files withheld by the firm to have played a role far more explicitly improper than Abramoff’s. Thanks to Schuelke he was never charged for his actions.
On July 11, 2002, Williams wrote an e-mail to Congressional staffer Roger France that included the following “smoking gun” statements by Mr. Williams, concerning the court reorganization bill Abramoff was hired to stop and what Williams believed was the true purpose of the firm’s role:
“Our clients are a group of Republicans in Guam who do not want Underwood to gain this victory or win the 2002 Governor’s race. The bill is a political play by Underwood. Since the proponents of this legislation in Guam cannot pass the change in the Guam legislature, they are trying to get Congress to intervene. Underwood is pushing it because it is contrary to wishes of the Republicans in the Guam legislature. Underwood sees this as a way to win over more support for his gubernatorial bid.”
This statement arguably is more brazenly criminal than anything ever written or even spoken by Abramoff or Sanchez in furtherance of the conspiracy to divert court funds for political purposes. Williams actually makes a full admission of the actual motives and intentions behind the diversion of court funds paid to the firm for lawful lobbying on court reorganization legislation before Congress.
Just as the “Howard does not know” e-mail from Abramoff is compelling un-contradicted evidence of my non-complicity in the conspiracy of which I was falsely accused, this e-mail from Williams is a virtual written confession. It gave the Chief Prosecutor in Guam decisive evidence that should have been used to bring Abramoff and his law firm to justice, including Michael Williams.
Indeed, even the ethically challenged Williams belatedly recognized he had sent a written message to a federal e-mail address that outlined a criminal plot! Incredibly he incriminates himself even further by sending a follow up e-mail to the same Congressional staffer referring to his earlier message in a lame attempt at damage control:
“Please do not forward the e-mail below. It’s background only for your info. Thanks”
But the anxiety that caused Michael Williams to seek mitigation of the potential adverse consequences of his ill-advised and self-incriminating e-mail was short-lived. His apparently chronic lack of ethical sensibility is revealed in an e-mail stream dated July 24, 2002, which began with my request that Abramoff and his law firm provide a formal legal opinion confirming that listing me as the client of the firm on its lobbying registration form was in compliance with the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act:
Hills: “I am very comfortable with my role as a contractor for Superior Court procuring your services. I don’t think contracting to advise on court administration and then hiring you as a subcontractor to lobby requires me to register as a lobbyist. I am checking into that, but any views you have on that would be welcome. Will you list me as client on your lobbying report? I have no problem either way you need to do it.…arguably in reality Superior Court of Guam is the client even though I am the contractor who hired Greenberg Traurig. I think Greenberg Traurig should advise on that.”
On behalf of the Greenberg Traurig law firm Abramoff would later assure me in writing that the firm “stayed within the law.” But it was not until 2007, when Guam prosecutor of record in my case, Lewis Littlepage, subpoenaed and obtained my files from the law firm based on my waiver of privileges, that I saw for the first time the internal e-mails between Abramoff and his accomplice Michael Williams, regarding my request for a legal opinion on lobbying registration compliance.
In the e-mail of July 24, 2002, which was addressed only to law firm partner Michael Williams, Abramoff is inarticulate but caustic in tone, expressing a defensive disdain for my request that the firm provide a legal opinion on lobbying law compliance:
Abramoff: “This guy sure can run his mouth…”
Also employing bravado to deflect the anxiety triggered by my request – Michael Williams vituperatively replies:
Williams: “Whatever. Just tell him to send the other checks and we’ll keep kicking the shit out of Underwood.”
Like the “Howard does not know” e-mail, the message traffic between Abramoff and Williams confirming my good faith request for a legal opinion on federal lobbying law compliance was not given to my defense lawyers by the firm, and was never made public in Guam by prosecutors who obtained it from my lawyers. So I stood accused of conspiring to violate federal lobbying laws, while Abramoff’s law firm and the Guam Attorney General suppressed material evidence that I was not a co-conspirator, but rather the target of the actual Sanchez-Abramoff-law firm conspiracy my lawyers and I exposed.
Unfortunately, despite the uncontested evidence Littlepage gathered with my cooperation incriminating Sanchez, Abramoff, Michael Williams and their law firm, Guam’s Chief Prosecutor, Phil Tydingco, was either unable or lacked the fortitude to do his duty in the name of the people of Guam.
So instead of pursuing convictions and punishment including prison sentences, fines and restitution, Chief Prosecutor Tydingco was preoccupied with inflicting political damage on Sanchez and the local judge with whom Sanchez was aligned. As a result Tydingco failed to follow the evidence and bring the true criminals to justice.
Ironically, it was one of my accusers, Assistant Guam Attorney General Lewis Littlepage, who became formed an alliance with me to get our hands on the records Schuelke and Abramoff’s law firm unethically denied to me. In contrast to the law firm’s obstruction of justice, my willingness to waive my rights and give all my files in possession of the law firm to prosecutors demonstrated I had nothing to hide. I believed I would be exonerated by the truth, which I was once all the evidence had been examined.
When lead prosecutor Littlepage finally obtained the record of documents in the case that the law firm had not disclosed, Sanchez, Abramoff and the Greenberg Traurig firm faced new charges. If the files had incriminated me, Littlepage would have brought me to justice along with the rest of the wrongdoers. Based on the evidence in the files, however, instead of bringing me to justice Littlepage did justice in my case.
Again, unfortunately for the people of Guam, the Chief Prosecutor realized he was not going to be able to reap the career advancement benefit of indicting the judge for whom Sanchez worked, so the entire case against Abramoff, Sanchez and the law firm was dismissed. The last thing Tydingco was about to do was exonerate me.
The hard work done by professional prosecutor Lewis Littlepage, with my cooperation, could and would have resulted in convictions of Abramoff, Sanchez and his law firm, with large fines to offset the loss of taxpayer dollars sorely needed on the island. Instead of securing a remedy serving the best interests of the people he represented, Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco settled the case for what the law firm regarded as chump change.
Specifically, instead of taking on the real criminals, in 2009 the Chief Prosecutor let the Greenberg Traurig law firm off the hook by allowing them simply pay back $324,000 in fees received from the court in 2002. The deal even let the firm pay the fees back interest free!
No doubt Michael Williams and the rest of the firm had a good laugh about the tough talking Chief Prosecutor at the next partners meeting. There is no serious doubt the law firm would gladly have paid a lot more to make the last liability and embarrassment of the Abramoff case go away.
Instead, after exploiting the case for cheap political thrills the Chief Prosecutor in Guam let the real wrongdoers off the hook based on a shameless pay off. I had been dropped from active prosecution based on exoneration, but Abramoff, Sanchez and the fat cats at his law firm were allowed to evade accountability by paying a discount bargain basement ransom to the court.
No doubt Guam’s prisons are full of convicts serving sentences for lesser crimes who would be glad to pay restitution to the court and/or their victims to get out of jail. Yet, the press parroted the Chief Prosecutor’s explanation of the settlement under which the court received a $324,000 windfall to ease its budget problems, and there was no justice for the people of Guam who were the real victims of misconduct by Abramoff and Sanchez.
Anatomy of prosecutorial abuse:
If one went to the website of the Guam Attorney General’s office in 2006 the official photo of Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco showed him sitting at his desk looking severe in a conspicuously contrived way. Above his image appeared the heading, “Professionally Prosecuting the Guilty.”
Without ever going to law school, most Americans know that it is not just being hyper-technical to insist as a matter of first principles that no one who is being prosecuted can be presumed guilty. There is nothing more unprofessional than a prosecutor who does not rigorously honor the process by which courts and juries rather than prosecutors determine guilt.
Chief Prosecutor Tydingco’s open and notorious insensibility about the presumption of innocence provides context for understanding why the case against me was not dismissed with prejudice until a year and a half after the lead prosecutor in my case certified my exoneration.
If it were not for one honest man in the prosecutor’s office who stood for the truth and justice, in my case an innocent man would have gone to jail. Assistant Guam Attorney General Lewis Littlepage was the prosecutor who confirmed in writing, first in 2007 and again in early 2008, that I was innocent and entitled to dismissal of all charges with prejudice.
That meant I did not have to go to trial to seek vindication. But it also meant Tydingco never had to answer for his prosecutorial crimes and conflict of interest in my case.
For example, local and national press coverage of the case somehow failed to mention that the brother of Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco was a bureaucratic official in the Guam courts who was in a political blood feud with the judge I had represented, as well as my alleged co-conspirator Sanchez. The prosecutor’s brother Dan Tydingco played courthouse politics in my case at the expense of justice with impunity.
Thus, the picture that eventually was revealed is one in which Republican politician Doris Brooks, who was a former local legislator and elected Guam Public Auditor, trumped up false allegations based on the fiction that Abramoff and I had duped Sanchez in order to divert funds obtained from the court. Her audit report shifted the investigative focus to me, using my name eleven times, Abramoff’s name just three times, but never referring to the judge or Sanchez by name.
The audit report by Brooks also alleged that the court funds were diverted through fraudulent Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act registration forms that concealed the role of Abramoff’s law firm as the court’s subcontractor. The Chief Prosecutor then adopted that same bogus and demonstrably flawed legal theory in the Brooks audit report to accuse me falsely of being a co-conspirator in the diversion of court funds by Abramoff and Sanchez.
Chapter Ten: Corrupt audit spawns fatally flawed indictment
First year law students learn that conspiracy to do a legal act is not criminal. Guam Public Auditor Doris Brooks would get an F on her exam for unsubstantiated assertion that listing me as the client of Abramoff’s law firm on a required registration form was a conspiracy to violate the Federal Lobbying Disclosure Act.
Of course, since her own audit report concluded the method of payments Sanchez directed did not violate Guam procurement laws, the auditor and the prosecutors had to invent a crime in order to allege a conspiracy.
Although the Guam Attorney General and its courts lack jurisdiction to prosecute violations of federal law, the alleged LDA violation was cited in the indictment as a means of deception used to divert court funds for political purposes in violation of local law. My lawyers and I correctly insisted that Abramoff’s law firm had the legal duty to register lawfully under the LDA, not me.
The auditor and the prosecutors refused to look at the e-mails. Nevertheless, in the end it was the emails that proved I had exercised due diligence by making routine inquiries of the law firm, and was advised in writing by the firm that listing me as the client was in compliance with the LDA.
Once the LDA experts at Abramoff’s reputable Washington law firm had determined the registration form was compliant, the LDA registration issue was beyond my practical, professional or legal control. Thus, there was no evidence I had any reason to believe the law firm was violating the LDA, much less that I was in complicity with a conspiracy to do so.
In this regard, it should be noted that Section 5 of the official Congressional document entitled “Lobbying Disclosure Act Guidance,” published and periodically revised by the Secretary of the U.S. Senate and Clerk of the House of Representatives pursuant to the LDA, provides:
“Elaboration on the Definition of Client. In some cases a registrant is retained…on behalf of a third party. Generally, the entity that is paying the registrant is listed as the client on behalf of the third party. The third party, who is paying the intermediary (client), is listed…as an affiliate. Example: Client ‘P’ retains lobbying firm ‘F’…’F’ realizes that a boutique lobbying firm ‘L’ has an excellent track record for obtaining the type of outcome ‘P’ is seeking, and talks to ‘P’ about subcontracting…’F’ contacts ‘L’ to retain the latter to do the project. ‘F’ is responsible for paying ‘L.’ Within 45 days, ‘L’ registers disclosing ‘F on behalf of P’ as the client, and listing ‘P’ as the affiliate…”
Applying the elements of this illustrative scenario to the Guam court lobbying case, it is clear that I was acting temporarily as the court’s general attorney who hired and paid the law firm for lobbying services. The court was the affiliated third party whose interests were served by the lobbyist. I was not a registered lobbyist under the LDA at the time, but the law firm clearly had the duty to register in its capacity as my subcontractor, retained to lobby for the affiliated third party (i.e. the court).
The phrases “on behalf of the third party” and “on behalf of” as used in the guidelines were most recently included in LDA lexicon as part of a 2008 revision of these Congressional rules. With or without these revised guidelines back in 2002, it is clear the law firm followed a procedure closely mirroring what the LDA and Congressional guidelines contemplate.
However, even if the law firm had been in violation of the LDA, which in light of the rule quoted above clearly was not the case, the evidence proves I was not. Without the allegation that I had conspired to violate the LDA the 2006 indictment against me was null and void by its own terms, at least as it applied to me.
Perhaps that is why Guam Public Auditor Doris Brooks, Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco, and the latter’s brother, courthouse political apparatchik Dan Tydingco, all vociferously castigated me and my attorney in the press for refuting the allegation that I was in complicity with a purported violation of the LDA. A local reporter named Mindy Fothergill Aguon won a journalism award in 2002 for doing stories enabling and facilitating the character assassination campaign against me by these corrupt local authorities.
Aguon led the press attack on me and the truth. Whenever I tired to defend myself it was used against me. Thus, for example, when challenged by me and my counsel on the LDA compliance issue, the Guam Public Auditor doubled down on her incompetent findings and injudiciously attacked me personally in press reports quoting Brooks:
“Howard Hills, who claims to be a renowned attorney, had a duty to correct the misstatement, if he in fact was not the client and to inform the Congress as to who was the true client. By his silence, Mr. Hills allowed an alleged misstatement to go uncorrected.”
Turns out it was the inept Brooks who had a legal duty to be impartial and exercise due diligence before falsely accusing me. At a minimum she had a duty to read the LDA and Congressional rules for compliance before falsely accusing an innocent man of violating a federal law.
Since Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco’s brother, Dan Tydingco, was a local court official and a party of interest in the Abramoff court lobbying case, one would expect the Chief Prosecutor to recuse himself from the case due to that material conflict of interest. Instead, the Chief Prosecutor acted corruptly in collusion with his brother, who served as a mouthpiece for the prosecution, to attack me in concert with Public Auditor Brooks, as this KUAM report by Mindy Aguon exemplifies:
“For the last year, the local judiciary has been working with Hills’ attorney, Carol Elder Bruce, in an effort to recover monies expended on the lobbyist…Attorney Bruce went on to explain that her client now believes that the court with Abramoff deliberately took steps in 2002 to conceal from the public and others its hiring of Abramoff by using Hills to hide the fact that the court had hired and was paying a high priced lobbyist like Abramoff…But the Guam judiciary…isn’t convinced. Supreme Court policy, planning and communications director Dan Tydingco: ‘On the characterization of Mr. Hills…If you don’t know what you’re doing, you should know what you are doing. You’re on the hook for that…’”
Of course, as already noted it was the fatuously “tough talking” Dan Tydingco’s brother, Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco, who let the real bad guys off the hook, and in doing so sold out the people of Guam. Most prosecutors go after the little guys to get the big guys, but Tydingco went after the little guys and then ran away from a fair fight with the big guys.
So the real picture of Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco that emerges is not the crime busting image on his official website. Instead we see a schoolyard bully who picks on the weak but runs away from anyone who can fight back. Tydingco was not just lazy, avoiding the real work of prosecuting Abramoff and his law firm, like all bullies he was a coward.
The elected Public Auditor, Doris Brooks, along with the Tydingco brothers, “should have known” what the LDA law actually prohibits before making charges based on the LDA that were false, legally baseless, and that they could never prove. Those careless, dishonest autocrats are the ones “on the hook,” not just for being indolent and recklessly disregarding the truth, but for engaging in their own conspiracy to abuse their offices to advance political self-interest, through bad faith accusations against an innocent man.
Chapter Eleven: Chief Prosecutor more corrupt than Abramoff
In April of 2007 the Assistant Attorney General of Guam, Lewis Littlepage, who was the lead counsel prosecuting me, reached agreement with my lawyers on a cooperation agreement. Since I had cooperated fully from the start, I was perfectly willing to continue providing “substantial cooperation” to the Office of the Attorney General, in exchange for a binding commitment by the prosecution to dismiss the case against me with prejudice.
By mid-2007 I already had fulfilled the terms of the cooperation agreement, and had a right to dismissal of the case against me with prejudice. But by October of 2007 that cooperation agreement and right to dismissal under its terms had been overtaken and eclipsed by the determination of prosecutor Littlepage that not only had I cooperated fully, but that I was innocent. Specifically, on October 26, 2007, Littlepage, wrote to my local counsel in Guam, Anthony Perez, stating,
“This letter is to confirm that your client, Mr. Howard Hills, has provided substantial cooperation to the Office of the Attorney General…it appears your client was not involved in this conspiracy…Assuming the final review of the documents fully supports our initial review, Mr. Hills will be fully exonerated and cleared of all charges.”
The confirmation by Littlepage that I had satisfied the “substantial cooperation” standard triggered an immediate legal and ethical duty to dismiss the case against me with prejudice. Instead, the evidence shows that Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco prevented that from occurring. The proves Tydingco was acting for justice but as a political supervisor ensuring prosecutions were managed to serve the political agenda of the Attorney General’s office.
The Attorney General at the time was a close personal and family friend of Abramoff accomplice and Hills’ co-defendant Tony Sanchez, reportedly God parents to each others children, which is a big deal in the heavily Catholicized culture of Guam. So Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco’s supervisor, the Attorney General of Guam, was recused from the case. That meant the Attorney General ethically was at least theoretically required to stay out of the matter entirely, thereby supposedly leaving Tydingco unfettered to supervise the case to advance his own political agenda.
Of course, Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco knew his boss, the Attorney General, was watching and was close to defendant Sanchez. At the same time he was out to destroy Sanchez to avenge his brother, Supreme Court administrator Dan Tydingco. Balancing those conflicts of interests, the Chief Prosecutor’s game plan was to treat me as the mastermind of the Abramoff/Sanchez scheme to hide the court’s fee payments. Once I was pinned by the case against me, then I would be offered leniency for incriminating the judge, who was the real target of the Tydingco Brothers. Where Sanchez would end up and come out could then be exploited opportunistically by Phil Tydingco to promote himself.
The only glitch for Tydingco was the determination of Assistant Attorney General Lewis Littlepage to do the professional work of prosecuting the case based on the actual evidence. When the evidence proved I was innocent, and I also had met the “substantial cooperation” test of my agreement, Littlepage informed Chief Prosecutor Phil Tydingco that he was going to dismiss the case against me.
At that point, the Chief Prosecutor of Guam refused to approve dismissal of the case and gave Lewis Littlepage instructions that put the Office of Attorney General in breach of the cooperation agreement. The Chief Prosecutor’s orders also violated the rules of professional ethics and the criminal law of Guam, which make it unlawful to hold a defendant known to be innocent under indictment.
Instead of doing his sworn legal duty, Chief Prosecutor Tydingco ordered Littlepage to go back to square one before the cooperation agreement and interrogate me again, for what become the glaringly obvious and utterly unconscionable purpose of seeking yet again to obtain evidence incriminating the judge. The demand to put me under new interrogation was a blatant and venal attempt to hold dismissal of my case hostage to the vendetta of the Chief Prosecutor and his brother against the judge and Sanchez.
Littlepage gave my attorney advance notice and get permission to contact and question me about the case again. My attorney advised against it, but I waived my right to have counsel present and spoke with Littlepage over the phone. I was eager to do so, because I wanted to hear from Littlepage himself an explanation of how it was possible that the case had not been dismissed as required by the agreement we made and by the law.
The cautious Littlepage followed orders from the Chief Prosecutor but conducted a telephone interview with me that revealed the focus of his superiors was on the question of what the judge knew and when he knew it. When I had answered his questions the same way I had every time he had asked the same questions before, he asked me to memorialize my answers in writing.
Accordingly, on January 17, 2008, I sent the following statement to Littlepage at the Office of the Attorney General of Guam:
“I make this statement at your request to further re-confirm that I have no knowledge of any unlawful actions by Superior Court Presiding Judge Alberto Lamorena in connection with the retention of the Greenberg Traurig law firm in 2002. As far as I know the decision by the Superior Court to retain Greenberg Traurig and use the services of Jack Abramoff was implemented in the manner directed and managed by Superior Court Administrative Director Anthony Sanchez. This statement is the same as and affirms the prior statements I have made to you regarding this matter.”
When I initially was interrogated about the judge’s role in August of 2007, I had stated under oath that I would not hesitate to incriminate the judge, especially if it would help clear my own name, but that I would not make up testimony against the judge just to help myself.
I also personally suspected that Governor Camacho knew Sanchez was using the court contract to procure lobbying and political influence peddling services from Abramoff, including endorsements by the White House for Camacho in 2002. Sanchez was a self-promoting opportunist, and it defies logic to believe he would not brag to Camacho about the court’s lobbyist he had procured with court funds was getting the video taped Bush endorsements Camacho desperately wanted.
It would have been easy for me to give the corrupt Tydingco what he was demanding as a ransom for my freedom. One loyal friend deeply troubled by what was happening to me asked me why I shouldn’t do to the Governor, judge and Sanchez what was being done to me. Why not implicate the Governor, judge and Sanchez if it would help me escape from injustice and the corrupt Chief Prosecutor.
Don’t think it hadn’t crossed my mind that it would serve them all right for trying to set me up as the fall guy for the crimes of others. But it was a non-starter because I knew I would have to live with it forever, and in my own heart it was an act of treachery that would have made me no different than all of them.
So instead of celebrating dismissal of my case I was denied justice because I would not bear false witness against those who bore false witness against me. My intuition told me Littlepage must have been finding Tydingco’s unethical conduct morally distasteful, even though Littlepage was too professional to reveal his true feelings.
Instead, what happened next spoke for itself. On January 24, 2008, Littlepage sent a letter to my counsel stating:
“…in accordance with my letter to you of October 26, 2007, final review of the materials that have been obtained in this case has been completed. The documents reviewed fully support the conclusion that your client, Howard Hills, did not commit the charges filed in the indictment. Thus, this office has determined…the charges against Mr. Hills can not be substantiated and therefore should be dismissed…The paperwork is being prepared for submission to the court.”
That letter by the prosecuting attorney of record in my case left Tydingco with three options. The first option was to dismiss the case against me with prejudice as required by our agreement and the law due to my innocence. The second option was to come up with new evidence proving my guilt of the charged offense or some new charges.
The third and only other option was for Tydingco to abuse his power and intimidate me and my counsel with threats of prosecutorial retaliation based on new fabricated charges. If I tripped that wire it could mean another year of prosecutorial abuse and cost me another $100,000 in legal fees.
Chief Prosecutor Tydingco chose the last of those three options. That appears to have triggered the decision by Lewis Littlepage to write the letter to my counsel confirming my exoneration. In the end Littlepage did what was honest and right, and did not allow himself to be bullied into committing the crime of malicious prosecution by the corrupt Tydingco brothers.
Not surprisingly, having refused to violate his oath of office Littlepage left the Attorney General’s office, only to find Guam less than a land of opportunity for a private criminal lawyer from the U.S. mainland, especially as long as Tydingco was the Chief Prosecutor. So the man whose decision to step back from an unethical prosecution left Guam to become a prosecutor in Maui, Hawaii. Guam’s loss was Maui’s gain.
Littlepage was replaced as lead counsel in my case by Jeff Moots, a new prosecutor far more eager to do Tydingco’s bidding. Under orders from Tydingco the new prosecutor of record repeatedly delayed the dismissal of my case, in small increments of time that eventually added up to another year of malicious and unethical prosecution.
But after a third revised indictment was filed, based on evidence I provided, I was dropped as a defendant. It was clear the Attorney General’s office wanted me and my case to just go away, disappear, vanish into thin air. So Tydingco doubled down on his criminal malicious prosecution to avoid the political embarrassment of even a one day press cycle in which he had to explain in public that I was innocent all along.
The suppression of truth about my innocence was a new denial of justice I refused to accept in silence. Thus, my lawyers and I made increasingly unequivocal inquiries concerning seemingly endless months of delay filing the motion to dismiss the case that repeatedly had been promised.
Meanwhile, the Chief Prosecutor continued to feed the press politically motivated misinformation ignoring that I was no longer a named defendant and implying that I was still under investigation. My lawyer and I pleaded with Moots for an explanation of what was being done to me, the harm being done to an innocent man in violation of law and legal ethics.
Here, then, are some of the alternately honest, reassuring, candid, confusing, and misleading written statements made in e-mails to me and my counsel by the new lead prosecutor, Jeff Moots, speaking on behalf of his boss, Chief Prosecutor:
July 2, 2008
“Howard Hills is not part of the current indictment and will not be part of the future indictment. I thought he has already been dismissed when he was not included on the current indictment. I will talk to Phil [Chief Prosecutor Phillip Tydingco], if we have an agreement that he be dismissed for his cooperation and have not dismissed yet I will get it done. Howard has been completely open concerning information he has provided. Dismissal is not contingent on anyone else. I saw the article in the Variety today and will tell you I never mentioned Howard to the reporter and definitely never said he could still be charged.”
August 15, 2008:
“Before meeting with Phil I went back through the file and saw where the case against Mr. Hills had been dismissed without prejudice. Phil confirmed this during our meeting. Is it your position that Mr. Hills has not been dismissed or are you requesting a further dismissal with prejudice? I can tell you that as of now no one who has cooperated has received a dismissal with prejudice, and they will not until the cases filed are complete. If you believe we have not filed the dismissal without prejudice motion and order with the Court let me know and I will file it next week when I file the one regarding Abramoff.”
August 15, 2008:
“I understand that you are calling me almost daily because Mr. Hills is feeling pressure and therefore is putting pressure on you. First I want to promise both you and Mr. Hills that there will be a filing that formalizes the dismissal of charges against him. I have actually drafted the pleading and submitted to my superiors for their review. The review is not concerning whether or not to allow me to file the document but when based on other issues related to the case. I can also assure you that no new charges, even the re-filing of any of the old charges, is being considered regarding Mr. Hills. He is no longer considered a target of any investigations related to the contract with Mr. Abramoff or other actions taken by staff of the Guam Superior Court. After meeting with Mr. Hills in Washington D. C. I understand how important it is to him to get this matter behind him. I will promise you that as soon as I am permitted to file the dismissal there will be no delay on my part in doing so.”
August 29, 2008:
“In response to your question, the only indictment that this office is going to proceed on is the current one. We have elected that indictment over all of the others, therefore, the earlier indictments are without any legal significance, it is as if they never existed. The only two individuals charged by Guam are Tony Sanchez and Jack Abramoff. The earlier indictments are nothing more than interesting legal historical documents. Hope this helps.”
September 1, 2008:
“After our meeting in DC I understood the need to get the formality of the dismissal done. I have been doing all I can, and will keep pestering my bosses to allow me to sign and file the dismissal.”
Based on our face-to-face and telephone conversations with Moots it was clear to me and my lawyer that Moots was uncomfortable with what was being done in my case. It is not logical that Moots would engage in such blatant denial of my due process rights on his own initiative. Since he was named and referred to it also was clear Tydingco was the primary antagonist against me among the “bosses” telling Moots what to do, and resisting his efforts to dismiss my case.
If this had happened in the mainland the prosecutors responsible for this abuse could have been disbarred and prosecuted. But this was not in a federal or even state court, this was in the court in Guam that I had represented, the Presiding Judge of which had legal interests adverse to mine. I was in a minefield, and normal rules of engagement did not apply.
As a result of this treachery, the indictment against me was not dismissed until February of 2009. That was seventeen months, a year on one half, after I had acquired a legal right to dismissal of my case with prejudice.
Realizing the need to cover his tracks and wipe his fingerprints off the prosecutorial abuse being inflicted on me, Moots still felt compelled to underscore his assurances of good faith in the following written message of February 6, 2009, sent to my local counsel:
“The stipulation has been signed and given to my secretary to be sent to you. I shortened it a lot. It simply reads now that we dismissed without prejudice and stipulate that the records be expunged. This should assist Mr. Hills in clearing his name. As things progress, if possible I will continue to make clear Mr. Hills did not appear to have any criminal intent in assisting the Court.”
This underwhelming gesture by Moots must be understood in the context of a September 2008 request made to the prosecution by my counsel. Based on the damage being done to my professional life and my family by the never-ending case, we asked Moots to agree that I could make public the letters from the original prosecutor of record in the case, absolving me over one year earlier of complicity in the crimes of Sanchez, Abramoff, and his law firm.
We should not have had to ask for permission to make the letters public. The Attorney General’s office never produced one shred of evidence inconsistent with Littlepage’s findings and conclusions in the letters of exoneration he sent to my lawyers, so there was no basis for Moots to object much less retaliate if we released the documents.
Still, based on the abuses already inflicted, we wanted to make sure Moots and more importantly Tydingco would not be blind-sided if the press reported on the letters. In an unexpected reply that was a real turn for the worse Moots gave a pathetic and perverse response to my counsel’s notification that we intended to make the letters of exoneration public.
In an e-mail of September 12, 2008, Moots gave the following almost unbelievable written instructions to my local lawyer:
“If he wishes to show the email to his employer I don’t mind. However, please do not share the email with the press or any one who will speak about it publicly. I don’t want to jeopardize anything.”
In this astonishing denial of my right to free speech by Moots acting under the color of law, he confirms on behalf of the Attorney General that the contents of the exoneration letters remain valid and true, but only for purposes and use approved by the Attorney General’s office. This meant the Chief Prosecutor’s office was not repudiating the content of the exoneration letters legally, but without lawful authority was censoring release of the letters to the public.
So my exoneration was official but not public. The letters could be shown confidentially to clients but not the press, because that would not serve the political interests of the Chief Prosecutor. The content of Moots’ earlier e-mails referring to Tydingco are strong evidence this gross derogation of sworn duty was instigated by Tydingco.
Clearly, Moots was doing what he was told, and what his superiors required. But his egregiously abusive e-mails raised more questions than his message answered. For example, how could telling the truth “jeopardize anything” more than what already was happening to me?
There is only one answer – if I exercised my right of free speech about my case I could face retaliation. This is another admission by Moots that the Attorney General’s office was so corrupt the Chief Prosecutor felt entitled to hold an innocent man under indictment, not for a day or a week, but for more than a year after his exoneration.
Since the dismissal did not finally come until February 12, 2009, that meant the threat of malicious retaliatory prosecution would be a continuing trespass upon my civil rights until the statute of limitation on the entire case expired on February 12, 2012.
Chapter Twelve: The truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth
The record in the Guam court lobbying case shows that I had a legal research contract with the presiding judge of the court, which did not involve lobbying. After four years the judge directed me to work with the court’s chief administrator, Anthony Sanchez, who gave me written instructions to hire Abramoff’s firm under my contract, in order for Abramoff to provide lobbying services.
At the same time Sanchez was assuring me that all laws and rules were being observed, Sanchez sent secret e-mails to Abramoff instructing him to seek White House endorsements of the candidate for Governor in Guam with whom Sanchez was closely affiliated. Unbeknownst to me, Sanchez promised Abramoff a large contract representing the new Governor in Washington if Sanchez’s candidate won.
When he was confronted by the press about hiring Abramoff, Sanchez made the false claim that he did not know I had hired the lobbyist. Sanchez also told the press that any court funds provided to me were intended to for use in seeking U.S. Department of Justice grants for improvement of Guam’s courts.
In his frenzied attempts to cover up his crimes, Sanchez told the press a story of being snookered by me, groveling for sympathy by claiming, “I guess we just didn’t understand how things work in Washington.”
Yet, as local investigators closed in on him I realized that I was the one who turned out to be naïve and way out of my league, when Sanchez sent the following incredibly self-incriminating e-mail message to me on November 18, 2002:
“Howard adjust contract dated November 27 to add $136,000. Leave total amount out. Media is going through my book today and this will not go over well if it comes in sooner. Current contracts read $479K. Maybe they won’t catch it if it is not totaled…Tony”
This ended any doubt that Sanchez was unhinged from reality. When I called the judge to tell him what was going on he denied any knowledge of what Sanchez was doing, and told me his trusted confidant had “gone crazy.” Not exactly what I had wanted to hear from the judge!
It soon became clear to me that crazy or not Sanchez shrewdly had used me as cover for his misconduct. That is when I notified the judge that I planned to disclose the truth about my actual role in the court lobbying matter to federal officials. At the time I still thought Abramoff was doing his job for the court and lobbying to stop the legislation opposed by the judge.
Only years later when we got my files from his law firms did I learn that Abramoff secretly was billing against the court’s retainer for pay-to-play political contributions and political influence peddling. The e-mails disclosed later confirmed that Abramoff’s political campaign work was carried out under instructions from Sanchez, even though those campaign activities were unrelated to the law firm’s lawful work on court matters.
So as Sanchez was imploding and in effect went bonkers, the intense press attention made continued payments being demanded by Abramoff’s law firm too controversial to continue. But the election was still close enough for Sanchez to believe the Camacho campaign needed Abramoff’s continued services promoting the candidate for Governor with whom Sanchez was working as an unofficial campaign manager.
To keep the Abramoff law firm working for his candidate after court funds stopped flowing, Sanchez simply sent an e-mail to the Greenberg Traurig law firm falsely claiming payment in full for the firm’s lobbying contract had been sent to me, and if there was any shortfall the firm must look to me for payment. To sustain that falsehood, Sanchez provided a list numbering all checks supposedly written to me for payment to the firm.
Later it was proven that the list of check numbers provided to the law firm by Sanchez included payments made to me over a four-year period before Abramoff and his firm were hired. When I offered bank records and e-mails proving these facts to Lourdes Perez, lead investigator for Public Auditor Doris Brooks, Perez declined to accept the documentary evidence I was willing to produce, and abruptly terminated her interview with me.
The audit report Perez produced was approved by Public Auditor Brooks relied on the cooked books Sanchez provided. Thus, the audit findings later were discredited by the very same bank records and e-mails the officiously inept Perez – in gross dereliction of her sworn duties – refused to accept from me.
What the evidence proved is that Abramoff was using his firm’s contract with me to defraud the court by charging fees for work unrelated to the court’s business. At the same time Sanchez was using the contract with me to defraud Abramoff and his law firm to keep them working for the Camacho campaign, based on promises of more payments from the court under my contract that Sanchez knew had not been made, and never would be forthcoming at all.
By falsely claiming payments made to me years earlier had been paid to me for transmittal to the firm, Sanchez proved himself as shrewdly dishonest as Abramoff. The fact that Abramoff and Sanchez ended up also defrauding each other, at the same time they both were defrauding me, the court, and the law firm, underscores that there was no honor among thieves in the Guam court lobbying scandal.
The following e-mail from Sanchez to Abramoff, dated a month before the election between Camacho and Underwood on October 6, 2002, disproves his tall tale about being a wide-eyed island boy serving his people, only to fall in with bad companions from the big city:
“Jack, The Presiding Judge is asking for your assistance…on other matters as are Felix Camacho and Kaleo Moylan…Could Felix request and Tom Delay support federal appropriations of $21 million for Guam’s sewer system…Could we get George Bush endorsement…On another note, KUAM is doing a story on your involvement…Oh well, they hired a lobbyist, we retained lawyer. No matter…Lastly, any national media interested in a story on a U.S. Congressman (Bob Underwood), who had an affair with a woman who was shot by her husband 10 years ago…The grand jury tapes are available for review via judges’ orders…”
Since it is bad form to speak ill of the dead, his own words will have to speak for Sanchez here. All I will add is that I saw this e-mail for the first time in 2007 when Lewis Littlepage and I were going through the evidence we finally obtained from Abramoff’s law firm. Suffice to note that Sanchez emphasized here that the judges and staff of the Guam Supreme Court who used taxpayer dollars to retain a former U.S. Senator, but the Guam Superior Court had been smarter and procured lobbyist Abramoff secretly under its contract with a reputable attorney, namely Howard Hills.
His words convict Sanchez. “Oh well, they hired a lobbyist, we retained a lawyer.” That confirms that Sanchez set Abramoff up as a subcontractor to use my reputation as a lawyer to cover up their crimes. It also demonstrates how blinded by denial and ambition Sanchez had become, believing the power he would acquire if his candidate was elected could enable him to walk away from the lies and corruption that would haunt him until he died, and be his only real legacy to his family, his people and his homeland.
Even though I thought I had seen and heard it all when it came to Sanchez, I was stunned and astonished by the sleaziness of this message from him, a few weeks before he was appointed Chief of Staff by Governor-elect Camacho. The solicitation of publicity about one of Underwood’s well-known adulteress affairs is chillingly crass.
Yet, Sanchez had the sheer temerity to make the lame attempt play the poor brown island boy tricked by shrewd off island lawyers with their Washington ways. I will leave it to others to decide if his e-mails reveal the character of a political hack as calloused as any you can find in the raucous saloons of DC, hushed corridors of elite lobbying firms or wherever parasites of political opportunism feed at the trough of corruption.
In the same vein, it also should be noted that evidence in the case establishes that Henry Schuelke was so thoroughly intimidating when I met with him in 2004 that I abandoned my effort to gain access to the law firm’s files desperately needed to defend myself against false accusations to come. Since he is not dead yet, I will go ahead and state outright that Schuelke obstructed justice and prevented me from confronting my accusers.
Ironically, years later Schuelke was retained by the judge in the corrupt prosecution case of Senator Ted Stevens, and was bearing down on the young prosecutor in that case who committed suicide in the fog of scandal. Too bad no one told that young husband and father that Schuelke was a man of public stature with the ethics of a snake. Maybe he could have been convinced suicide is not the answer when facing closet tyrants like Schuelke.
Chapter Thirteen: Guam as a context for corruption
The Guam court lobbying scandal was a curious subchapter in the saga of Jack Abramoff’s rise and fall, played out on a remote island that is a dependent American client state. A culturally idiosyncratic microcosm of America, Guam is a U.S. territorial possession with an intermediate political status conferring only limited local self-rule.
As such, the territory enjoys some of the benefits of a provisional statutory class of U.S. “citizenship.” Still, denial of full constitutional citizenship means Guam’s residents in a very real sense are not full stakeholders in the American Dream.
Guam is a second if not third tier destination for second if not third tier tourists from Japan and other prosperous Asian neighbors, attracted by Guam’s year round tropical climate, scenic areas where indigenous culture is marketed as pseudo-anthropology, but most of all the island’s hotel row, which is a cheap imitation of the Las Vegas strip.
Guam also is a gateway to the American business and labor market for the Philippines and other Pacific Rim nations teeming with aspirants looking for greater opportunity and freedom. For most that means unlawful immigration, but for most Guam is a dead end because passengers on flights to Hawaii and the mainland are screened by immigration enforcement.
The territory of Guam also is the site of critical U.S. strategic bases and forward stationed troops. Guam bristles with advanced weaponry, a platform looming just off the coast of Asia for projection of American power throughout the region China views as its backyard.
In 1941 Guam fell to a massive Japanese invasion even as news of the attack on Pearl Harbor still echoed in our ears. In any major strategic military confrontation of the future the U.S. might be able to pull the trigger first and launch a first wave attack from Guam. After that the term “sitting duck” comes to mind, because if a next time comes Guam will not be invaded, it will be vaporized.
The politics of this American island possession spiraled into turmoil in 2002, after Abramoff became a lobbyist for local leaders in Guam eager for greater access and influence in Washington. But local government contracting with big name lobbyists in the nation’s capital is a venerable tradition in Guam, and there is nothing new about sensational lobbying scandals like the Abramoff debacle.
Guam’s dependence on robust lobbying at the federal level is the result of its mutually beneficial but inconveniently undemocratic political status. Residents of Guam do not enjoy equal rights of their American nationality, such as voting representation in Congress, the presidential vote or other civil rights taken for granted in mainland USA.
So paying top dollar for the latest red-hot hired gun in Washington is the closest Guam and other similarly situated U.S. territories get to government by consent of the governed and equal justice under law. Former U.S. Vice-President Walter Mondale, for example, cashed in on Guam’s need for lobbyists to conduct federal-territorial relations back in the late 1980’s. So did a parade of other well known Washington based lobbyists and consultants.
As bad as it became, the controversy arising from the Superior Court’s lobbying contract with Abramoff pales compared to past Guam lobbying scandals. For example, in 1987 a once popular Governor of Guam, Ricky Bordallo, was convicted on federal jury tampering charges, in a scandal involving a Washington lobbyist, a scheming Wall Street banker and local government finances. That scandal ended when, on the morning he was to turn himself over to U.S. Marshalls to begin his federal prison sentence, the former Governor committed a gruesome public suicide.
By 2002 the memory of that 1987 scandal-driven drama of self-inflicted death by a fallen local political legend was ancient history in the world of Guam politics, and big time lobbyists again were in demand. Now it was Abramoff who was on fire, the latest go-to sensation in the Washington lobbying world. Jack was touted from the White House to Capitol Hill as a principled champion of conservative values who got results when no one else could.
With help from articles in the Wall Street Journal and Roll Call newspaper anointing him as Washington’s top lobbyist, Abramoff cultivated the image of himself as an old-fashioned power broker. The added twist was that he also claimed to have a special calling to use his clout on behalf of historically marginalized, victimized or disempowered people.
From his favorite table at his own elegant restaurant, Signatures, located on Pennsylvania Avenue halfway between the White House and the Congressional campus on Capitol Hill, Jack became an independent center of power in our nation’s capital. But his image as a person of substance and purpose turned out to be a fleeting illusion, one that ended in sudden disgrace, amid the ruins of all his life seemed to promise but would never deliver.
Looking back, it now is clear that Jack Abramoff was to the world of Washington’s K Street lobbying subculture what Bernie Madoff was to the subculture of Wall Street. The only difference is Jack stole millions and got four years in federal prison, Bernie stole billions and got life.
Despite the truly impressive and almost unparalleled degree of access Abramoff had to GOP leadership in Congress, it is perhaps most remarkable of all that Abramoff accomplished so little. He had no real lasting effect on government policy, no sustained impact that changed people’s lives in any way at all, much less for the better. Any good he did was subsumed by the harm and injury he caused.
Instead, Abramoff became the poster child for abuse of access and influence so egregious it really can’t be regulated by lobbying reforms imposing civil remedies. The only remedy for the kind of anti-social misconduct Abramoff inflicted on his victims was jail time for Jack, and upon conviction the need for protection of the public required his removal from civil society and isolation away from civilized people in a federal prison.
In a real sense, Abramoff’s disgrace ultimately was about personal demons and character conflicts, far more than it was about the sometimes corruption-prone lobbying culture of Washington. Of course, because he had become a powerhouse fundraiser for the GOP, the Democrats mercilessly persecuted Abramoff, with the help of some Republicans who had the good fortune of never having benefitted from his once formidable talents and capabilities.
However, to the extent Abramoff was a target of political retribution it was possible for his enemies to bring him down only because he also was a despicable crook. The mortal injuries to character Abramoff sustained were self-inflicted, and as his corrupt lobbying juggernaut went out of control he self-destructed.
Jack’s black hat performance on the federal courthouse steps after he was found guilty was staged as a last act in the drama of his demise. At a symbolic psychological level, the iconic image of him being taken away dressed like a demented comic book villain was paradoxical, at once both masochistic self-denigration and a last ditch gesture to spread his shame to all associated with him. It was a passive aggressive gesture of self-negating self-absorption, if you will, as he exited the Washington stage for years of exile in a prison cell.
But even the seemingly explosive drama of his ruin left no permanent visible damage or even evidence of blast effect on the political landscape of Washington, nothing to remind the world that he ever had been there at all, other than his shuttered restaurant. Again, that was because the scandal bearing his name was all about Jack’s personal pathology, far more than it was about the passion or pathology of Washington politics.
Chapter Fourteen: A modern American carpetbagger goes abroad
Abramoff’s choice of victims speaks volumes about Abramoff’s own troubled character. He targeted corruptible Congressmen with latent character flaws that meshed well with Jack’s own maladjusted personality. Even more than members of Congress, Jack’s schemes relied heavily on his ability to ensnare key members of the Congressional staff whose corruptibility he understood only too well, mostly ambitious young fools way too eager for glory in Washington’s culture of power.
Jack attracted young Capitol Hill staffers more than willing to do his bidding in exchange for the cheap thrills and quick cash he offered. In lieu of dedicated public service and disciplined professional careers they had begun before they met Abramoff, they chose the path to easy winning that Jack held out to them so enticingly.
Like the archetypal cad Honest John in the Disney classic, one by one he lured the Ivy League political Pinocchio’s of Capital Hill to his downtown law firm’s Pleasure Island on the Potomac. There he taught them to covet political celebrity and winning political games, a free ride to fast fun and easy money, leaving behind naïve notions about noble service and value driven lives that brought many of them to Washington. Once he had them where he wanted them, they gladly, even gleefully, assisted, facilitated and enabled him to become a larger than life modern day political Elmer Gantry.
With evangelical fervor he enlisted his young converts to join his army of foot soldiers in the struggle for domination of big time political mischief making and maneuvering. Together they acquired raw power, obtaining for Jack and his groupies the equivalent of exclusive backstage passes for nothing less than the Tom Delay Show, produced on no less dramatic a stage than the floor of Congress. Ironically, the power drunk wild ride on which Jack took his young true believers, careening through the corridors of power, was not bank-rolled exclusively or even significantly by the big time industrial interests or large corporate clients you might expect.
Rather, most of the loot that Abramoff amassed to buy power was extracted from socially and politically disenfranchised peoples he exploited. This is the real Abramoff story, still little understood for what it really was all about. What the young zealots who did his dirty work realized – only after it was too late to save themselves – was that when all was said and done Abramoff was nothing but a modern day carpetbagger.
Just ask the Native American tribes, ask the marginalized peoples of the American island territories, just ask Guam. They will tell you, he was the dark side version of the Wizard of Oz, selling false hope to those lost in the shadows of Washington’s majestic edifice, toiling in despair, desperate for a little equity and influence in Congress or the White House.
In targeting clients to victimize, Abramoff was like the most unscrupulous small time con-man, the shady operator who comes into town and reads the obituaries, looking to find new widows and orphans who might have some life insurance proceeds or family savings for the taking in a hit-and-run scam. Pretending to be the new high-minded reformist in town, Abramoff came to Washington and scoured the political landscape looking for aggrieved and disempowered victim groups in need of a champion.
Betraying his true character, Abramoff was, of course, most interested in those victims in need of a heavy weight advocate who also were able to pay big bucks for a high-powered political operator. Well-funded but long-suffering “victim class” clients were prime targets for the pay-to-play schemes Abramoff was mastering at the time. His most tried and true scam was to use his clout to give high level political access to historically excluded or marginalized people, but only as long as they could pay the same premium fees as big corporations or other special interests pay to play in Washington.
Abramoff hit the jackpot when he became the unlikely champion of the casino-rich but politically alienated American Indian tribes, defrauding his clients and double-dipping into tribal coffers, billing one client to lobby for a result another client was paying him to prevent. Abramoff also used the Indian tribe lobbying scam model as his template for exploitation of easily corrupted local governments established by Congress in America’s territories. The benevolent quasi-colonial territorial regimes propped up by federal subsidies were a natural hunting ground for Abramoff’s all but patented brand of corruption, aimed at the disempowered with good cash flow.
Whether it was the Native American tribes or far flung territorial dependencies like Guam, Abramoff’s trademark gimmick was to combine legitimate lobbying on artfully framed policy issues with some good old-fashioned partisan pay-to-play political influence peddling. The result was that Abramoff’s often unethical and sometimes illegal political schemes were in many cases paid for from government sourced public funding intended to benefit the politically marginalized clients he exploited.
In reality, he was tapping whatever financial resources his disadvantaged clients had to buy access, by using the high-end fees he was raking in – $80 million over four years – to become a formidable if out of control power broker, wheeling and dealing in the nation’s seat of government. Doing minimal real work for his clients, but making political mischief and lots of money, Jack played political games with a feigned commitment to conservative ideology. Yet, increasingly he also took political pot shots at his ever-growing enemies list, including those Republicans who dared to question positions he took that were at odds with conservative principles.
Abramoff’s modus operandi was to use access and influence he bought with one client’s money to get results for other clients, or prospective new clients whose business he was chasing. Because he often could get results and earn big bucks with just a phone call to key staff, which he snidely referred to as “dialing for dollars,” or a chat on the golf course with powerful members of Congress, generating “green fees,” he could collect large fees from multiple clients, without any intensive efforts or high overhead.
Headline stories in the national print and broadcast media about his access and influence were a marketing boon, and helped Abramoff to draw new clients into his signature schemes, harnessing lofty principles and good intentions of others in service to his greed.
For example, Abramoff made millions representing elected leaders and business operators in the Northern Mariana Islands, another U.S. territory just 100 miles from Guam, using his relationship with powerful GOP leaders in Congress to stop federal legislation to shut down Asian sweatshops in those islands. A loophole that exempted that U.S. territory from federal immigration and labor laws allowed ruthless garment industry operators and local politicians they corrupted to exploit Philippine and Chinese workers.
Yet, because it was an American territory, the garment factories on the main island of Saipan still could sell merchandise made in the islands through America’s leading retail stores at the local mall in your town, bearing the “Made in USA” label. Jack was paid a handsome pirate’s ransom to preserve for two decades the loophole in federal law that made possible the sweatshops and sex slave trade in Saipan, filing the coffers of Japanese yakuza mobsters, human traffickers from the Philippines, as well as the garment and gambling interest moguls from China who repatriated profits to the People’s Liberation Army.
Abramoff even billed the economically distressed Republic of the Marshall Islands more than half a million dollars in fees for a dirty tricks character assassination plot against the U.S. Ambassador to that tiny island nation. His corruption of greedy government ministers in the Marshall Islands with gifts and perks during their official U.S. taxpayer funded visits to Washington proved there was no victim population Abramoff was not willing to exploit.
Without blinking, Abramoff brazenly conned corrupt local Marshallese government leaders into paying his inflated fees, even as the islanders were living in a third world economy. The only money the islanders had was compensation Congress paid to islanders dislocated by war and U.S. atomic testing, and economic assistance linked to U.S. use of scarce land in the remote island chain for vital American military bases where offensive and defensive missiles have been tested for decades.
Abramoff and the feudal barons he represented in the Marshall Islands only pretended to be champions of the dispossessed islanders. Instead, he and his local accomplices in the Marshall Islands were diverting funds from victims’ needs to personal enrichment and perpetuation of anti-democratic feudal political power. Abramoff’s corrupt clients were agents of the landed oligarchy that ripped off a lion’s share of U.S. grant funding intended for the “commoners,” poor landowners with no title or status who are the true stewards of the land in the islands.
Abramoff’s constant pretensions about his patriotism notwithstanding, he showed his true colors in his Marshall Islands capers by conniving to enlist staff and members of Congress to humiliate and bring forth false accusations on the floor of Congress against the American Ambassador to the Marshall Islands. She was a career diplomat who became Abramoff’s target because she dared to stand up to the lobbyist and his clients.
Jack was drawn by an uncanny instinct for their corruptibility to local island politicians who lacked pedigree but subserviently acted as front men for the chiefs of an anachronistic feudal regime. Together with his motley crew of political thugs, and creeps who appointed themselves “nobility” in order to practice tyranny over the common people of the islands, Abramoff spectacularly failed in the character assassination plot aimed at the Ambassador. It was unclear whether it was Jack or the corrupt vestigial feudal ruling class despots he represented who had the most pronounced misogynist reaction to a woman who was senior American diplomat, and wouldn’t take any crap from a bunch of crude political bullies.
Jack Abramoff was still widely admired back in 1999 when he lobbied for the Marshall Islands. Though there were some cracks in façade of high purpose that Jack hid behind, he was still living large in 2002 when he lobbied for the Guam courts. That was before he had been exposed as a con artist and crook. So he was still flying high when he began sampling his wares to political leaders in Guam. That included doing some favors in Washington for both Democrats and Republicans in the Guam legislature.
Looking back based on what we now know, it is clear that Abramoff finally struck gold in Guam when he teamed up with corrupt bureaucrat Tony Sanchez, who was from a prominent local political family. While Sanchez had a relatively modest day job as the Administrative Director of the local trial court, the Presiding Judge he worked for at the Superior Court of Guam was a major player in local GOP politics. That is how Sanchez advanced quickly under the judge’s mentorship to a major behind the scenes player in Guam politics.
Chapter Fifteen: Two thieves leading each other to ruin
Although still working for the court in 2002, Sanchez was among the closest political confidants of Felix Camacho, the GOP candidate in that year’s campaign for Governor in Guam. Sanchez’s ship seemed about ready to come in, but only if his soul mate, Felix Camacho, became the next Governor. Sanchez heard the lore of Abramoff’s political clout and saw him as someone who could pave the way for Camacho’s political success, first in getting elected by voters of Guam, and then in dealing with Washington as Governor. When the two met, it was a perfect match of shared ambition and greed.
With approval of the judge, Sanchez would use his position at the court to retain Abramoff’s law firm, ostensibly to stop legislation in Congress re-organizing Guam’s courts, which the judge opposed as an incursion on his turf as the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court and an unwarranted federal intrusion on local home-rule for Guam. However, in addition to what Abramoff could do on legitimate court business that provided the pretext for retaining his firm, it later became clear Sanchez was even more keen on having Abramoff perform some 2002 election year political favors in Washington to help Camacho get elected Governor.
What also is now clear only with what we have learned since, to pull this scheme off without inviting press attention, Sanchez had to devise a way to tap into the court’s budget as a source of public funding to pay the Abramoff firm’s infamously mercenary fees, both for legitimate lobbying on the court reorganization bill and political scams Abramoff was to undertake for Sanchez. To do that Sanchez shrewdly arranged for Abramoff’s law firm to be hired at an exorbitant fee under what had been a very low budget pre-existing contract between the court and its federal affairs counsel…me.
I was perfect cover for the Sanchez scheme. I had a reputation, earned the hard way, as a constitutional law expert specializing in the history of territorial law. I had done legal research for Sanchez’s boss, the Presiding Judge of the Guam Superior Court, for four years before Abramoff was hired, so it was an established arrangement that was less likely to attract attention like a new contract might.
Both Sanchez and Abramoff agreed that the court’s contract with me provided perfect cover for hiring Abramoff without attracting too much scrutiny. The fact that Abramoff already knew me from client work in the Marshall Islands and Puerto Rico that brought us into contact previously, and that Sanchez had asked me to introduce the judge to Abramoff, made my entrapment as their surrogate, cover and fall guy an easy move for these two shrewd con artists.
That was in 2002, and before Abramoff had run his race in Guam about a year later, he would be linked to allegations and schemes to bring big time casino gambling to Guam, with possible connections to Japanese or American organized crime. There also would be accusations that Abramoff used Indian tribe political organization funding to produce campaign mail-outs attacking Congressman Robert Underwood, Guam’s non-voting Delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives, who was running for Governor against the candidate Sanchez and the judge were betting on, Felix Camacho.
Abramoff was even accused of single-handedly arranging for an interim U.S. Attorney in Guam to be fired to curtail investigation of Jack’s activities in the islands, using his influence with Bush White House Political Advisor Karl Rove. In reality, Jack had been locking horns with the acting U.S. Attorney on behalf of a former Governor of Guam, Carl Gutierrez, a Democrat not a Republican, who had a blood feud going because of multiple federal corruption investigations focused on Gutierrez.
Abramoff’s role in an alleged casino gambling scheme did not get traction as a political or legal issue at the time, and it appears no one really cared if – with encouragement from Abramoff – Indian tribes actually agreed to use their money to oppose Underwood in the 2002 Governor’s race in Guam. Similarly, after an in-depth investigation a 2006 report by the U.S. Department of Justice rejected the allegations that the White House had fired the U.S. Attorney improperly. The report by the DOJ Inspector General persuasively disproved the accusation that the prosecutor was removed in furtherance of an Abramoff-Rove scheme fabricated by the press. (See, http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/s0606a/final.pdf).
Indeed, the Justice Department report in that matter made a finding that the former acting U.S. Attorney improperly had generated rumors that he was being pushed out by Abramoff in a deceitful and self-aggrandizing attempt to prevent his replacement by a new U.S. Attorney. The 2006 DOJ report confirmed the new U.S. Attorney for Guam already had been properly appointed and confirmed by the U.S. Senate before Abramoff was able to make any attempt to influence the matter.
True to form, when Abramoff found out the former U.S. Attorney was being removed and replaced without the need for any lobbying, Abramoff e-mailed his partners at Greenberg Traurig and told them to “take credit” with current or potential clients in Guam – including former Governor Gutierrez – who wanted the former U.S. Attorney fired. Thus, Abramoff brashly lied to his clients and prospective clients in Guam, both Republicans and Democrats, telling them that his firm, Greenberg Traurig, had gotten rid of the empire-building federal prosecutor.
Thus, none of the rumors, allegations or investigations of Abramoff relating to his activities in Guam ever amounted to anything, with the exception of the court lobbying controversy. Ironically, the lobbying Abramoff did for the local trial court to stop federal legislation reorganizing the territorial judiciary was not in and of itself illegal or improper, and never was the basis for charges in the criminal case.
Rather, it was the deception by court administrator Sanchez and the secret use of court funds by Abramoff and his law firm, for political activities not related to legislation reorganizing the courts, which were implicated in the criminal case arising from the court lobbying fiasco. What only became apparent as Abramoff’s criminal schemes were deconstructed by prosecutors was that the bizarre Guam caper really was driven by Abramoff’s desperation for new fee-generating business to off-set losses as some of his other scams and schemes were failing.
So the stealth but brazenly corrupt Abramoff was highly motivated to get as much cash out of Guam as he could, any way he could, to avoid detection of his other scams by his clients and his law firm. Because Sanchez wanted Abramoff’s political help in the election for Governor of Guam bad enough to tap into a government source of funding to feed Abramoff’s insatiable predatory appetite for money, Sanchez and Abramoff were the perfect match.
Chapter 16: Island people were the real losers
As mentioned already, big-time modern lobbying scandals were introduced in Guam by a former Carter Administration political appointee who was rewarded for fundraising in the 1976 campaign with an ambassadorship managing U.S. relations with the islands of Micronesia. His name was Peter R. Rosenblatt, and his shenanigans in Guam triggered a scandal that made the Abramoff case look like a walk in the park.
Shortly after he left his government post as a senior policy maker in U.S. relations with small Pacific island nations, Rosenblatt got paid $200,000 by a Wall Street banking buddy named Goldberg for making a phone call introducing the banker to Guam Governor Ricky Bordallo. Rosenblatt earned unindicted co-conspirator honors from the U.S. Department of Justice for his role in the scandal that ensued, when Governor Bordallo and the banker – AKA “Abba-Dabba-Do Goldberg” — were indicted on charges the banker paid the Governor a bribe for steering Guam government finance business to Goldberg’s bank.
As a U.S. State Department lawyer at the time, I read the indictment in the case and tried to alert the U.S. Department of Justice as well as the U.S. Attorney in Guam that the federal bribery statute under which the charges were brought did not apply to Guam. But the U.S. Attorney ignored me and persisted, resulting in reversal of the conviction on appeal for the very legal reasons I had tried to bring to the attention of the U.S. Attorney.
That would have been the end of it had the Governor not then been convicted of jury tampering in the case, in what some argued was a below the belt punch by the chagrined U.S. Attorney. In my own discussions with State Department colleagues at the time I argued that going after Ricky for jury tampering after blowing the bribery case was just arrogance and desperation by the U.S. Attorney to cover up his own incompetence. At least it was perceived that way in Guam, where a lot of leaders grumbled about it being a “chicken-shit move” by federal prosecutors to avenge their colonialist pride.
The scenario set in motion by Rosenblatt has some elements similar to the Sanchez-Abramoff scandal in which I became entangled. This includes prosecution under a flawed indictment relying on federal criminal laws that did not apply, and misconduct to avoid prosecution that was not really needed because the law did not really prohibit the actions taken.
But there were differences between the Rosenblatt-Goldberg-Bordallo scandal and the Abramoff-Sanchez scandal. Unlike me, Rosenblatt had a major financial stake to the tune of $200,000 in the transaction, although it was never proven he knew about the bribery. The other difference is that with the help of my family and friends I was able to survive the prosecutorial abuse I suffered at the hands of Guam prosecutors, while Governor Bordallo did not survive his ordeal at the hands of federal prosecutors.
As mentioned already, the disgraced former Governor, Ricky Bordallo, had his own plans the morning he was to turn himself over to U.S. Marshalls and begin a 15-month sentence in the federal prison at Lompoc. Instead he went down to the central plaza in Guam, chained himself to a bronze statute of an ancient warrior romanticized as a noble leader of Guam’s indigenous Chamorro people, and used a .38 caliber handgun to take his own life by putting a bullet through his head.
It is ironic that as a U.S. State Department official on a federal territorial interagency working group I had tried to intervene to stop the misfeasance of the U.S. Attorney in the ill-fated prosecution of the former Governor in Guam. So I had stood up for justice in the case of a local Guam leader accused of a crime.
But when I was targeted by an obviously political prosecution in Guam, I had a hard time finding a local lawyer to defend me in the case, at any price. Clearly anti-Washington and off-islander sentiment came to play in the prosecution and persecution of Howard Hills. That was one of the reasons no one cut me any slack in Guam’s legal and political process, when I was at its mercy. Even after I proved my innocence local politics kept the charges pending for years.
But I was too busy trying to save my life for self-pity over the injustices I endured. I survived, the ordeal is behind me, and I came out of it a lot better than those who put me in harm’s way. Abramoff did almost 5 years behind bars in a federal prison, Sanchez retreated into obscurity and died an early death, a broken man. Lamorena was exiled into political purgatory, after being passed over for appointment to an opening on the Guam Supreme Court, the prize he coveted most of all.
However, the biggest loser in the Abramoff scandals was not the judge, Sanchez or even me. The biggest loser was Guam. That is because Underwood’s bill solved the short-term local housekeeping problem of court reorganization, but undermined the long-term credibility of Guam’s quest for dignified self-government. For all his bluster about self-determination, Underwood’s solution to the court reorganization was to seek federal intervention in a local matter, and allow Congress to take back a delegation of sovereign power it had agreed to in 1950.
In the name of “judicial independence” Underwood reinstated federal rule over Guam’s courts. Not only that, for political purposes Underwood also led opposition to a local Guam constitution that would have established actual judicial independence through separation of powers between the courts and local legislature. Instead of a local judiciary, the creation and control of which had been delegated by Congress to the local legislature in which the people have voting representation, the Underwood court reorganization bill returned direct control of the local courts to the federal Congress in which the people of the island do not have voting representation.
That was a step backwards for Guam in the evolution of its organic laws enacted by Congress. But even more significantly it is now a part of the institutional bias in Congress against increased autonomy for Guam, because it demonstrates that when push comes to shove Guam’s leaders have the mentality of a client state dependency, rather than a body politic truly aspiring to full self-government within or outside of the U.S. federal system.
Now Guam has become ground zero in the strategic standoff between China, America, Japan and Russia for domination of the Pacific Rim region. As that jockeying for position in the region intensifies, indigenous rights effectively may be marginalized and self-determination on democratic reforms may be deferred indefinitely. The window for securing a more perfect political status was open, but now it may for all practical purposes be closed.
If that happens, the people of Guam have Bob Underwood, Tony Sanchez, as well as Phil and Dan Tydingco to thank for it.
Chapter Seventeen: The upside of a personal ordeal
Looking back on what occurred, I realize now Jack Abramoff was the least of my problems. He was just a fat little con man and a mediocre crook with sweaty hands. He cheated and defrauded me by pretending to care about the cause of our mutual clients, no great feat given my well-known optimistic gullibility.
When faced with prosecution I used my skills to prove I was set up and framed by a couple of pathologically anti-social compulsive liars. But I was not prepared when prosecution became persecution, and I was shattered when denied the vindication I earned.
Abramoff got at least some of what he deserved by spending years of his life in a federal prison. Sanchez did not outlive his disgrace in this life, but hopefully made peace with God. He died in political exile from a sudden exotic disease while still a young man.
My real problem in the Guam case was a small time bully and petty tyrant named Phil Tydingco, the Chief Prosecutor who violated his oath of office by refusing to dismiss charges against me, even after I had proven my innocence. It was in dealing with the sleaziness that reigned in the Chief Prosecutor’s office that I found myself for the first time in my life in a world where the truth did not matter.
Instead, I realized the system of law I believed in was not serving justice. I became bitter because the Chief Prosecutor was committing crimes worse than anything I was accused of doing. Losing over a million dollars in legal fees and lost income to defend my honor was more than a little annoying as well.
For all I know Tydingco may be a nice guy in the eyes of a lot of people. That is of little or no import to me. In my case he tried to advance a mediocre career at the expense of justice he was sworn to uphold.
With the able help and highly effective assistance of my Washington counsel, former federal prosecutor Carol Bruce, and local counsel in Guam, Tony Perez, I was not wrongfully convicted or coerced into pleading to a lesser offense I did not commit. Many falsely accused defendants are forced to do just that.
As I endured and finally prevailed I realized it was abundant good fortune I had the means to defend my honor and secure full exoneration. I even came to be grateful that I had a million dollars to lose, and to understand how much more I value my honor than the worldly means I lost.
It was in one of the darkest passages of the ordeal that I recalled a teacher at my daughter’s boarding school who told me about a sign his wife and kids hung over the door he went through each morning on his way to work. It was just three words: “Return with Honor.” In the midst of a crisis that threatened my very being, I spent many a long hour reflecting on that story and its implications for me.
I came to understand that it is a sort of miracle that our families really do not demand we come home with wealth, power or fame, as if all that is some sort of entitlement. But rather there is simply trust and hope that we will do our best and that the family will have honor.
Yes, we all want to be safe and have our needs met, but what kids really want most is to dwell with others in a home where they are in a relationship to family, a family in which there is trust, love, hope and honor. That is a gift from God, and together with faith it makes us complete, whole and more fully human. Whoever is or acts as the parent and provides and takes care of a child has a sacred duty of stewardship to sustain that trust and hope by their words and deeds, because that opens the door to faith and true honor.
The idea of honor is what sustained me and prevented me from surrendering to despair. Many people told me not to let myself be defined by the Guam case, but they were not facing conviction, or pleading guilty to a crime they did not commit, loss of a career, loss of a home for their family, bankruptcy and jail.
Running Guam’s highly politicized legal gauntlet for those rightly or wrongfully entangled in the Abramoff lobbying debacle was not an inconvenience, it was an ordeal in which life as I knew it ended, I was at risk, and my capacity to be restored to a sense of well-being and self-efficacy was in jeopardy. After fighting for seven years to defend my honor, in what was for me a brutally abusive and sensationalized miscarriage of justice, I discovered the true nature of honor when everything else is stripped away.
Being honorable one’s self is not the whole story, because in any meaningful endeavor or calling you can and eventually will encounter other people being dishonorable and even evil. Sometimes they have motives that are subconsciously and psychologically about bringing dishonor on themselves, but even then part of what they do is bring ruin and dishonor on the enterprises of honorable people.
So in the Guam debacle of injustice I learned the hard way that sometimes you return home with honor, but covered with blood, sweat and tears, because you had to fight for it. I knew in my heart that nothing I did was wrong, but the ordeal enlightened me that we are not justified merely by being good, we need to suffer loss and pain to surrender self and begin the quest for a truer self.
Because my intentions and state of mind were ethical and honorable, when trouble began I felt that I had no choice. I owed it to myself and my family to stand up to the thugs arrayed against me, and to vindicate my integrity as a lawyer and as a man.
As my case made its way through Guam’s criminal justice system, it would have been so much easier if I had actually done something wrong. I simply could have taken responsibility, had my lawyers work out a fair disposition, and accepted what would have been relatively minor consequences.
But that was not possible because I felt in my heart that I could never live with that, with a choice to put my material wealth and my business interests before my honor. That is what both the crooks and a corrupt prosecutor wanted most, because that would have meant I was just like them.
At that point doing the honorable thing meant giving up a great deal that was important to my worldly pride, including my worldly wealth and the ability it gave me to control my affairs for the good of my family. But as soon as we went on a war footing my dread about losing means melted away, and I found the courage to stand and fight.
But it was not just my courage, and my courage alone would not have been enough. I was able to summon the resolve to defend my honor because my wife and daughters rose to the occasion and stood with me. Most importantly, they never made me feel that I had let them down. Each of them found their own way to tell me I owed them nothing but to return from battle with honor, and that they were there for me and for the family, for our honor. They surrounded me like bodyguards and fought at my side.
Suddenly I found myself vulnerable and without the wherewithal to fix what was broken in my life. Being a man of means, able to do what needed to be done to stay in control, was no longer my existential imperative. The triumph of self was no longer what motivated me. Instead I wanted to survive with my honor, and I had no choice but to let others help me.
Suddenly I found myself being helped through each day and each new scandal driven crisis by my wife and daughters, my friends and my colleagues, in ways I never would have imagined. Deprived of the means to make providing for them the central purpose of my life, suddenly I realized taking care of me had become a defining purpose of their lives.
It was very hard for me to accept that I needed much less deserved their help. That is because those of us who define ourselves as the providers for others make the mistake of believing that is why we are loved. Maybe we fear deep down inside that if we ever were unable to provide we might not be loved.
That sometimes is why we need to be knocked down to learn the lesson that we can be loved by others the way the Bible teaches us we are loved by God. That is, loved for who we are in our best moments and our worst, not only when we are good and provide for others.
Not everyone we care about always is able to love us that way, nor we them. That does not mean we give up on those we care about who were not able to be there for us. But it does mean we have to sustain those relationships based on forgiveness, honesty and commitment to do better by each other in the future.
But what matters most, and both amazes as well as humbles us, is that so many of those we needed were there for us. When that happens we discover that there is the self that was ambitious and perhaps successful, but doing life essentially alone. Then there is the true self that wants something more out of our relationships and from life, and that new self is able to confess that our powers and the sum of our successes are not equal to the sum of our need. We learn that only in relationship to the other can we be saved, because our worldly success ultimately can never sustain us in times of ordeal, tribulation and suffering.
That is when we learn how to forge relationships with others and with God that truly can make us whole. That is how I came to experience the ordeal I survived in Guam, when I found out my family and friends, my colleagues, even those I often had opposed in the legal and political arena, were standing by me. I found myself in the same position as George Bailey in that classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” because the people I cared about most didn’t even need to know what had happened to take my side.
In the crucible of that ordeal I lost my pride but won my honor, by refusing to sign my name to a lie to save myself from injustice. In that moment of truth I was surrounded by my wife and children, friends and colleagues, facing my enemies with me like faithful compatriots. I wish every person could experience what that feels like, to be loved like that, because it was like God touching my heart through the people who knew me best.