BRADLEY, Mich. - Gun Lake Tribe Chairman D.K. Sprague has questioned a possible link between Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who opposes the tribe's proposed casino project, and indicted former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose one-time lobbying firm contributed $2,000 to the congressman's election campaign.
In a press release issued Nov. 18, Sprague said he was ''disappointed, but not surprised'' by the latest information to emerge from the Senate Indian Affairs Committee's investigation into an expanding scandal of corruption, fraud and political influence-peddling involving Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon.
The two men are accused of bilking six Indian tribes of more than $80 million over a three-year period. Some of the money was allegedly used to influence legislative decisions that would stop rival tribes from opening casinos that would siphon business from their clients.
Scanlon pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate federal bribery, mail fraud and wire fraud laws Nov. 21.
Dave Yonkman, Hoesktra's communications director, said the congressman denied the allegation that the campaign contribution from Abramoff's former lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig was in exchange for opposition to the Gun Lake Tribe's casino.
''Congressman Hoekstra has been a long-time opponent of Indian gaming. He is representing his constituents in that position. There is no connection between Peter Hoekstra and Jack Abramoff,'' Yonkman said.
Jill Perry, a Greenberg Traurig LLP spokesman, said the $2,000 contribution was paid to Hoesktra on the recommendation of Nancy Taylor, a lobbyist at the firm who represents rural health care issues.
The Gun Lake Tribe's statement asserts that Abramoff sent e-mails in 2002 to Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy President Italia Federici, urging her to convince her friend J. Steven Griles, then the Interior deputy secretary, to stop the Gun Lake Tribe's plans to open a casino near Grand Rapids, Mich. Abramoff reportedly sought to block the Gun Lake casino because it would threaten the market share of the nearby Soaring Eagle Casino operated by his clients, the Saginaw Chippewas.
Hoekstra wrote to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Dec. 12, 2002, requesting an extension of the comment period on Gun Lake's environmental review for its land-into-trust application. The 300-member tribe, which was granted federal acknowledgement in 1999, does not have a reservation.
The next day, Abramoff's office received a fax from Hoesktra's office informing him that the extension request letter was sent to Norton, according to the Gun Lake Tribe statement. Days later, Interior agreed to add an additional 45 days to the usual 30-day public comment period.
Abramoff wrote to Federici about the extension in an e-mail on Dec. 19, 2002: ''This is very good. With this extension they can now kill it [the Gun Lake casino project] by ruling that the Environmental Impact Statement shows they should not move forward.''
''Great!'' Federici replied.
Hoekstra later received two $1,000 election campaign contributions from Greenberg Traurig, Abramoff's former lobbying firm.
''The influence-peddling that was used to delay our application was unethical and disgraceful. It's truly disheartening to learn that Congressman Hoeskstra was cooperating with Abramoff to delay our application and then accepted money from Abramoff's firm. All of those involved must be held accountable. My tribe has suffered enough delay. This project should move forward now,'' Sprague said.
Interior approved the tribe's land-into-trust application, but a political action committee called ''23 is Enough,'' comprised of wealthy business owners who oppose the tribe's plans, has appealed the decision.
Hoekstra is a member of 23 is Enough.
Asked if the congressman's membership in that committee presented a conflict of interest, Yonkman said, ''The question has never been raised before. Congressman Hoekstra believes it is another effort for him to oppose the expansion of Indian casinos in Michigan.''