Nothing focuses the mind like murder. The American public seems to have an near infinite tolerance for corruption and for being lied to. But, as soon as someone gets killed, ears perk up. And that is why Jeff Shields of Knight-Ridder says:

“while White House aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby dominate the headlines, Abramoff remains – according to some observers – the Republican Party’s most dangerous problem.”

It all goes back to the gangland hit of Miami businesman, Gus Boulis, in February 2001. Gus Boulis ran a fleet of off-shore casino boats, and he was forced to sell a controlling interest in the company because he wasn’t an American citizen. Enter Jack Abramoff, who Tom DeLay once described as “one of my closest friends.”

The glistening slime trail left by lobbyist Jack Abramoff leads to an infamous homicide scene in South Florida.

And while the indicted bosom buddy of indicted Rep. Tom DeLay says he had nothing to do with the mob-style execution of casino fleet founder Gus Boulis, Abramoff probably wasn’t turning cartwheels when three men were recently charged with murdering Boulis back in February 2001.

One of the defendants is Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello, identified by police as an associate of the Gambino crime family. Moscatiello is a longtime pal with lawyer Adam Kidan, who was Abramoff’s partner in what prosecutors say was a fraudulent purchase of Fort Lauderdale-based SunCruz casinos from Boulis.

Kidan and Abramoff go way back. At the Georgetown Law Center they were both members of the College Republicans.

College buddies Adam Kidan and Jack Abramoff engineered the partial buyout of Boulis’s company and then started running the business into the ground.

In 2000, Abramoff shiningly recommended Kidan to Gus Boulis as a buyer for the SunCruz casino boat fleet, which Boulis was being forced to sell because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

The buyout sounded like such a sweet deal that Abramoff decided to go 50-50 with Kidan, and the papers were finally signed in September 2000.

Boulis, who’d kept a stake in SunCruz, soon became enraged with Kidan’s free-spending management. Among those hired for catering and security services were Kidan’s old mob friend Moscatiello and another upstanding citizen named Anthony “Little Tony” Ferrari. When Boulis started to raise hell about the money, things grew so tense that Kidan got a restraining order and even hired three bodyguards.

Boulis filed suit, and the next month he was dead, shot to death in his BMW after leaving his office in Fort Lauderdale. Like Abramoff, Kidan says he knows nothing about Boulis’ murder.

In September, Moscatiello, Ferrari and a third man, James “Pudgy” Fiorillo, were charged with the crime. But back to the deal:

Four months after Boulis died, SunCruz was in the toilet. Court records showed that Kidan and Abramoff had diverted $310,000 of company funds for a luxury skybox at FedEx Field in Washington, D.C., where Abramoff entertained politicians and GOP fat cats.

He and Kidan also had helped themselves to $500,000 salaries and lots of expensive perks. But here’s the best part: According to prosecutors, the two men took control of the casino line without ever putting down a dime of their own dough.

Abramoff and Kidan were indicted in South Florida last summer for allegedly faking documents showing they’d invested $23 million in the deal. Those papers enabled them to obtain $60 million in real financing.

It is an amazing set of connections. Kidan hired Moscatiello to cater events for the company. As the Sun-Sentinel reports:

Moscatiello was arrested in 1983 with John Gotti’s brother, Gene, in a heroin-trafficking conspiracy case in New York, but the charges against him were dropped after a hung jury…

Court records show that Kidan, the founder of Dial-A-Mattress, once had financial ties to Moscatiello and Ferrari.

John Gotti and his associates made a habit of creating hung juries in the 1980’s, leading to the moniker ‘Teflon Don’. You can be sure that Moscatiello was involved in heroin trafficking. Now, he is indicted for murder.

This scandal has the potential to reach almost everywhere:

Abramoff, a major fundraiser for the Republican Party, was a “pioneer” for President Bush, meaning he raised at least $100,000 for the 2004 campaign, and his clients gave much more. He boasted of access to White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, dined with Interior Secretary Gail Norton, and hired away key members of DeLay’s staff as his lobbying partners.

One of those DeLay staffers is appearing in court today, looking to cut a deal:

For more than a year, Michael Scanlon has been a shadowy presence behind former partner Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist at the center of a corruption probe. Now, Scanlon may help prosecutors raise the investigation to a higher level.

Scanlon, a former aide to Representative Tom DeLay, is scheduled to appear today in U.S. District Court to present a plea bargain with the Justice Department likely to lead to his cooperation with investigators. His testimony would ratchet up the pressure on Abramoff and aid prosecutors in widening the investigation to members of Congress, such as Republicans DeLay and Representative Robert Ney of Ohio.

Even former Bush allies are astonished by the level of corruption and the potential fallout:

“I don’t think we have had something of this scope, arrogance and sheer venality in our lifetimes,” Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote recently. “It is building to an explosion, one that could create immense collateral damage within Congress and in coming elections.”

Indeed. If Abramoff is implicated in hiring out a Gambino family assassin and heroin trafficker, it is going to make for awfully good Court TV, and an absolutely fascinating witness list.

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