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Doolittle Fees Raise Questions

Newly released Senate documents call into question the timing of $67,000 in payments from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to the wife of Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.).

Julie Doolittle’s Sierra Dominion Financial Solutions received the lion’s share of her monthly retainer fees long after a canceled charity event, which had been the principal reason cited for her $5,000-a-month retainer deal with the admitted felon’s ex-lobbying firm, according to a report by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

And the bulk of those payments from Greenberg Traurig resumed in the summer of 2003, three weeks after Rep. Doolittle, an avowed anti-gambling Mormon, wrote a letter of support for a tribal client of Abramoff’s seeking to reopen its casino.

The couple’s lawyers and aides said this week that all of her payments from Greenberg Traurig were the result of her hard work and had nothing to do with her husband’s legislative efforts.

“To suggest that Sierra Dominion was paid for anything other than Mrs. Doolittle’s hard work is ludicrous and insulting,” Laura Blackann, Doolittle’s spokeswoman, said in a statement to Roll Call.

The new documents from Indian Affairs, which concluded a two-year probe of Abramoff on June 20, are the first to reveal the amount of money Sierra Dominion received and the timing of the payments from the firm.

According to notations on internal firm documents, Julie Doolittle began receiving payments from Greenberg Traurig on Aug. 22, 2002, with her last payment coming Feb. 19, 2004, three days before a Washington Post report brought to light portions of the Abramoff scandal that has since rocked the capital.

The panel’s investigators said in their report that “Abramoff apparently hired Doolittle to work on an event” — a reference to a Spy Museum fundraiser for a charity controlled by the lobbyist.

Julie Doolittle’s employment with the firm has been under scrutiny since July 2004 when a federal grand jury subpoenaed Sierra Dominion’s financial records in its dragnet of every firm or nonprofit connected to Abramoff. A second round of subpoenas to Julie Doolittle specifically sought a full listing of all of her clients.

The Doolittles’ lawyers and aides have said for two years that her primary duties for Abramoff were working on a charity event scheduled for March 26, 2003, which was intended to benefit Abramoff’s Capitol Athletic Foundation.

In a February interview with The Sacramento Bee, the lawmaker said that Abramoff hired her because he thought she could “help him with one of his big projects, which was this Capital Athletic Foundation and this huge event they were having.” The lawmaker said that his wife did do some other unspecified work but that the CAF event was “the main thing.”

And Mrs. Doolittle’s attorney, William Stauffer, told the Post late last year that Sierra Dominion “primarily performed public relations and other event planning services for the Spy Museum event.”

An aide to Abramoff e-mailed him on Aug. 12, 2002, with a “wrap-up sheet” of 29 things she’d done for Abramoff that day, one of which was setting up a meeting with Julie Doolittle. Records show that she was put on retainer with the firm 10 days later.

In literature hyping the CAF event to potential donors, a letter was signed by Julie Doolittle as the “director of community relations” for the Abramoff charity, a title that appears nowhere else in records for the foundation.

Sierra Dominion’s retainer fees halted on Jan. 13, 2003, with a payout of a little more than $10,000 meant to cover her retainer fees for January and February. At that point, Julie Doolittle had collected less than $27,000 in payments from Abramoff.

The payments dried up until the summer of 2003, long after the Spy Museum event had been canceled because of its timing. It was never rescheduled. Tax records for CAF, released by Indian Affairs, show that only a few thousand dollars in donations may have come in connection with the event.

On July 2, 2003, Sierra Dominion once again began receiving its $5,000-a-month retainer, a total of $40,000 in eight payments that ran right up until just days before the Abramoff scandal broke.

With the majority of her payments unrelated to the charity event, Doolittle’s attorney slightly altered his prior statements regarding the nature of Sierra Dominion’s work for Abramoff.

In a statement given to Roll Call last week, Stauffer put equal emphasis on the work she performed for the charity event and other unrelated event planning she did for two of Abramoff’s now-shuttered restaurants.

“Sierra Dominion, a small business owned by Julie Doolittle, provided marketing, event planning, and related services to the Greenberg Traurig law firm, and its partner, Jack Abramoff, from August 2002 through March 2004,” William Stauffer said in the statement. “Sierra Dominion had a retainer arrangement with Greenberg Traurig under which it provided services concerning the Spy Museum event and also the Signatures and Stacks restaurants.”

Stauffer and Doolittle’s office declined repeated requests to further explain what sort of event planning she performed for the Abramoff restaurants. They also declined to explain the interruption in payments in early 2003 and the resumption in July.

Nor was there an explanation for why, if Mrs. Doolittle was doing event planning for privately owned restaurants, she ended up on the monthly payroll of an international law firm.

Greenberg Traurig, through a spokeswoman in its New York office, declined to comment on anything related to Julie Doolittle’s retainer deal. “Our firm continues to cooperate fully with ongoing government investigations, and refrains from commenting on matters that are the subject of such investigations,” the firm said in a statement.

Just before Sierra Dominion’s retainer deal resumed in early July, Rep. Doolittle wrote then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton asking her to reverse a decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, hoping to allow the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa to reopen its casino.

“I am also concerned with the economic disruption caused by the BIA’s actions. ... The closure [of the casino] has placed tremendous strain on the tribe and its surrounding communities,” Doolittle wrote on June 12, 2003.

The Sacramento Bee reported earlier this year that one of Doolittle’s former aides, Kevin Ring, had been in the Californian’s office in early June on behalf of the tribe. Greenberg Traurig signed up Sac and Fox as a client only days before in late May, according to lobbying records, seeking to win recognition of the new tribal council, which would clear the way for a BIA decision that would allow the casino to reopen.

Doolittle had signed letters on behalf of Abramoff before, but those were designed to prevent casinos from opening, which would have meant competition for Abramoff’s clients but were in line with Doolittle’s anti-gambling position.

On Oct. 7, 2003, Doolittle wrote another letter to Norton, asking her to speed up the federal recognition process for a new Abramoff client, the Mashpee Wampanaog of Massachussetts. Speedy federal recognition for the tribe would have meant a quicker turnaround in opening its casino.

Employment by relatives and spouses has been a focal point of the Abramoff investigation so far, including the guilty plea of Tony Rudy, a former aide to ex-Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) who went to work at Greenberg Traurig in January 2001. In mid-2002 Rudy went to work at Alexander Strategy Group, which was headed by former DeLay Chief of Staff Ed Buckham.

Rudy pleaded guilty to accepting at least $50,000 in payments steered to his wife by Abramoff and Buckham in exchange for his help while working for DeLay in nixing a pair of legislative issues in 2000.

Rep. Doolittle was one of the largest recipients of campaign contributions from Abramoff and his clients, about $130,000 in federal and nonfederal donations to his political committees. He has refused to return any of the donations or donate the money to charity as many other lawmakers have done.

One Abramoff client, the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, for example, gave $5,000 to Doolittle’s Superior California political action committee on July 3, 2003, the day after Sierra Dominion resumed its retainer deal with Greenberg Traurig.

Superior California and Doolittle’s re-election committee made regular expenditures at Signatures, hosting nine different “meetings” at the restaurant in 2002 and 2003, according to Federal Election Commission records.

For example, on June 17, 2003, five days after writing the Sac and Fox letter for Abramoff, Superior California paid $126 to Signatures for a meeting there.

In addition to her work for Abramoff, Julie Doolittle’s firm has been under scrutiny for its work as the chief fundraising entity for both of Doolittle’s committees, receiving more than $200,000 in commissions in the past five years.

And documents with the Justice Department’s foreign agent office show that Sierra Dominion has worked for the Korean-U.S. Exchange Council, a nonprofit established by Buckham earlier this decade that has whisked more than a dozen Members across the Pacific Ocean for meetings with Korean businessmen.

Rep. Doolittle and his daughter last year went on a 10-day, $29,300 intercontinental jaunt, paid for by KORUSEC and United States-Malaysia Exchange Association, another group with ties to Buckham and ASG.

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