Tainted cash from Abramoff scandal is steered to the needy | VailDaily.com

Tainted cash from Abramoff scandal is steered to the needy

WASHINGTON – Ninety families on a South Dakota Indian reservation will get help paying their heating bills this winter and heart disease research will get a little extra boost, thanks to a stampede by members of Congress to rid themselves of tainted money.Lawmakers in both political parties are steering cash they got from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff to good works.The once high-flying Abramoff recently pleaded guilty to federal charges of fraud, tax evasion and wining and dining public officials “in exchange for a series of official acts,” in a fall from grace that has turned into a windfall for the nation’s charities.Nationally known groups including the Salvation Army and American Heart Association as well as local organizations such as the Crossroads Safehouse, a shelter for battered women in Colorado, will share more than $430,000 in now-unwanted campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates.On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, 1,300 miles from the federal courthouse in Washington where Abramoff admitted guilt, his largesse will help an additional 90 families stay warm this winter.Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said he would donate $8,250 to the Billy Mills Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization, a charity that for nine years has run a heating assistance program on the Connecticut-sized reservation that is home to 28,000 people.More than 950 families were helped last year, said Molly Farrell, spokeswoman for the organization run by Mills, a 1964 Olympic gold medalist in track and field.Johnson’s donation comes during a winter that got off to a frigid start after an ice storm and blizzard in November, followed by below-zero December weather, Farrell said.”Especially now, right after the holidays when money is so tight, this is going to do a world of good,” she said. “We’re excited to see that we can help so many more families this year.”At the Crossroads Safehouse in Fort Collins, Colo., $1,000 from Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., will buy food and medicine for domestic abuse victims, said executive director Vicki Lutz.Lutz learned of Musgrave’s donation after returning from a business trip to Florida and reading a newspaper her husband had saved for her.”I said, ‘I should go away more often,”‘ Lutz joked.Charities are happy for the contributions, despite the scandal involving Abramoff.”With government funding being cut back, charities are being hard-pressed to turn away money that’s legal,” said Diana Aviv, president and chief executive of the Independent Sector, a nonprofit that represents more than 500 charities. “We don’t get into why people give money.”Neither does the William Byrd Community House, a Richmond, Va.-based social services organization that is to get about $10,000 from Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.”We look at it all as resources to help us achieve our goal,” said executive director Reginald Gordon. “No one ever questioned the source. That wasn’t an issue for us because we will make good use of it.”The money, enough to provide a month’s rental assistance to 20 families or 80 elderly people with social services for a year, will go into the charity’s general fund for various programs, he said.Public corruption aside, Abramoff admitted defrauding clients, including American Indian tribes, taking millions in kickbacks from a one-time business partner, misusing a charity he had established and not paying income taxes on millions in ill-gotten gains. His dealings with tribes did not include the Sioux of Pine Ridge.Abramoff also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud in an unrelated federal case in Florida.Thousands of dollars in Abramoff money is headed to groups that help American Indians, including $11,000 from Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to the American Indian Center of Chicago and the American Indian Health Service of Chicago.Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is giving $5,000 to the American Indian College Fund.Lawmakers also are giving back thousands of dollars in contributions from some of the tribes that were victimized by Abramoff, including the Michigan Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, the Mississippi Band of the Choctaw Indian Tribe and the Tigua Tribe of El Paso, Texas.Among better-known charities, the Salvation Army stands to collect more than $50,000, including $2,250 that Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., earmarked for the group’s Hurricane Katrina fund.The American Heart Association was putting $6,000 from the Republican Party toward its education and research programs into heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 3 biggest killers.Some lawmakers dispensing with Abramoff money have not said which charities will get it.Vail, Colorado

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