By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Roger Stone, the dirty-tricks hobgoblin of Republican politics, has exploited his Bush connections to become an influence-peddling force in the $13 billion Indian gaming industry. Stone's booming business in such a federally regulated enterprise makes his recent pro bono orchestration of Al Sharpton's double-edged presidential campaign an even stranger covert caper.
The longtime GOP consultant's reward for fomenting the "Brooks Brothers mob" that shut down the Miami-Dade recount in 2000 was an invitation within days of Bush's election to serve on the Department of Interior transition working grouphelping, in his own words, to staff its Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Stone has since used this unannounced perch to market himself to tribes and developers from Louisiana to California, earning fat fees and contingent percentages of future casino revenue. Just two of the five deals examined by the Voice are projected to pay him at least $8 million, and perhaps as much as $13 million.
Time, The Washington Post and The New York Times have published exposés about Bush's BIA, with a February story highlighting $45 million in payments to two GOP lobbyists from four tribes since 2001. But no one has focused on Stone's profiteering, which, unlike the payments to registered lobbyists, is not reported on any public filings. He is routinely brought into casino deals in part because of his perceived ability to win Bush and/or Republican congressional support, a role ostensibly inconsistent with his financing and staffing of the Bush-bashing reverend's campaign.
But it was Sharpton himself who focused the Voice's attention on Stone's bonanza, indicating that business motives pushed Stone to take over the campaign. "It's all about Indian gaming," he said. When pressed recently to explain, Sharpton said, "I will not spell it out." In fact, Stone has a history of bizarre political operations, beginning with his Watergate-era infiltration of the McGovern campaign. And Sharpton has his own bunko backgroundbeating up on Democrats to benefit behind-the-scenes GOP allies like Al D'Amato, George Pataki, and Mike Bloomberg.
"I helped Sharpton because I like him," says Stone, a veteran of the Nixon, Reagan, Dole, and Bush campaigns, who steered $288,000 to Sharpton's National Action Network last year. "There's no connection between helping Sharpton and my business." But with adviser Stone scripting Sharpton, any damage the reverend might do would burnish Stone's bona fides with Bush, thereby bolstering his leverage for second-term gaming deals. Stone and Sharpton concede that they still talk, and Stone's ally, Charles Halloran, remains the manager of Sharpton's suspended campaign, organizing fundraisers to pay off a $634,500 debt, $134,000 of it due to five Stone-tied aides.
STONE'S MULTIMILLION-DOLLAR MOTIVATION
The 52-year-old Stone, who's based in Miami but also has an apartment at 40 Central Park South, acknowledges he has "a piece" of at least three deals. His 2002 contract with Buena Vista Rancheria of the Me-Wuk Indians entitles him to a $250,000 retainer plus 7.5 percent of annual "gaming revenue" from a $150 million casino 35 miles southwest of Sacramento, California. Warring factions of this minuscule tribe have long stymied a deal, but they signed a tentative agreement in December that must be finalized by July. It is currently under review by BIA. Stone also has lucrative stakes in casinos connected to two other California tribesEnterprise Rancheria, which has a BIA application and a congressional corrections bill currently under consideration, and the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, which won BIA approval in October for a San Francisco Bay casino opposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The Buena Vista agreement calls for a $25 million payment to the tribal leader who retained Stone and permits the construction of two casinos, at least one of which would pay Stone his percent off the top. Documents obtained by the Voice also list the value of Stone's interest in the Enterprise project40 miles north of Sacramentoas between $4.2 million and $6.3 million over five years.
Sam Katz, the general partner in the Lytton deal, refuses to reveal what Stone's holdings are worth, saying only that Stone "will get a portion of the proceeds" when the already negotiated sale to another gaming company is completed. Tony Cohen, the tribe's attorney, said Katz's group would be paid "tens of millions of dollars," and Stone has told business associates that he will earn $4 million to $7 million, a figure he would not confirm to the Voice.
In addition to these three stakeholder positions, a Stone prospectus, circulated last summer in California for casino investors, listed four other tribes that supposedly had agreements with Stone. The 157-page prospectus names Stone as one of three "participants" in Ikon LLC, a Mississippi company that the brochure says "now has an agreement" with the Ione Band of Miwok Indians to build a $120 million casino in Plymouth, California. Stone contends that he hasn't been associated with Ione since 2001. He dismisses the prospectus as old, though documents dated August 14, 2002, and March 10, 2003, appear in it, and Ikon is the name of his Washington-based firm.
Willard "Bud" Smith, another Ikon principal, adamantly denied that Stone is currently associated with the project. If he is, he'd be in line for another multimillion-dollar payday should it be built. Ione, however, is the thorniest issue on BIA's current agenda, with the DOI inspector general investigating the project, as well as a storm of local and congressional opposition to it. Ione, Enterprise, and Stone's Buena Vista factionif the settlement is approvedwill be landless tribes, making them the heaviest lobbying lifts, requiring administrative or congressional exemptions to obtain federally designated land in trust. That's precisely what Lytton won in October. With potential multimillion-dollar deals like these dangling, it's highly unlikely that Stone would take on the Sharpton campaign if it antagonized his Bush allies.