By Anna Merlan
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On Monday, Adam Kidan began serving a 70-month sentence for a bank fraud scheme he cooked up with Jack Abramoff, the former high-powered Washington lobbyist turned convicted felon, in buying a fleet of gambling boats from a Florida business tycoon named Gus Boulis.
"I wish I had never met Jack," Kidan lamented last December.
But while Abramoff will undoubtedly, and deservedly, go down as one of Washington's most dastardly villains of recent vintage (no one will ever forget the black hat and trench coat he wore when pleading guilty in January, a fashion mistake likely not to be repeated when he goes to jail next month), he might well say the same thing about Kidan.
That is, if anyone cared. Today Kidan is a footnote to historya chubby sidekick who got in over his balding head with the infamous influence peddler who cajoled congressional leaders and politicians into joining in his shady dealings. Though he wasn't an integral part of the machinery that took Abramoff to the top, he played a crucial, if largely unnoticed role in bringing him down.
Six years and nearly a month ago, Kidan happily shared the spoils of Abramoff's crooked kingdommemories that will now be cold comfort in his low-security prison cell at Fort Dix.
The press release sent over the business wires then trumpeted Kidan, at the age of 36, as the chief executive officer in a "newly formed company headed by a group of executives with strong ties to the entertainment and gaming industries as well as to national, state and local governments." The other partners were Ben Waldman, a former spokesman for the Reagan administration, and a relatively unknown lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, who, the release went to pains to note, also "has spent more than a decade as a producer of a number of feature motion pictures."
Kidan's salary, a guaranteed $500,000 a year, could have doubled with bonuses. The fringe benefits included use of a yacht he later named Summer Wind; a corporate jet; a brand-new Mercedes, the bigass one; and a $4,300-a-month luxury condo.
On the day of the announcement, as Kidan gave interviews to south Florida's mediahis Brooklyn accent evident only to the keen earthe possibilities appeared endless. Jowly, with slightly heavy eyelids underneath thin, almost transparent eyebrows, Kidan immediately set out to double the size of the SunCruz gambling ships' approximately 1,000-person workforce. He explained to reporters that plans were already afoot to expand the 11-ship fleet, moving into other ports in Florida and possibly even New York City.
It took Kidan only four months to fuck everything up. It was an astoundingly short time even given his track record of failure, which included bankrupting previous business ventures and getting disbarred for stealing from his own stepdad. But this time, his failure proved so colossal that eventually it pulled Abramoff down with himin a manner that made and destroyed Abramoff's national reputation in a media instant. It was Kidan and his misbegotten business decisions that started authorities down a path that eventually led to Abramoff and his world of corruption. But while every angle of Abramoff's being has been dissected and examined then redissected and re-examined, Kidan's has almost completely avoided media scrutinyuntil now.
I called Kidan a few months ago (he promisedto sit down and talk to me, but never did), and when he finally responded, he apologized for not getting back to me sooner. He told me he was still working as a business consultant and had been out of town. When I expressed surprise that people were still hiring him after the Abramoff scandal broke, he mulled that for a moment, then asked if I wouldn't write about that because he didn't want to scare off his clients.
Kidan didn't want his reputation (or at least the one he'd fostered for himself) to change. Despite his multiple missteps, he'd somehow always managed to shake off his failures and move on.
As a teen at John Dewey High School, Adam Ronald Kidan was inspired by Ronald Reagan to become a Republican, a decision that played a central role in his roller-coaster ride of successes and failures. While at George Washington University, he met and befriended Abramoff through the College Republicans. While Abramoff made his way to Hollywood in the late 1980s to produce the utterly forgettable movie Red Scorpion (starring Dolph Lundgren), Kidan got his degree from Brooklyn Law School. Because of his work on George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign, Kidan was rewarded with his first job out of law school, president of the Four Freedoms Foundation. He later described it during a deposition as an "educational foundation designed to do work in Eastern Europe" set up for Bush campaign kids. It crashed in a matter of months.
Kidan moved back to New York to put his law degree to work. At the same time, he teamed up with his sister's boyfriend to open two stores (which he later described to would-be lenders as a chain) called New York City's Best Bagels, in the Hamptons. The partnership didn't last long and Kidan sold it at a loss to the boyfriend, who was later fined by the Federal Trade Commission for running a phony candy-vending business. In the winter of 1994, Kidan opened a Dial-a-Mattress franchise in Washington, D.C., short-changing his partner, Warren Bell, Brooklyn's bialy king, to do so. A month later, Kidan, still also working as a lawyer, was accused of misappropriating $100,000 in escrow funds from his stepfather.