By Anna Merlan
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By Darwin BondGraham
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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.
For years Kidan's told anyone who would lis ten that he wasn't disbarred for this. Instead, as he told Newsday last year, he only surrendered his law license as a "business tactic" (no further explanation given). In fact, records show that Kidan was not only disbarred in New York, but also in New Jersey, for this ethical breach. In Washington, Kidan became something of a minor celebrity through the "leave the last S off for savings" radio and television commercials he did for Dial-a-Mattress. His company expanded to six stores before shrinking back to two, and then went into bankruptcy. In 1999, the assets of the company were sold off, and he walked away with nothing, according to court records. As 2000 approached, Kidan was broke. Court documents later showed that he was paying a mortgage on a $175,000 condo in Floral Park, Queens; driving a 1995 Dodge; and tens of thousands of dollars in arrears.
Yet as 2000 closed out, Kidan had managed to become one of two majority partners in SunCruz, a $147.5 million company, and was living the attendant opulent lifestyle. And all with no money down. To understand how he made that happen you have to know a few things.
First, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the bombastic SunCruz owner who later figured in Kidan's downfall, was under a secret court order to sell the business.
The "cruise to nowhere"as SunCruz was dubbed because its ships ventured out to international waters then backwas targeted by Florida politicians who thought Boulis was flouting anti-gambling laws. Boulis, who wasn't a U.S. citizen when he bought his first SunCruz ship, agreed to sell in three years, and the government agreed to keep it a secret so he could recoup fair market value. That fall, Boulis called one of his attorneys and asked him to find a buyer. That attorney turned to one of his firm's lobbyists, Jack Abramoff, who took one look and realized he knew the perfect buyerhimself. Too busy to run things alone, he recruited two friends, Waldman and Kidan, then passing himself off as a wunderkind with $26 million from Dial-a-Mattress in his pocket.
But Kidan and Abramoff didn't have the down payment to secure a loan, so they committed bank fraud to achieve their ambitious ends.
Instead of demanding the $23 million down payment in cash, a stipulation of the loan, Boulis agreed to allow Kidan and Abramoff to sign promissory notes for the money. In return, he secretly (and illegally) kept 10 percent of SunCruz through a shell company. The three forged a wire transfer purporting that Abramoff and Kidan had paid the millions to Boulis and faxed a copy of it to the financing company. The loan went through.
As long as the men kept in step, the fraud was impossible to detect.
Right away, Abramoff and Kidan, who was running the day-to-day operations, began spending prodigious amounts of the company's money to buy a Washington Redskins luxury box (where they entertained some of the country's most powerful politicians), a 34-foot boat, Kidan's luxury condo, and so on. The company's comptroller later told authorities that in short order "somewhere close to a million dollars" was paid out for expenses that appeared "personal in nature."
Still, as one federal law enforcement official explained, "This was a privately owned business. They could do whatever the hell they wanted as long as they paid the interest on the loans."
Which they didn't. Three months into the deal, the cash flow had dried up. They defaulted on their loans and hadn't even attempted to repay the promissory notes to Boulis. What could Boulis do? He'd broken the law too. They then began firing some of Boulis's most trusted employees, including several girlfriends. Threats were followed by lawsuits followed by more threats. The litigation didn't bother Kidan; after all, he controlled the company until a judge ruled otherwise. But when confronted, the first thing that Kidan did was reach out to known mob associates. Abramoff's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said that Abramoff asserts he had nothing to do with that decision, a contention that sources close to Kidan confirmed.
Kidan had met Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello through a mobster Kidan had once done legal work for. He later told authorities that bringing in Big Tony, a onetime associate of John Gotti, was an effort to "neutralize" any threats from Boulis, whom Kidan incorrectly suspected of having organized-crime ties.
Instead, Boulis was permanently neutralized. On February 6, 2001, he was murdered in an ambush as he drove his BMW home after a long day at his Fort Lauderdale office.
Thus began a domino effect. The subsequent investigation first uncovered the bank fraud. Kidan, who lost control of the company to Boulis's heirs, soon agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. This opened the door for prosecutors to apply pressure on Abramoff to cooperate in the congressional-bribery and influence-peddling case, which he eventually did. In the meantime, Moscatiello and two cohorts were arrested and charged in Boulis's murder. Moscatiello told detectives that Kidan had ordered the hit. Prosecutors apparently don't believe him. Instead, Kidan, who told police Moscatiello freelanced the murder, is going to testify against Moscatiello in the Boulis murder case, his attorney, Joseph Conway, says, in the hopes of reducing his sentence. That trial is expected to start early next year.
By that time, Kidan will have settled into his new homeFort Dix, a low-security prison whose compounds in western New Jersey are surrounded by razor wire. It's possible that by then Kidan will have befriended some of the prison's once powerful inmates, like former Providence mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci or exBridgeport mayor Joseph Ganin, both in for corruption, or crooked financiers like Robert E. Brennan, who owes $75 million, or Jean Pierre Collardeau, who fleeced $20 million from his investors. Some of these guys may have even heard of Kidan, though it's not likely. For some reason, the role Kidan played in the Abramoff affair is like the hurricanesit never seems to travel much past south Florida.