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SunCruz has high hopes. The company, which owns 11 cruise ships and employs about 1000 people, plans to double the size of its business in three years. And Abramoff is currently touring countries where SunCruz wants to introduce cruise-ship gambling, including Israel and Hong Kong. At the time Boulis was murdered, company chairman Adam Kidan, also an active Republican and campaign contributor, was in Israel trying to drum up business, Scanlon says.
Such expansion may engender controversy, but Abramoff and Waldman are no strangers to that. Abramoff spent the late 1980s and early 1990s in Hollywood as a movie producer. The United Nations placed one of his films, Red Scorpion, about a Soviet spy who ultimately joins U.S.-backed forces, on a boycott list in 1993 when it was discovered that South Africa, still under apartheid at the time, supplied the set with military equipment. And in 1994, the year Republicans took over Congress, Abramoff joined a Seattle law firm and began his lobbying career with the help of close ties to Newt Gingrich and DeLay. A year later he represented Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, who was widely considered a corrupt despot and was labeled an "obstacle to democracy" by the U.S. State Department. Abramoff also made a bundle lobbying for the Northern Marianas Islands, an American commonwealth that human-rights advocates say is little more than a legal sweatshop. The islands are exempt from immigration and minimum-wage laws; for the past several years, Abramoff has been successful in persuading Congress to keep them that way.
Waldman, for his part, worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Reagan-era scandals, and then left for a job with Joseph A. Strauss, who had started a company designed to garner federal funds for developers and landlords. Another of Strauss' employees was thenInterior Secretary James Watt. Allegations of kickbacks surfaced, and in the early 1990s both Strauss and Watt were investigated and convicted of various felonies. Waldman was never charged.
Kidan, Abramoff, and Waldman formed an ownership group that bought SunCruz for $147 million from Boulis this past summer. After the murder, the media turned to the company in part because Boulis and Kidan had been carrying on a public feud. Newspapers quoted Kidan complaining Boulis had attacked him during a business meeting and was out to kill him. Kidan and Boulis accused each other of cheating on the deal, and Boulis filed a lawsuit claiming SunCruz had bounced millions of dollars in checks for the sale and was delinquent in paying him millions more.
At press time Fort Lauderdale police hadn't yet interviewed SunCruz executives, but they are researching the company, says police spokesman Mike Reed. No one at SunCruz, though, seems particularly concerned. The company wants only to show Boulis' family respect and get on with business, says Scanlon. The marriage between Republican leaders and the gambling industry is perfectly natural, he adds. "I don't think gambling is antifamily at all," Scanlon says. "Gambling doesn't destroy people -- people destroy people. The gentleman or gentlewoman who decides to gamble makes that decision of his own free will.... It's a free-market industry, and that appeals to conservatives."
At Abramoff and Waldman's urging, politicians are likely to help the company succeed, says Grey, the antigambling crusader. "They could stop this industry, but they won't," he explains. "Florida seems to be against gambling, but they let it continue. Both parties -- it's not just Republicans -- have used gambling as a feeding trough. Used to be the Mob went to Las Vegas to fill its pockets, now it's [to] Congress."