Saturday, March 26, 2011

Did John McCain Help Mutual of Omaha Acquire Business with Abramoff Client?

Our friend Susan Bradford continues to raise questions on John McCain's actions against Jack Abramoff. Was McCain acting in concert with his contributors?  Here's Susan Bradfords post:

By Susan Bradford
Recently, members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan have come forward with complaints that they were pressured into purchasing life insurance from the Mutual of Omaha, a company with ostensible ties to Sen. John McCain.

In the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which McCain convened in 2004, the Senator called Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to task for, among other things, offering life insurance to tribal elders in the form of an Elder Legacy Program, which was created and promoted by his employer, Greenberg Traurig.

On November 15, 2006, Abramoff commenced his prison sentence after pleading guilty to trumped up corruption charges stemming from Florida and Washington, DC. The scandal had its roots in Indian Country, and among Abramoff’s biggest critics was Saginaw Chippewa SubChief Bernie Sprague, a McCain ally who nursed a personal grudge against the lobbyist who nearly nixed his uncle’s plan to acquire a casino for the Gun Lake tribe.

As tribal members have alleged, and paperwork seems to confirm, McCain interrogated Abramoff’s ally, Deputy Secretary of Interior Steven Griles, about whether he tried to block Gun Lake’s casino aspirations, as a personal favor to Sprague.

On December 20, 2006, just a month after Abramoff’s incarceration, Sprague, who was serving on Tribal Council, motioned for his tribe “to gather membership data from the Tribal Clerk’s Office in regards to the possibility of Life Insurance coverage for Tribal Members.”

Bringing a life insurance carrier on board was a slow process. In September of 2007, a request was filed with the Saginaw Chippewa’s Tribal Council “to approve the Group Life insurance coverage,” but the plan was tabled for further review by the tribe’s Finance Committee.

Finally, in 2009, the Tribal Council agreed to pay $251,203.25 to Mutual of Omaha Insurance Company per month for the group insurance plan. Funding for the plan was slated to come from the Gaming Trust in the form of a monthly wire transfer, Tribal Minutes report.

On November 2, the Tribal Council unveiled a group life insurance product underwritten by Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance for the tribal membership, which was to take effect January 1, 2010. Tribal members were given the option of purchasing as much as $150,000 in life insurance for as much as $76.50 per month.

However, tribal members said that the plan was forced on them as they were given little time to review the policy; in effect, they were called upon to enroll under short notice or face having the Tribal Council enroll on their behalf, at which point the tribal member would no longer be a beneficiary.

Either way, Mutual of Omaha was getting the business.

“If you choose to enroll in the coverage and pay the per month premium, the life insurance benefits under the policy will be paid to the designated beneficiary of your choosing in the event of your death,” a tribal memo stated. “If you choose not to enroll for coverage and do not wish to pay the monthly premium, the tribe will pay the premium and the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe Trust will be the beneficiary. The life insurance will be used to settle and (sic) outstanding debts you have with the tribe, help maintain the Saginaw Chippewa Health and Welfare programs, and pay for your burial costs.”

From the perspective of tribal members, the product was intended not to offer financial surety for their survivors, but coverage for their debts. As a tribal memo stated: “If you have any loan(s) with the tribe, the amount of any outstanding loan balance at the time of your death will be deducted from the life insurance benefit and paid to the tribe by United of Omaha Life Insurance, as well as burial costs.”

Some tribal members complained that the insurance payments were automatically deducted from their per capita checks, or percentage profit from their tribe’s businesses. Others complained about having multiple payments deducted from their checks each month even though they held only one policy. Moreover, policy holders could neither acquire much information about the plan nor cancel it altogether.

A phone number provided to the tribal members for questions about Mutual of Omaha was also bogus. “A dedicated team of operators … will take your toll free calls at 866 971 5693,” a supplemental memo stated.

However, instead of reaching Mutual of Omaha, the number connected callers to “Learning Care Group Support Central.”

Headquartered in Novi, Michigan, Learning Care is one of the largest publicly traded providers of early child care and educational services. None of the “operators” at the Learning Care call center were familiar with the Mutual of Omaha Life Insurance plan.

Did McCain help the Mutual of Omaha acquire business in the lucrative, but closed, market of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe? It sure looks that way.

The plan was originally introduced to the Council by Sprague and vetted by Chief Fred Cantu, who calls McCain “my political soul mate.” In an unguarded moment, Cantu boasted that “McCain drops everything to take my calls.” It is clear that once Abramoff was removed as lobbyist through the Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings that McCain had an inside line to the Cantu Council.

The name and signature of Mutual of Omaha Chairman and CEO Daniel Neary, who donated $2,300 to McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, appear on paperwork tribal members received that outlines the terms and conditions of the insurance policy. Whether the contribution was an incentive or reward for actions McCain might have taken to secure business at the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is up for speculation.

During the period in which the insurance plan was pitched and implemented (2006 to 2010), several former McCain campaign workers and staffers were representing Mutual of Omaha as lobbyists, including, for example, Kirk Blalock and Alex Jarvis, partners at the lobbying firm, Fierce, Isakowitz & Block.

According to, Blalock, who ran McCain’s young professional group, made $18,300 in campaign contributions in 2008, donated at least $2,300 to McCain the previous year, and raised more than $500,000 for McCain’s 2008 presidential run. He was also Special Assistant to former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour at a time when Scott Reed was RNC Chief of Staff.

Reed, who later appointed manager of McCain’s presidential campaign in Arizona in 2000, provided counsel to the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe in preparation for McCain’s Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings, where Sprague, the tribe’s witness, provided false testimony against Abramoff in an effort to separate the lobbyist from his tribal clients.

For his part, Jarvis, who volunteered for McCain’s presidential campaign, reportedly made $31,169 in political contributions in 2008, and gave $3,000 to the Senator for his second presidential run.

In response to numerous complaints about the insurance plan, Dennis Kequom, who succeeded Cantu as Chief, informed tribal members that they were free to opt out, inside sources said.

“Tribal members who do not pay attention to these things would not be aware of the new policy,” tribal sources said. “Mutual of Omaha will continue to deduct insurance payments from their per capita checks to pay for insurance plans they never wanted in the first place.”

Mutual’s Corporate Secretary, Michael Hess, confirmed that the insurance company does have an account with the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe but could not speak to the specifics. He did indicate, however, that Mutual was investigating some of the issues raised by tribal members and has encouraged members to contact him directly with outstanding issues they may have with their policies.

Susan Bradford is the author of Lynched! The Shocking Story of How the Political Establishment Manufactured a Scandal to Have Republican Super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff Removed from Power.

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(c) 2011 Susan Bradford
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