In January 2002 the Rotary Club of Guam welcomed the stateside businessman from Fort Lauderdale Fla. as warmly as it had welcomed hundreds of other visitors and potential investors through the years.
He joined Rotarians at the Onward Beach Resort then the club’s Thursday-lunchtime home before it moved to the Hilton Guam Resort & Spa.
Friendly and interested in learning more about the island Benjamin “Ben” Waldman said he was on Guam to research the possibility of a casino boat that would drop anchor out in international waters avoiding any of the island’s gambling prohibitions.
The idea had been tried in Guam’s waters before; Starlight Cruises’ MV Tropic Star was launched July 30 1992. The 850-passenger $45 million ship offered a casino with slot machines and blackjack table a Vegas-style show restaurants gift shops and a swimming pool. The Tropic Star ceased operations on April 11 1993 (See “Tropic Star pulls out ” in the May 1993 issue of Guam Business.).
Waldman said he was aiming at attracting mainly tourists.
He met a number of Rotarians at the lunch and made further contact with a couple of them during his stay.
Sen. Jesse A. Lujan chairman of the Committee on Aviation Immigration Labor and Housing of the 28th Guam Legislature and a member of the club at the time saw Waldman again after Waldman’s appearance at Rotary.
Lujan told the Journal “I met with him once. He talked to a number of people regarding the [casino boat] situation and as a member of the business community — as I was at the time — he talked to me.”
Waldman discussed his ideas with Lujan who said “As the marketing manager for Tarza at the time I entertained a lot of people.
“He had a possible business. We — as members of this community — are looking at possibilities all the time. We’re always open to people who want to invest in our island. We don’t turn people away who want to invest; we welcome them. We still encourage that.”
Maureen N. Maratita publisher of the Journal and editor of Guam Business magazine at the time also met Waldman at the Rotary club — where she is a member and subsequently for a Saturday lunch at the Marriott Resort Guam. Waldman told Maratita that Jack A. Abramoff then known in the region as a lobbyist for the Northern Mariana islands had referred him to the Mariana Islands as a possible place to do business.
Abramoff is now the subject of a federal investigation into millions of dollars that he and a lobbyist partner received from Indian tribes that own casinos. Abramoff was also investigated for fundraising and other political activities involving Tom DeLay the House Majority Leader who resigned on his own indictment and others. National media reported Abramoff’s role as a lobbyist for the Northern Mariana Islands as well as his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Superior Court of Guam which paid about $500 000 to Attorney Howard Hills of which Hills said $324 000 was transferred to Abramoff. (See “BriefCase” on Page 6.).
Waldman a former White House aide to Republican President Ronald Regan had twice failed to secure a GOP congressional seat in West Virginia where he lived from time to time. He declined the opportunity for a Guam Business interview during his Guam visit.
Waldman also met with former Democratic senator Mark Charfauros who he dined with hours later the same Saturday at the Kobe Japanese restaurant at the Royal Orchid Hotel opposite the Marriott. By coincidence Maratita was having dinner with her family at the adjacent table.
Despite repeated attempts Charfauros did not return Journal calls.
Waldman was interested enough to return to Guam in June 2002. Casino boats were an industry he was already familiar with.
Media reports around the U.S. have identified Waldman as one of three partners – with Abramoff and Adam R. Kidan former owner of a Washington Dial-a-Mattress franchise – willing to buy a 90% stake in SunCruz Casino a Florida riverboat casino company taking gamblers into international waters beyond state laws. According to www.tpmcafe.com Kidan and Abramoff were to own 40% each and Waldman 20% of the business.
The Washington Post ran a number of detailed articles on the SunCruz story. As the Post details the thriving business was to be purchased in September 2000 for $147.5 million from Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis its Greek owner who was forced to sell for violating federal regulations on foreign ownership. The attorney representing the firm worked at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds as did Abramoff who allegedly hid his interest as part of the group wanting to purchase the business due to ethical restrictions on the same firm representing the buyer and the seller.
Citadel Equity Fund Ltd. and Foothill Capital Corp. (now a division of Wells Fargo Bank) financed the deal with a $60 million loan that required the three investors to guarantee the loans and put up some of their own money. According to the indictments the deal also allowed Boulis to secretly put up cash and retain ownership in the casinos. Kidan and Waldman both sent Foothill faxed copies of a wire transfer record that supposedly showed a $23 million transfer from Kidan’s account. Foothill alleged the document was a fraud and that the account had closed before the alleged transfer. According to media reports Abramoff claimed that he was lied to about the transfer and that he was not present at the closing.
Boulis was fatally shot in February 2001 (the murder is the subject of separate charges against other defendants) and in June 2001 according to media reports Foothill sued the partners settling with Waldman — who had reportedly stayed on as president when his two partners left — for $450 000 and with Abramoff for an unrevealed amount. Litigation reportedly continues with Kidan. SunCruz declared bankruptcy and the casino boats were sold to new ownership.
On Aug. 11 Abramoff and Kidan were indicted by a federal grand jury on five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. On Dec. 15 Kidan plead guilty and agreed to testify against Abramoff who denied the charges to the Post. Waldman has not been indicted.
Lujan liked Waldman. “He was a nice guy. The only unfortunate thing is who he may be associated with.” MBJ