Disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff is currently incarcerated in federal prison in Maryland, but is the Bureau of Prisons also keeping him under wraps when it comes to filmmakers and the media?
That’s the charge made by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which on Wednesday filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking documents related to the BOP’s possible efforts to keep Abramoff from doing on-camera interviews for “Casino Jack and the United States of Money."
The film, which premiered at Sundance in January, deals with the tangled corruption scandal predicated by Abramoff, who is currently serving time on fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges. It was directed by Alex Gibney, an Oscar nominee for “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and winner for “Taxi to the Dark Side.”
In a recent interview with Filmmaker magazine, Gibney said he “came very close” to getting Abramoff (right) to do an on-camera interview, but was thwarted by the Department of Justice.
“I think Jack actually was willing,” said Gibney, who met with Abramoff in prison three or four times and found him “a very likable guy, very funny, good storyteller, very charismatic.”
Gibney said he halted production for a year waiting to get Abramoff, but in the end the Department of Justice “used carrots and sticks to persuade Jack not to be interviewed.”
CREW’s Freedom of Information Act request seeks “all records of communications between the Federal Bureau of Prisons (‘BOP’) and Alex Gibney, Zena Barakat, and/or Jigsaw Productions, either initiated or received by the BOP, that refer, mention, or pertain in any way to Jack Abramoff.”
The request was filed on May 5 by Anne L. Weismann, chief counsel for CREW. The nonprofit ethics organization says it was "acting on information that the BOP actively prevented Mr. Abramoff from speaking to anyone connected to the movie and also seeks to learn whether the BOP may have prevented Mr. Abramoff from speaking to other members of the media."
Before he became a lobbyist in the 1990s, Abramoff was active in Republican political circles; he also wrote and produced the 1989 action film “Red Scorpion,” with Dolph Lundgren.
In 2006, Abramoff pled guilty to three felony counts of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion relating to issues of Indian gaming. Two and a half years later, he was found guilty of more fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion charges in an influence-peddling scandal in Washington. The ensuing investigation also led to the conviction of a dozen others, from lobbyists and congressional aides to one congressman and two Bush White House officials.
Gibney’s documentary opens in theaters Friday.