Tom DeLay, Opera Buff
I'm not making this up. I swear.
Jack Abramoff, Washington sleazeball extraordinaire, has finally been indicted. Surprisingly, the indictment is not related—directly, anyway—to the allegation that he defrauded the Indian tribes he represented as a lobbyist, which is the crime Abramoff is most widely suspected of committing. Instead, Abramoff stands accused of committing bank fraud by failing, along with his partner, Adam Kiden, to put up a promised $23 million for the purchase of SunCruz Casinos, a fleet of cruise ships whose customers enjoy the rare opportunity to play blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, etc. while getting seasick plying the waters of Florida's Atlantic coast. (The Washington angle is that Abramoff allegedly used proceeds from SunCruz to pay for political fund-raisers at his skyboxes at Washington's MCI Center and Baltimore's Oriole Park at Camden Yards.) According to the Miami Herald's description of the indictment, Kidan provided the bank with a phony document purporting to show that the $23 million had been sent to the seller, one Konstantinos ''Gus'' Boulis, who was subsequently gunned down in a gangland-style killing. This last detail is obviously a lot more interesting than playing Three Card Monte with Choctaw gambling profits.
It is also obviously bad news for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. "Lobbyist Tied To DeLay Is Indicted For Fraud," reads the New York Times headline on an AP story. Expect to see a lot more headlines like that. But the cruelest blow for DeLay may be that the world will finally learn the original basis (besides GOP fund-raising) for the bond between Abramoff and DeLay: A shared interest in opera.
Abramoff is a huge opera buff, and—until now this has been a closely guarded secret—so is DeLay. The only previous public hint of this mutual enthusiasm was the revelation in June by Associated Press reporter Adam Nossiter that Abramoff persuaded the Coushatta tribe to put up $185,000 in 2000 so DeLay could treat some of his biggest donors to a concert by the fabled Three Tenors (José Carreras, Luciano Pavarotti, and Plácido Domingo). Apparently, DeLay is no mere opera dilettante. He knows his spintos and his verismos and his ariosos, and I guess he must work overtime to keep that knowledge a tightly held secret lest his good-ole-boy constituents in Sugar Land, Texas*, conclude the Hammer is putting on airs. You probably think I'm kidding, but I'm not. The meanest man in Congress, who used to make his living killing insects, is ... the phantom of the opera. I also happen to believe he's a crook, but that's neither here nor there.
Correction, Aug. 19, 2005: An earlier version of this column made erroneous reference to "Sugarland, Texas." It is (contrary to the title of Steven Spielberg's first feature, The Sugarland Express), two words: "Sugar Land." I leave to another day the puzzle of why, in the Spielberg movie, William Atherton and Goldie Hawn, who play a prison escapee and his wife giving chase to a fleet of police cars, would be bent on driving to Sugar Land, Texas, best known at the time as the site of a state prison farm.
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.
Photograph of Tom DeLay by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.