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Lobbyist says Abramoff bills exaggerated Reid contact

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February 11, 2006

One of Jack Abramoff’s ex-colleagues confirmed Friday he contacted
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s office on behalf of the
influential lobbyist but says Abramoff’s billing records inflate the
amount and extent of his work.

“When Abramoff first arrived at Greenberg Traurig, I did a new
colleague a favor by simply asking Reid staffers about when the minimum
wage legislation affecting the Mariana Islands would be voted upon by
the Senate. I communicated this to Abramoff,” Platt said in a statement
e-mailed to The Associated Press.

Ronald Platt, a lobbyist who worked with Abramoff at the Greenberg
Traurig firm between 2001 and 2004, said he contacted Reid’s office in
2001, as the billing records show, about the timing of minimum wage
legislation affecting Abramoff’s Northern Mariana Islands client.

AP reported Thursday that lobbying firm billing records obtained
under public records law from the Northern Mariana Islands showed
Abramoff billed the islands for 21 contacts in 2001 with Reid’s office.

The records listed the minimum wage as the issue and Platt as the
point of contact for most of those contacts. Platt had formally
registered with the Senate in 2001 to lobby for the Marianas as well as
some Abramoff tribal clients.

Reid’s office confirmed this week it had “routine contact” with
Platt over the years on lobbying issues such as the Marianas, tribes
and other issues but said it could not verify all the contacts listed
in the billing records.

In his statement, Platt sought to minimize the extent of his
lobbying of Reid’s office on behalf of Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty
in a fraud and bribery case.

“These contacts were incidental, insofar as I simply bumped into
Reid staffers at Democratic Party functions or occurred incidental to
discussions regarding my clients, not Abramoff’s,” Platt said. “Any
contacts that I may have had in regards to Abramoff’s tribal clients
would have been similarly incidental.”

As for the 21 contacts listed in the billing records, Platt noted
Abramoff has pleaded guilty to defrauding clients and said the
references in the AP story were inaccurate. He was not more specific.

Audits of Abramoff’s work for the Marianas during the 1990s, when he
worked for the Preston Gates lobbying firm, concluded more than $1
million in expenses could not be substantiated.

However, the 2001 Marianas billing records cited by AP were
similarly audited and the island’s government raised no concerns. In
fact, the island’s auditor concluded Greenberg Traurig had provided
“more lobbyist services … in terms of time spent” for less money than
had been seen in earlier years.

Platt also said the AP did not attempt to reach him for comment before its story moved Thursday.

AP contacted Platt’s new lobbying firm in late December seeking to
interview him about the billing records and was referred to Greenberg
Traurig.

Platt also did not return two phone messages Friday renewing a request for an interview, sending an e-mail statement instead.

Greenberg Traurig declined to comment. “Consistent with our ethical
obligations to clients, our firm continues to cooperate fully with
ongoing government investigations,” the firm said.