The School Safavian and Abramoff Built

The FBI complaint filed against David Safavian yesterday accuses him of lying to ethics officers at the General Services Administration, where he served as chief of staff. Safavian informed the officials that Jack Abramoff, who had invited Safavian on a golfing trip to Scotland, had “no business before GSA.” In fact, Safavian was already actively helping Abramoff acquire control of two GSA-managed properties in the Washington area, one of which was a 40-acre plot that became the campus for a Hebrew school that Abramoff founded called the Eshkol Academy.

Come again? Jack Abramoff, the corrupt, scandal-plagued lobbyist, founded a Hebrew academy? Yes, but it was a distinctly Abramoff-style venture.

In 2004, he thought the school would be a prime place to make money off the lives of tribal elders. Abramoff recommended that one of his clients, the then-broke Tigua tribe, retain him at no cost. At the same time, he suggestioned they allow Eshkol Academy to “buy term life insurance policies on tribal elders and receive the benefits upon their death, with the money then channeled back to Abramoff.” According to the Washington Post, some of the money that went into the school was used to buy “two Zamboni ice-cleaning machines, even though it did not own a hockey rink.”

The school was closed a short time later, but the scandals persisted. In May ’04, Abramoff’s assets were frozen by a Montgomery County, MD judge “in connection with a lawsuit over unpaid wages filed by employees of a religious academy that Abramoff founded.” Abramoff had shorted thirteen teachers a quarter of their pay when Eshkol shut down.