- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 26, 2005

If you’ve been following the news, you may think, as I do, the most fascinating caper around the nation’s capital in recent days does not involve politics, national security or a White House aide called “Scooter.” It involves a young woman famously known as the “Cell Phone Bandit.”

By now, you’ve probably seen the grainy bank surveillance photos of the young and determined woman with the sunglasses atop her long dark hair and the little cell phone tucked under her ear as she presents a shoe box with a note stuck on top instructing the teller to fill the box with cash.

The surveillance photos raised interesting questions: Who is she talking to? And, why does she not have a hands-free headset? And, is she just shy or too engrossed in her conversation to say, “Stick ‘em up”?

Whatever her real story, she appeared to me to be a naive amateur to have decided to use a bank as her personal ATM, especially since your average bank has almost as many cameras as a presidential press conference. Besides, bank robbers are like potato chip addicts; they usually can’t stop with just one. And that rule apparently applies to the Cell Phone Bandit.

After a flood of phone tips, Candice R. Martinez, a 19-year-old community college student, and her boyfriend, Dave Chatram Williams, also 19 and a former employee of the bank chain that was robbed, were arrested and confessed to the crimes, according to the FBI.

It turned out the Cell Phone Bandit was talking to her boyfriend, who was sitting outside in their getaway car, the FBI says.

Until then, I imagined this nicely dressed female felon had decided to steal money in the neighborhoods of powerful politicians for the same fabled reason sharks don’t eat lawyers or journalists: professional courtesy.

After all, the best friend law enforcement ever had is the greed of serial offenders who don’t know when to quit. What town is better known for people with sticky fingers who don’t know when they’ve stolen enough?

Such appears to be the case with Michael Scanlon, a former aide to Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, who pleaded guilty Monday to conspiring to bribe public officials. The charge grew out of a long-running federal probe of alleged attempts by Mr. Scanlon and his former partner, super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, to defraud Indian tribes in a scheme that lavished trips, sports tickets and more than $830,000 in Abramoff-related campaign donations to almost three-dozen members of Congress.

Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon have been slithering around at the center of an investigation by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

Here’s where we talk about real money: The Cell Phone Bandit stole $48,000, the FBI says. Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Scanlon were paid more than $80 million between 2001 and 2004 to help the gambling operations of six American Indian tribes.

In one astonishing escapade, even by jaded Washington standards of palm-greasing, Mr. Abramoff is accused of receiving big money to help a tribe reopen its casino shortly after taking money from rival tribes to close it.

He lobbied Congress to urge the Interior Department on behalf of the Coushatta tribe in Louisiana to close a casino owned by the Tigua tribe in Texas, according to Senate documents, then shifted gears to charge the Tiguas $4.2 million to lobby Congress on their behalf to reopen the gambling operation.

That’s sort of like learning your defense attorney is secretly working for the people suing you. Lawyers can’t do that, but nobody licenses lobbyists.

Mr. Scanlon could face up to five years in prison. He has agreed to cooperate in the investigation and pay $19 million in restitution to the tribes, his attorney says.

Mr. Abramoff has been indicted in connection with an unrelated deal to purchase a cruise ship line at a cut rate, also with help from friends in Congress.

But, the real scandal of representing and wildly overcharging two opposing Indian tribal clients is it may not have violated any existing laws. That’s where the Cell Phone Bandit went wrong. She was thinking too small for big-time Washington.

The lesson: Get a good education, kids, and you, too, might learn how to steal big without breaking laws. Just make friends with the right lawmakers.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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