A Texas congressman is denying charges he slandered a foreign sex slave at the behest of Jack Abramoff. But documents obtained by TPMmuckraker contradict the Republican’s claims.
In November of 1997, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX) publicly questioned the credibility of a teenage girl’s claims that she’d been the victim of the sex trade in the Northern Mariana Islands. The statement, which Rep. Hall entered into the Congressional Record, was prepared by Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist for the islands.
“[S]he wanted to do nude dancing,” Hall’s statement said of the fifteen-year-old girl. She had earlier told federal investigators that she’d been forced to work for a local nightclub in a nightly live sex show. You can read the entirety of Hall’s statement here.
Press accounts at the time detailed how the girl had been taken from her parents in the Phillippines, and forced to perform sex acts on stage and before video cameras at a Northern Marianas sex club. A 1998 Department of Labor report confirmed those reports.
Hall’s challenger in Texas’ 4th District, history professor Glenn Melancon, has made the episode a campaign issue. “When investigators discovered child prostitution and forced abortions on the Mariana Islands, Congressman Ralph Hall was paid for covering it up and publicly attacking one of the raped children,” read postcards his campaign distributed to voters.
Hall has called the charge an “outright lie.” His office did not respond to our request for comment on this story. But records show that Abramoff’s staff contacted Hall’s office fifteen times in the two months leading up to his statement in the Congressional Record.
Hall has also denied being paid for making the statement, but oddly enough has revealed that “[Tom] DeLay gave him money 10 years ago,” according the to the district’s local paper, The Herald Banner.
DeLay was Abramoff’s closest ally in Congress with regard to the Marianas. But Federal Election Commission records do not show contributions to Hall from DeLay or his PAC during that period. The former Majority Leader was known for routing donations through third parties to hide their origin. Hall was a Democrat at the time he says he took DeLay’s money — he switched parties in 2004.
Hall visited the Marianas islands on an Abramoff-sponsored junket in 1997, according to emails. The CNMI government later reimbursed Abramoff. In this photograph from the Marianas Variety, Hall is shown during that trip:
By entering his statement into the Congressional Record, Hall made himself part of a public relations counter-offensive on behalf of CNMI, orchestrated by Abramoff and his lobbying team.
For months, activists and members of Congress pushed for labor reforms in the Northern Marianas, an American territory that was rife with cases of human rights abuses. The teenaged girl Hall attacked (referred to by lawyers and activists by her stage name, “Katrina,” to protect her anonymity) was just one of those cases.
The billing records from Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Preston Gates, show that Abramoff and his associates logged long hours helping CNMI dodge such charges. Hall’s office worked closely with Abramoff’s team to compose the lawmaker’s statement on Katrina, according to those same records.
Hall has claimed he never met Abramoff, and “wouldn’t recognize him if he saw him.” But members of Abramoff’s lobbying team contacted Hall’s office fifteen times over the course of September and October in 1997, working closely with his office to counter efforts by House Resources Ranking Member Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to strengthen federal oversight of the islands’ labor practices.
An Oct. 17, 1997 entry in the records shows that Lloyd Meeds, a member of Abramoff’s lobbying team, discussed inserting the language about Katrina with Grace Warren, a staffer in Hall’s office. “Telephone conference with G. Warren (Hall) regarding Katrina insert,” reads the entry. Hall inserted the statement about Katrina into the Congressional Record a few weeks later.
As detailed in the findings of a Department of Labor investigation, Katrina was taken away from her parents in the Philippines at the age of fifteen to work at a nightclub in the Northern Marianas. Once there, she was forced to sell drinks, dance naked, and perform videotaped “sex acts on stage with customers.” She and the other employees lived in barracks set up by the Philippino club owner until Katrina was able to run away and contact the Philippine Consulate. She was eventually given asylum in Hawaii, where she lives today.
Jeffrey Hughes contributed research to this story.