Summer at the Shores of Scandal’s Start

Where does a muckraker go on his summer vacation?

I had a few days off last week, and decided to go to a place that should be almost a spiritual home to us rakers: Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. That’s the charming seaside town where a lifeguard and a waitress met each other, fell in love — and appear to have triggered a chain of events that led to the biggest scandal to shake Capitol Hill in decades.

From the beginning: In 2002, Michael Scanlon was making millions as GOP superlobbyist Jack Abramoff‘s “evil elf,” as he has since been described. He had earlier left a job under Tom DeLay, where he was known as the former House majority leader’s “dirty tricks guy.”

Every summer from 2002 to 2005, he took a break from throwing elections, laundering cash and pulling other stunts for Abramoff to be his own man, working as a lifeguard in Rehoboth Beach — for $11.35 an hour.

In 2002, Scanlon was engaged to Emily Miller, a press secretary for DeLay. But at Rehoboth’s Big Fish Grill, another woman caught his eye: 24-year-old waitress Brandy McMahon.Details are sketchy, but the upshot is this: Scanlon called off his wedding to Miller and began dating McMahon. Miller, feeling jilted, got together with Scanlon’s first wife, Carrie Anne, and compared notes. Where did his money come from? How could he afford multi-million-dollar homes, a private jet? They began asking questions and piecing the story together for themselves. From there, word leaked out — no one’s said exactly how — and in early 2004, Abramoff’s (and Scanlon’s) misdeeds landed in the Washington Post.

As with most leaks, the fingerprints on the early Abramoff stories have been cleanly wiped off. No one’s written the story of how it came to pass (although the Post‘s Sue Schmidt said one of her sources was a lobbyist.) But having an ex-wife and a (politically savvy) jilted ex-fiancee team up is never good news to a fellow wishing to keep his secrets secret.

I stopped by the Big Fish Grill. I didn’t go in — I was on vacation, after all. But I got some pictures. And while I was at it, I stopped by another one of Scanlon’s haunts: 53 Baltimore Ave.

From that Rehoboth address, Scanlon ran one of Abramoff’s best dirty tricks: a sham outfit called the American International Center. The paper-only “organization” laundered millions of dollars from Abramoff’s clients and re-directed the cash to themselves, as well as other political operatives like Ralph Reed. (Reed has since lost his bid to be GOP candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia, thanks in large part to his dealings with Scanlon and Abramoff.)

It’s easy to find — it’s just across the street from the Rehoboth Beach Yoga Center, which was the workplace (for a time) of Brian Mann, one of Scanlon’s friends who served on the board of AIC.

Scanlon, one of Abramoff’s closest associates, pleaded guilty last November and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Abramoff’s dealings. I didn’t see him around town; he’s probably busy preparing for his sentencing conference, slated for early September.

That’s after lifeguarding season is over, although that doesn’t matter to Scanlon. Rehoboth Beach rejected his application this year, the Delaware News-Journal reported, “fearing the prospect of television crews swarming over the beach[.]”