Evelyn Pringle March 2005
Another Profiteering Scheme
Neil Bush has a $60,000-a-year employment contract with a top adviser to a Washington-based consulting firm set up to help companies secure contracts in Iraq, according to the November 11, 2004 Financial Times.
Neil disclosed this employment during a divorce deposition on March 3, 2003. He testified that he was co-chairman of the Houston-based, Crest Investment Corporation, which invests in energy and other ventures, and said he received $15,000 every three months for a average 3 or 4 hours of work a week doing "miscellaneous consulting services."
"Such as?" his ex-wife's Attorney asked.
"Such as answering phone calls when Jamal Daniel, the other co-chairman, called and asked for advice," Neil answered.
Crest's co-chairman, Daniel, sits on the advisory board of New Bridge Strategies, a firm set up in March 2003, just in time to cash in on the Iraq reconstruction contracts, by a group of businessmen with close ties to the Bush family, and both Bush administrations.
The firm's chairman is Joe Allbaugh, who was W's campaign director in the 2000, and who was appointed Director of FEMA once Bush took office.
In addition to paying him for "consulting" work, Crest has provided funding for Neil's educational software company Ignite! In fact, Daniel sometimes introduces himself as a founding backer of the company, and has persuaded the families of prominent leaders in the Middle East to invest in Ignite, according to the December 11, 2003 Financial Times.
Overall, Crest goes to great lengths to show Neil how much it values his membership on the team. For instance, when Neil got remarried in 2004, Daniel held a wedding reception at his home, and Crest arranged a 5-year rent-free cottage for Neil and his new bride in Kennebunkport, Maine, so they could spend time near Mom and Pop Bush whenever they wanted to.
Another Jackpot - Thanks To Brother W
As usual, during his deposition, Neil forgot to mention a few facts about his earnings potential with Crest. First of all, he didn't mention that he attached his signature to letters soliciting business for New Bridge in obtaining contracts in Iraq, and two, that he attached his name as a reference for an extremely lucrative proposal submitted by Crest to obtain a lease on a parcel of property located on the island of Quintana, Texas, that will result in payments of at least $2 million a year to Crest.
When W took office in 2001, he vowed to make it easier for companies to build coastline facilities to store liquefied natural gas (LNG), a cooled and condensed form of natural gas, shipped in from countries around the world.
That promise sent US companies scrambling to secure coastline property on which to build the LNG processing facilities. One company looking to enter the market was Crest. Although the firm had no experience whatsoever in LNG processing, it had a very influential asset, a co-chairman by the name of Neil Bush.
One property of specific interest was Quintana Island, located in the Texas gulf, because it was accessible to cargo ships. The right to grant a lease to the land belonged to the Brazos River Harbor Navigation District.
If it could gain approval, the Crest LNG facility would be the first such facility in Texas, and only one of a few in the entire country.
The Harbor Commission was so enthralled with a proposal from Crest, that it offered the company an all-exclusive lease without soliciting for any other bids. The proposal was approved even though ExxonMobil owned the right to a first refusal on that part of the island, under a 1998 agreement, and even though the Commission knew that another company, Cheniere Energy, was interested in building a nearly identical facility on the exact same parcel of land.
When asked why the commission chose to grant the initial deal to Crest, Phyllis Saathoff, managing director of the Commission, said, "We worked it out and could accommodate [the Crest proposal], so we did," according to the LA Times on October 29, 2004.
To this day, Neil's connection to the firm is not widely known. However, Saathoff said that when Crest approached the commission with the project, it provided Neil's name as a reference.
How Did Crest Pull It Off?
The chronology of events that led to the Commission's approval of the Crest proposal is contained in court documents from a lawsuit filed against Crest, by Cheniere Energy, a firm with experience in LNG processing.
In 2000, Crest and Cheniere began discussing the possibility of a joint venture to build an LNG facility. After W's election, negotiations picked up speed and Cheniere provided a detailed, "confidential" briefing on its plans to Crest, according to court records.
In early 2001, Cheniere submitted an initial proposal for the project to the Commission. However, without telling Cheniere, Crest went forward and submitted a similar proposal to the Commission, according to court records.
The commission set a date of March 22, 2001, to meet with Cheniere officials about the firm's proposal, but the meeting was abruptly canceled. The very next day, on March 23, 2001, the Commission held an emergency session and met with Crest representatives, and granted the company, with no experience in LNG processing, an exclusive, 3-year lease option on the island property.
Cheniere then filed the lawsuit against Crest. But the two companies ended up settling out of court by becoming partners on the project. After other partners were added, the Freeport LNG consortium was created.
Crest To Handle Political Permits
An internal Freeport memo specified that Cheniere would be responsible for operational aspects of the project, and to no one's surprise I'm sure, Neil's company, Crest, was designated to "handle the political permitting side."
Crest has supported W in his campaigns and some of the firm's representatives have key Washington connections. According to harbor commission memos, Daniel is friends with Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham, and Crest executive, Dee Osborne, was a guest of Commerce Secretary, Don Evans, on a 2002 US trade mission to Chile and Peru, the Times reported.
In addition to Neil's obvious inside track with W, Crest was able to garner other political support for the project's approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), was one of 4 members of Congress who signed a letter in support of approving the project, and Daniel's buddy, Spencer Abraham, also lent the backing of his office at the Department of Energy.
On December 12, 2002, the Commission approved the terms of a 30-year lease. However, Texas law required that it solicit for bids on any lease extending beyond 10 years. The Commission claimed it advertised for proposals in late December, 2002, but said no other bids were submitted.
The Crest-Quintana project was one of the first to benefit from the Bush administration's changes in regulations that streamlined federal permitting, relaxed financial reviews and made it easier to comply with safety standards.
Although the changes in the regulations were made after Freeport filed its initial application, the changes were applied retroactively to the project. In June, 2002, the FERC approved the project and gave the company a 5-year completion date. The final version of the lease was signed on March 28, 2003.
An important fact that Neil forgot to mention in his deposition is that once the plant goes into operation, Crest is guaranteed payments of at least $2 million a year from the partnership. However, unless Neil decides to dump his new wife, which might require his participation in another deposition, we will likely never know how much of the $2 million ends up in the Bush trough each year.
James Smith, director of Public Citizen-Texas, a watchdog group focused on energy issues, described the Crest profiteering scheme correctly when he told the LA Times on October 29, 2004, that the deal appeared to be "another classic example of Bush family cronyism paying off."