Jack Abramoff once ranked among the shrewdest and most successful lobbyists on Capitol Hill. Now he stands out as one of the greediest -- a man who landed in jail after engaging in a series of over-the-top illicit activities. These days, however, Abramoff's activities are far from illicit.
Freshly sprung from a minimum-security prison camp after completing most of a four-year sentence for fraud, tax evasion, and bribing public officials, Abramoff now lives in a halfway house and toils in the back office at Tov Pizza, a kosher pizzeria in Baltimore. The subject of two movies -- a documentary called Casino Jack and the United States of Money as well as an upcoming Hollywood biopic, entitled Bagman and starring Kevin Spacey -- Abramoff's latest gig has garnered plenty of attention.
"Jack is a nice guy and pleasant to talk to," says Ron Rosenbluth, owner of Tov, who has had Abramoff on the payroll for six months. "But it hasn't been easy. I need to make soup and deal with a broken cheese machine today, while CNN comes in with cameras to shoot a story."
Coincidentally, Rosenbluth (pictured left in his pizza shop) happens to be running for the State Central Committee in Baltimore's 41st District, but he says that he has not asked Abramoff for campaign advice: "He's a Republican and I'm a Democrat."
The Director's Take
Alex Gibney, director of Casino Jack, spent a long time considering Abramoff and his misdeeds. When asked to comment on his documentary subject's latest career move, Gibney replies, "I am amused, due to his past experience with restaurants." Abramoff once owned upscale Signatures, which was known as a favorite watering hole for Bush staffers. "Then," adds Gibney, "he owned a kosher deli. I've been told that it was the worst deli ever."
In terms of quality, it's hard to say where Tov stacks up. Asked for a comment on the place, Baltimore Sun restaurant critic Laura Vozzella says that she has yet to eat there. But, after giving us her non-review, she put out a request for comments from the readers of her blog. The single responder describes the falafel as "soooo good" and the pizza as "not the best" (apparently, the crust is a little thin). "We purposely make a thin crust," says Rosenbluth. "Since we opened [more than 20 years ago], I've been emulating a place in New York."
It's been reported that Abramoff will be working in a marketing capacity at Tov. While he may be able to turn around any negative perceptions of Tov's crust, it's hard to imagine Abramoff having the leeway that he enjoyed during his glory days in DC. "I don't think this is a pizzeria's attempt to get the LeBron James of the restaurant business," says Gibney. "I think it's somebody giving Jack a job. He's overqualified, but he just got out of stir."
That said, Gibney does not sound certain that Abramoff will be the typical pizzeria drone. "Jack always had a rich, vivid imagination. If he utilizes it there, I think he will bring something that they didn't have before."
Casino Jack Abramoff's Latest Gig: Pitching Pizza in Baltimore