Submitted by NLPC Staff on Wed, 05/13/2015 - 17:59
According to a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) that was leaked to the Washington Post, ten House members broke House Rules when they took an all-expenses paid trip in 2013 to a conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, courtesy of an oil company known as SOCAR. Also enjoying free trips were 32 staff members.
Azerbaijan is a country in Central Asia ruled by strongman Ilham Aliyev. In 2012, the Organized Crime and Corruption Project named him its “Person of the Year” for doing “the most to promote organized criminal activity or advance corruption.”
The Houston Chronicle yesterday published an account of a 2013 trip by 10 members of the House of Representatives to Azerbaijan that violates a House rule that prohibits the acceptance of overnight travel from corporations that employ lobbyists. The trip was indirectly paid for by companies doing business in Azerbaijan through nonprofit groups.
The fact set is similar to the 2008 case involving a trip to the Caribbean by then-Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), exposed by NLPC, and investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). OCE referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee, which "admonished" Rangel, prompting his resignation as House Ways and Means Chairman. The head of the nonprofit that sponsored the event was eventually convicted of lying to Congress.
I was interviewed in a report that aired last night by Scott Bronstein, Joe Johns, and Rahel Solomon of CNN's Special Investigations Unit. The text of this very well done story appears below. One point not made in the report is that without the Office of Congressional Ethics, our exposé of Rep. Charles Rangel's acceptance of corporate-funded Caribbean junkets may have been ignored.
Today the House Ethics Committee announced that it was taking no action against Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) who secretly took a $40,000 payment from an individual who subsequently pled guilty in a multi-million-dollar mortgage scam.
In 2007, Meeks received $40,000 from a "businessman," Edul Ahmad. Under the Ethics in Government Act, Congressmen are required to disclose such financial transactions on their annual Financial Disclosure Reports. Meeks failed to disclose the transaction on his reports for 2007, 2008 and 2009.
On Wednesday, I took part in a press conference with leaders of other ethics groups to show support for the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which should not be confused with the House Ethics Committee.
OCE was established in 2008 and is slightly more independent that the Ethics Committee because its board is comprised of former members of Congress and private citizens, rather than sitting members. OCE cannot sanction members but can only make referrals to the Ethics Committee.
Federal Prosecutors and lawyers for Guyanese businessman Edul Ahmad (photo, right), who has been indicted in a $50 million dollar mortgage fraud scheme, have apparently reached a plea arrangement that will be made public next month.
Ahmad made a $40,000 payment to Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) in 2007 that the Congressman failed to disclose on his Financial Disclosure Reports for 2007, 2008, and 2009. Meeks subsequently claimed the $40,000 payment was a loan, but there were no note or payments until several years after the payment was made. Last year the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate the matter. The OCE reported that Rep. Meeks "refused to cooperate with the OCE's investigation."
On August 5, the House Ethics Committee announced that it has accepted a recommendation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) to "further review an allegation that Representative (Gregory) Meeks failed to disclose a payment he received in 2007 in a timely manner."
The payment was an unsecured $40,000 "loan" from Edul Ahmad, a Guyanese businessman who was last month arrested in a massive mortgage-fraud scheme. On July 22, the FBI reportedly removed Ahmad in handcuffs from a Guyana-bound aircraft on the tarmac at JFK International Airport.
Ethics groups are wondering whether the U.S. Department of Justice has become skittish when it comes to investigating members of Congress, after numerous congressional corruption investigations were closed without trial last year, reported the New York Times.
Since the department's case against the late Rep. Ted Stevens (R-AK) notoriously fell apart two years ago, officials have halted at least five other corruption investigations against high-profile congressmen, including Rep. Don Young (R-AK) and Rep. Alan B. Mollohan (D-WV), in photo.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is Chair of the House Ethics Committee, which is supposed to be conducting a trial of Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) on the 13 violations of House rules the Committee alleged on July 29. There is also supposed to be a trial of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA).
Instead, Lofgren played host on Friday to comedian Stephen Colbert who testified “in character” on the plight of migrant farm workers before a Judiciary Committee subcommittee that Lofgren also chairs. I thought Colbert was actually pretty funny but other reviews were mixed.