Investigative Group

Florida Congressman Pays Girlfriend’s Family, Money Launderer For Unexplained Work

Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings used his taxpayer-funded office to pay high salaries to a convicted money launderer, as well as Hastings’s girlfriend and her daughter, and the Florida politician won’t say what kind of work the convicted money launder does.

The news on Hastings, uncovered by the Washington Free Beacon, follows the May criminal conviction of another Florida Democrat, Rep. Corrine Brown, on 18 felonies related to self-enrichment scams by her and her chief of staff (COS) that included placing the name of a relative on the congressional payroll for no-show work as a way to funnel $735,000 to the COS.

The salary findings raise questions about how common it is for members of Congress to place “ghost employees” on the payroll as a scandal engulfs yet another Florida Democrat, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Five members of a single family were being paid for IT work as shared employees of dozens of House Democrats, with many of them making nearly the same salaries as the congressmen themselves, even though there is reason to believe not all of them did the work. Members of Congress are not permitted to pay people who do not legitimately do work.

Wasserman Schultz resisted firing the leader of the Pakistani-born family, Imran Awan, even after they were named as suspects in a criminal probe by the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI. Wasserman Schultz has tried to stop investigators from searching a laptop linked to him.

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The Washington Free Beacon highlighted the payments by Hastings Wednesday, noting that he has paid $75,000 for “part-time” Florida-based work to Dona Nichols-Jones, the wife of another aide, Mikel Jones.

The couple was convicted of money laundering and fraud in 2011 after an unrelated incident involving using hundreds of thousands of dollars of a business loan for personal use, the Free Beacon reported. That scheme involved creating fake invoices to route money to a shell company and ultimately themselves. Dona paid $400,000 in restitution; Hastings fired Mikel in 2011 then put his wife on his payroll in 2014.

Hastings’ office would not tell the Free Beacon what services Dona provided or how many hours she works, it said.

Hastings also used taxpayer money to pay his girlfriend, Patricia Williams, more than $168,000, a larger sum than his chief of staff. Hastings also uses taxpayer funds to pay his girlfriend’s daughter, Maisha Williams.

In Brown’s case, some of the charges focused on a charity scam, but the crimes also included a sizable ghost employee scheme in which a no-show employee was listed on salary records as a pass-through to route extra cash to her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons.

“Between 2001 and early 2016, Simmons’ relative allegedly received approximately $735,000 in government salary payments despite performing no known work for the U.S. House of Representatives. The indictment alleges that between 2009 and late 2015, Simmons diverted over $80,000 of his relative’s government salary for his personal benefit, including through transfers to his personal bank accounts, payments on his personal credit cards and loan payments on his boat,” the Department of Justice said.

“Simmons and Brown are also charged with failing to disclose, among other things, the reportable income they received from One Door and the salary payments that Simmons diverted from his relative’s government employment on required financial disclosure forms submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives and made available to the general public.”

Brown claimed she was being “persecuted” for being black and refused to resign. She ran for re-election after being indicted and lost, before a jury found her guilty of 18 felonies. She could face up to life in prison when sentenced.

In the Imran Awan case, four relatives of Awan as well as two friends appeared on the House payroll at unusually high salaries adding up to $4 million since 2009, eventually receiving payments from more than 30 current members of Congress, many of them from Florida.

One member, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, suggested the Capitol Police might have framed them because they are Muslim.

Then one fled the country after learning about the criminal probe, while another was arrested at the airport trying to fly to Pakistan after wiring hundreds of thousands of dollars there.

But members of Congress, who approved the paychecks, have refused to say who encouraged them to put the Awans on their payroll or how often they worked.

Rep. Ted Deutch, a Florida Democrat who employed three of the six members of the Awan group at various times, has refused to say whether he’s ever seen his most recent IT aide, Rao Abbas, whose housemate said he worked at McDonalds.

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