Ethics Complaint: Rep. Cleaver Let Non-Staffer Access His Servers, Paid McDonald’s Worker As IT Guy

Luke Rosiak | Investigative Reporter
  • Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver hired former McDonald’s employee Rao Abbas to manage his data for three years
  • Cleaver claimed on an audio recording that now-indicted Imran Awan was actually his IT aide
  • FACT has submitted an ethics complaint against Cleaver for allegedly having Awan as his aide but paying Abbas $60,0000

A Democratic congressman is facing an ethics complaint for paying an unqualified former McDonald’s employee to manage his data for three years and allegedly admitting to handing control of his servers to now-indicted Pakistani-American Imran Awan despite Awan not being on his staff.

A complaint submitted against Rep. Emanuel Cleaver on Wednesday asks the Congressional Ethics Office to investigate Cleaver’s response to a question about his IT aide Rao Abbas whose previous job field was fast food.

“Imran is the guy who worked in our office. I don’t know this other guy,” Cleaver responded on an audio recording.

Payroll records show that Imran Awan was not on the Missouri lawmaker’s payroll, and for the last three years, the only person authorized to manage his servers was Abbas.

“There is no logical or reasonable explanation for Cleaver to affirmatively identify Awan as his employee unless Awan was the individual actually providing IT services,” the complaint from the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT) said. “Cleaver accepted IT services and incredibly would have given full access to his data and files to someone who was not on his staff.”

“Moreover, Cleaver used taxpayer dollars to pay over $60,000 to Abbas, who he did not know and the evidence indicates did not do work for him,” it said. “Ethics rules may have been blatantly violated.” It accuses Cleaver of paying a “ghost employee” and putting data at risk by violating House information security policy.

Like many Democrats, Cleaver is seemingly a big proponent of cybersecurity, tweeting on Monday an article about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential election and saying “it is unconscionable that the Trump administration has spent $0 toward preventing election interference in 2018.”

But he has refused to discuss what the House Office of Inspector General (IG) claimed was “unauthorized access” by Awan and his family members. Server logs show Awan and his relatives logged into servers they should have had no reason to access and with unusually high frequency. The IG claims the family was moving files off the House network that appeared “sensitive,” and they continued to log in even after some members had fired them.

No one has paid more to the Awan family than Cleaver, according to House disbursement records. “Prior to 2013, Cleaver employed Imran Awan’s brother, Abid Awan; Abid Awan’s wife, Nataliia Sova; and Imran Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi,” the complaint says. “Then in 2013, Cleaver hired Imran Awan’s friend, Rao Abbas, who reportedly previously worked as a manager at McDonalds and did not have formal IT training.”

Abid and the Ukrainian-born Sova were actually running car dealerships. A third Awan brother, Jamal, began earning  a congressional salary $160,000 at the age of 20 years old, leading to suspicions that the Awans were running a “ghost employee” scheme where members would sign off on paychecks for people who did not actually work, according to the complaint.

Bankruptcy records filed in 2012 suggest the Awan family owed Abbas money. That same year, Abbas began collecting a taxpayer check courtesy of congressional offices through relationships with the Awans. Abbas never followed through with a threatened lawsuit against the Awans.

The paychecks written to Imran were the highest for congressional staffers. Awan was making $165,000 and staffers are not allowed to make more than congressmen. The only way to increase his earnings would be to attribute payments for work he did to other people.

Abbas lived in the basement of a home owned by Imran’s wife. Cristal Perpignan, a tenant who lived in the upper floors until late 2014 — years after Abbas began appearing on the House payroll — said “Rao did appear to be home most days,” rather than at a job. Although Imran’s wife owned the home, she interacted with Imran as the landlord, and told her to make out her rent checks to Abbas, she said.

“After Cleaver had been using taxpayer funds to pay Abbas for over three years, Cleaver was asked about his IT aide and reportedly stated, ‘I don’t even know [Abbas]’ and identified the actual individual who performed his IT work. Although unknown to Cleaver, apparently unqualified, and at home most days, Cleaver employed Rao Abbas as his IT Aide from 2013 to 2016 and paid him a total of $60,183,” the complaint says.

Former Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida began serving a five-year prison term this year following a scandal that included a ghost employee scheme The cousin of her chief of staff was added to the office’s payroll but didn’t actually work. After paychecks were direct-deposited to the cousin’s account, the chief of staff – who had access to the account — would then withdraw the funds for himself.

Cleaver spokeswoman Heather Frierson repeatedly declined to tell The Daily Caller News Foundation whether the office had ever seen Abbas.

Members are “prohibited from accepting services from non-employees,” the House Information Security Policy “forbids Members from allowing non-staffer to be administrators,” and “Members are prohibited from employing individuals who do not actually perform work,” the complaint says. “A Member is not only directly responsible for ensuring his or her staff are only paid for official public work, but also that that work has actually been performed.”

FACT filed a complaint in July against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida for continuing to pay Imran after he was banned from the House network, saying an IT aide blocked from the internet could not legitimately provide the same value as he did before. In December, it named her the worst ethics violator in Congress, behind the unknown members tied to sexual harassment settlements.

The Office of Congressional Ethics hears ethics complaints and, if deemed credible, forwards them to the House Committee on Ethics. However, the top Democrat on the panel, Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, employed more of the Awan clan than anyone except Cleaver, and he has also refused to say whether he ever saw Abbas.

One of the other four Democrats on the panel is Rep. Yvette Clarke, whose office saw $120,000 in equipment disappear under Abid Awan’s watch and submitted paperwork to “write off” the discrepancy. She did not fire him until House officials told the office it was doing an audit months later.

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