U.S. taxpayers are funding an obscure anti-genocide federal office that is being used to benefit a powerful Central American political family accused of having genocidal links, according to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson.
“Taxpayer funds intended to honor the victims of genocide may have been used instead to prop up the lucrative lobbying business of someone tied to a genocidal regime,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a scathing Aug. 10 letter to Lesley Weiss, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.
Congress created the commission in 1985 to preserve cemeteries and monuments of Jewish and other victims of Nazi Germany’s Holocaust before and during World War II in Europe.
Johnson said Jeffrey Farrow, the commission’s executive director, earned $143,000 but worked minimal hours each week while using most of his time and the commission’s resources to fund his private lobbying practice with foreign agents as clients. He is also a federal contractor and a registered lobbyist.
Farrow hired former Rep. Jerry Weller to assist in lobbying Congress on behalf of the Micronesian Republic of Palau. Weller left Congress in 2008 after the Chicago Tribune reported his failure to disclose his ownership of land in Nicaragua.
Weller’s wife, Zury Rios Montt, who is running for president in Guatemala, has defended her father, Efrain Rios Montt, against allegations that 1,700 indigenous Mayans were “tortured, raped and murder for their ethnicity” under his regime, Johnson said.
“Mr. Weller was married at and has stayed at the dictator’s compound and he and his wife appear to have campaigned for each other, despite the fact that her campaign includes denying the genocide and saying that her father is her ‘inspiration,'” Johnson said.
The New York Times’ Eric Lipton reported Farrow’s use of taxpayer resources for personal gain, but didn’t include the genocide allegations Johnson described. Lipton, a reporter who covers the lobbying beat, and Margaret Sullivan, the Times’ public editor, declined to comment on why the genocide allegations were omitted in the newspaper’s story.
The General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General uncovered Farrow’s abuse of taxpayer resources nearly three years ago, tipped off by the only federal employee on the commission’s four-person staff.
That employee, Katarina Ryan, has been on leave ever since, according to the Times.
The IG said Farrow’s salary was so high it might be illegal, but the commission has done nothing to rectify the IG’s findings — except to successfully lobby to change the law “so that the four-person office is now permitted to pay people more than even the highest-ranking federal employees,” Johnson said.
Johnson says Farrow and the commission potentially broke up to six federal laws, and ordered the commission to hand over financial statements, emails and other documents to HSGAC. Johnson gave the commission an August 24 deadline. The commission has yet to comply.
The commission claimed Johnson is wrong.
“Senator Johnson’s letter appears to be based on a number of allegations which have previously been found to be unsubstantiated, factual misunderstandings and factually incorrect statements and descriptions regarding the commission, its members, and contracts it has entered into. The commission had previously informed Senator Johnson that a response to his letter will be provided later this month,” the commission said.
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