DOJ Agrees Not To Prosecute Imran Awan For House Cybersecurity And Theft, But Questions Remain
An assistant US attorney said Tuesday he would not prosecute Imran Awan, a former systems administrator for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats, for any crimes on Capitol Hill in a plea agreement that had him plead guilty to one count of bank fraud.
Only one person sat at the prosecutors’ table: J.P. Coomey, who unsuccessfully prosecuted New Jersey Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez for corruption and was only added to the case Monday. There was no sign of Michael Marando, who had previously led the prosecution.
Coomey did not object to the removal of Awan’s GPS monitor, said he would not oppose a sentence of probation, and agreed to drop charges against his wife, fellow former systems administrative Hina Alvi. (RELATED: Capitol Police Accidentally Gave Evidence To House Hacking Suspect’s Defense Attorney)
The Department of Justice said it found “found no evidence that [Imran] illegally removed House data from the House network or from House Members’ offices, stole the House Democratic Caucus Server, stole or destroyed House information technology equipment, or improperly accessed or transferred government information.”
That statement appears to take issue — without explaining how — with the findings of the House’s Nancy Pelosi-appointed inspector general, its top law enforcement official, the sergeant-at-arms, and the statements of multiple Democratic aides.
In September 2016, the House Office of Inspector General gave House leaders a presentation that alleged that Alvi, Imran, brothers Abid Awan and Jamal Awan, and a friend were logging into the servers of members who had previously fired him and funneling data off the network. It said evidence “suggests steps are being taken to conceal their activity” and that their behavior mirrored a “classic method for insiders to exfiltrate data from an organization.”
Server logs show, it said, that Awan family members made “unauthorized access” to congressional servers in violation of House rules by logging into the servers of members who they didn’t work for.
The presentation especially found problems on one server, that of the House Democratic Caucus, an entity chaired at the time by then-Rep. Xavier Becerra of California.
On Feb. 3, 2017, Paul Irving, the House’s top law enforcement officer, wrote in a letter to the Committee on House Administration that soon after it became evidence, the server went “missing.”
The letter continued: “Based upon the evidence gathered to this point, we have concluded the employees are an ongoing and serious risk to the House of Representatives, possibly threatening the integrity of our information systems.”
Imran, Abid, Jamal, Alvi and a friend were banned from the House network the same day Kiko sent the letter.
The alleged wrongdoing consisted of two separate issues.
The first was the cybersecurity issues. In an April 2018 hearing spurred by the Awan case, Chief Administrative Officer Phil Kiko testified: “The bookend to the outside threat is the insider threat. Tremendous efforts are dedicated to protecting the House against these outside threats, however these efforts are undermined when these employees do not adhere to and thumb their nose at our information security policy, and that’s a risk in my opinion we cannot afford.”
The second was a suspected theft scheme. Wendy Anderson, a former chief of staff for Rep. Yvette Clarke, told House investigators she believed Abid was working with ex-Clarke aide Shelley Davis to steal equipment, and described coming in on a Saturday to find so many pieces of equipment, including iPods and Apple TVs, that it “looked like Christmas.”
In the hearing, Kiko described “egregious” behavior by Imran, saying the House “discovered evidence of procurement fraud and irregularities” on top of the “numerous violations of House security policies.”
“CAO’s Office of Acquisition Management detected and flagged unusual invoices originating from five shared employees who served more than 30 House offices,” Kiko said. “The invoices, as submitted, were structured in a way to avoid the House’s $500 equipment accountability threshold. Upon further investigation into the five shared employees’ activities, the House IG discovered evidence of procurement fraud and irregularities, numerous violations of House security policies, and violations of the Committee’s Shared Employee Manual, etc.”
Yet Tuesday’s court document said:
The Govemment agrees that the public allegations that your client stole U.S. House of Representatives (“House”) equipment and engaged in unauthorized or illegal conduct involving House computer systems do not form the basis of any conduct relevant to the determination of the sentence in this case. The Government conducted a thorough investigation of those allegations, including interviewing approximately 40 witnesses; taking custody of the House Democratic Caucus server, along with other computers, hard drives, and electronic devices; examining those devices, including inspecting their physical condition and analyzing log-in and usage data; reviewing electronic communications between pertinent House employees; consulting with the House Office of General Counsel and House information technology personnel to access and/or collect evidence; and questioning your client during numerous voluntary interviews.
It concluded that the “Government has uncovered no evidence that your client violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems,” but didn’t explain how it came to that conclusion.
The bank fraud to which Imran pleaded guilty involved withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars by lying on mortgage application and pretending to have a medical emergency that required draining Alvi’s congressional retirement account, court records show. That money was then wired to Pakistan in January 2017. Prosecutors previously said they believe the Awans knew they were under investigation when they made the money moves, and described Imran as a flight risk.
Though the bank fraud occurred in January 2017, Imran wasn’t arrested until July 2017, when he tried to leave the country and was taken into custody at Dulles airport. His lawyer is Chris Gowen, a former aide to Hillary Clinton.
Wasserman Schultz kept paying Awan after he was banned from Congress. A Capitol Police report shows that in April 2016, Imran left a laptop with the username RepDWS in a Capitol Hill phone booth late at night, and it was taken by police.
Police said they needed it as evidence, but Wasserman Schultz pledged “consequences” for the police chief. Wasserman Schultz’ brother, a prosecutor in the D.C. US Attorney’s office, has tweeted about the case under the handle “fedpros.”
Gowen said he felt “very strongly” that the RepDWS laptop should not be examined, and prosecutors never publicly challenged that request.
No one else connected to Imran that was banned from the House has been charged, yet the House has not re-instated them. Imran, Hina, Abid and Jamal have also shared IT duties with Haseeb Rana, former McDonalds worker Rao Abbas and Nataliia Sova, a Ukrainian who is married to Abid.
House officials told TheDCNF that the vast majority of evidence about misconduct allegations on Capitol Hill — including $120,000 in missing equipment from the office of Yvette Clarke — is actually against Abid, not Imran.
Capitol Hill officials involved in oversight of the case previously told TheDCNF that the reason the DOJ was not pursuing the case was because the Democrats were refusing to press charges.
The agreement says:
After the entry of your client’s plea of guilty to the offense identified in paragraph 1 above, your client will not be charged with any non-violent criminal offense in violation of Federal or District of Columbia law which was committed within the District of Columbia by your client prior to the execution of this Agreement and about which this Office was made aware by your client prior to the execution of this Agreement, all of which is contained in the attached Statement of Offense. However, the United States expressly reserves its right to prosecute your client for any crime of violence.
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