Kimberley A. Strassel
Imran Awan was arrested at Dulles International Airport July 24, while attempting to board a flight to Pakistan. For more than a decade the congressional staffer had worked under top House Democrats, and he had just been accused by the FBI of bank fraud.
It was a dramatic moment in a saga that started in February, when Capitol Police confirmed an investigation into Mr. Awan and his family on separate accusations of government theft. The details are tantalizing: The family all worked for top Democrats, were paid huge sums, and had access to sensitive congressional data, even while having ties to Pakistan.
The media largely has ignored the affair, the ho-hum coverage summed up by a New York Times piece suggesting it may be nothing more than an “overblown Washington story, typical of midsummer.” But even without evidence of espionage or blackmail, this ought to be an enormous scandal.
Because based on what we already know, the Awan story is—at the very least—a tale of massive government incompetence that seemingly allowed a family of accused swindlers to bilk federal taxpayers out of millions and even put national secrets at risk. In a more accountable world, House Democrats would be forced to step down.
Mr. Awan, 37, began working for House Democrats as an IT staffer in 2004. By the next year, he was working for future Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Over time he would add his wife, two brothers, a brother’s wife and a friend to the payroll—and at handsome sums. One brother, Jamal, hired in 2014 reportedly at age 20, was paid $160,000. That’s in line with what a chief of staff makes—about four times the average Capitol Hill staffer. No Democrat appears to have investigated these huge numbers or been asked to account for them.
According to an analysis by the Daily Caller’s Luke Rosiak, who has owned this story, the family has collected $5 million since 2003 and “appeared at one time or another on an estimated 80 House Democrats’ payrolls.” Yet Mr. Rosiak interviewed House staffers who claim most of the family were “ghost” employees and didn’t come to work. Only in government does nobody notice when staffers fail to show up.
The family was plenty busy elsewhere. A litany of court documents accuse them of bankruptcy fraud, life-insurance fraud, tax fraud and extortion. Abid Awan, a brother, ran up more than $1 million in debts on a failed car dealership he somehow operated while supposedly working full time on the Hill. One document ties the family to a loan from a man stripped of his Maryland medical license after false billing. Capitol Police are investigating allegations of procurement fraud and theft. The brothers filed false financial-disclosure forms, with Imran Awan claiming his wife had no income, even as she worked as a fellow House IT staffer.
This is glaringly shady stuff, in no way “typical,” yet nobody noticed. Federal contractors are subject to security standards, but individual congressional offices have giant leeway over their hiring—and apparently no quality control. If a private firm had such shoddy employee oversight, it’d be sued into oblivion.
The most recent FBI affidavit accuses Imran Awan of defrauding the Congressional Federal Credit Union by lying about the use of his rental properties to get a $165,000 home-equity loan—which he immediately wrapped into a $283,000 wire transfer to Pakistan. At one point, when the credit union asked Mr. Awan (who was pretending to be his wife on the phone) why he wanted to send money to Pakistan, he replied, “funeral arrangements.”
Told this was not an acceptable reason, Mr. Awan went to “look online for an acceptable reason” and responded “buying property.” The bright bulbs at the credit union approved the transfer. His wife was already in Pakistan. The FBI stopped her at the airport in March, and despite finding $12,400 in undeclared cash (in excess of the legal limit), they let her go. Seriously.
Imran Awan has pleaded not guilty to bank fraud. The law office representing him issued a statement casting the investigation as “part of a frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry in the literal heart of our democracy.” It calls the accusations “utterly unsupported, outlandish, and slanderous.”
Yes, it is weird that Ms. Wasserman Schultz continued to shield Imran Awan to the end. Yes, the amounts of money, and the ties to Pakistan, are strange. Yes, it is alarming that emails show Imran Awan knew Ms. Wasserman Schultz’s iPad password, and that the family might have had wider access to the accounts of lawmakers on the House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees.
Yet even if this never adds up to a spy thriller, it outranks most of the media’s other obsessions. The government, under the inattentive care of Democrats, may have been bilked for ages by a man the FBI has alleged to be a fraudster. That’s the same government Democrats say is qualified to run your health care, reform your children’s schools, and protect the environment. They should explain this first.