A government accountability watchdog accused Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) of an “apparent and serious breach of House Ethics Rules” by paying an unqualified “ghost employee” for work he didn’t do — and for allowing indicted IT aide Imran Awan to control his congressional servers.
“According to his own statements, Cleaver accepted IT services from Imran Awan, who Cleaver did not employ and who has since been banned from the House IT system and is currently facing bank fraud charges,” Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust (FACT), said in a complaint filed Wednesday with the House Office of Congressional Ethics.
“Cleaver, however, employed and paid over $60,000 of taxpayer funds to an IT staffer, Rao Abbas, who Cleaver did not know and apparently did not perform IT work for Cleaver,” the complaint continued.
Abbas is an Awan friend with no formal IT training and who reportedly worked at a McDonald’s prior to his link with Cleaver’s office. The Pakistani-born Awan worked for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and dozens of other House Democrats, including members of the House intelligence and homeland security committees. Awan was indicted on four counts in 2017, including federal bank fraud and conspiracy.
Citing a July 16, 2017, story from The Daily Caller, FACT noted that 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,” FACT noted.
When Daily Caller reporter Kerry Picket confronted Cleaver on June 12, 2017, about Abbas, Cleaver responded, “Imran is the guy who worked in our office. I don’t know this other guy. I’ve met Imran.” But Cleaver’s office didn’t formally employ Awan and had only ever paid $200 in January 2014, the complaint states.
Cleaver’s office did, however, fork over more than $60,000 of taxpayer dollars to an employee whom the congressman had no clue existed.
“The facts appear simple: Cleaver accepted IT services from Awan, who he did not employ and [to whom] he gave access to data and the House IT system,” FACT’s complaint stated. “Moreover, Cleaver used taxpayer dollars to pay over $60,0000 to Abbas, who he did not know and the evidence indicates did not do work for him.”
FACT is a nonprofit organization “dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government.” The group said in its Cleaver complaint that it achieves its mission by “hanging a lantern over public officials who put their own interest over the interests of the public good.”
The watchdog organization urged the ethics office to investigate whether Cleaver “blatantly violated” House rules because lawmakers aren’t allowed to accept services from nonemployees legally and cannot retain employees who don’t provide any actual services.
If the House Ethics Committee were to take up the investigation, the watchdog noted that “several House Members employed friends and family members of Imran Awan” and should recuse themselves, due to their “clear conflict of interest.”
“The Office of Congressional Ethics is responsible for ensuring each representative fulfills the public trust inherent to the office and complies with the House’s ethical standards,” the complaint read, adding that the office “must investigate Cleaver to determine whether he accepted IT services from Awan and whether Abbas was a ‘ghost employee.'”