Ray LaHood admitted hiding $50K loan from foreign billionaire


Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood admitted to federal prosecutors that he intentionally excluded from his financial disclosures a $50,000 loan he obtained while in office from a billionaire foreign donor, a document released by the Justice Department said Wednesday.

During an interview with the FBI in 2017, LaHood initially denied receiving the loan, but later acknowledged the payment after being shown a copy of the $50,000 check he received in 2012, according to a non-prosecution agreement LaHood signed with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles.

Under the deal struck in 2019, federal prosecutors agreed not to file criminal charges over the omissions and misstatement, while LaHood agreed to pay a $40,000 fine and to repay the loan.

The agreement with the former Transportation secretary says he was “suffering significant financial difficulties” at the time he took the loan and that he used the money for home repairs.

The legal scrutiny for LaHood, a former Republican member of Congress from Illinois who served in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet from 2009 to 2013, appears to have emerged from a Justice Department investigation into the Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who was the ultimate source of the loan, Gilbert Chagoury.

The Justice Department also announced Wednesday that Chagoury reached a similar resolution in 2019 to an investigation into his involvement in foreign donations to U.S. political campaigns. Chagoury acknowledged that he paid $180,000 to individuals in the U.S. to fund donations to political candidates.

While Chagoury became the focus of media attention and GOP attacks because he donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation and had contacts with Hillary Clinton’s inner circle at the State Department, all the $180,000 prosecutors contend Chagoury routed into U.S. presidential campaigns appears to have gone to Republican candidates.

The campaigns and candidates are not identified by name in the documents released Tuesday, but a POLITICO analysis shows that the individual donations match with $100,000 in gifts to a Mitt Romney presidential campaign fund in 2012, $10,000 to the 2014 campaign of former Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), $30,000 to the 2014 campaign of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and $30,200 to the 2016 campaign of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

The documents do not allege that the campaigns or candidates were aware the donations originated with Chagoury, who — as a foreigner without legal residence in the U.S. — is prohibited from donating to U.S. campaigns.

Chagoury, who lives in Paris, paid a $1.8 million fine and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that kept criminal charges at bay. While he accepted the facts in the agreement about his donations, he did not admit to breaking the law. The deal seems to have been structured to allow Chagoury keep open certain legal defenses.

Two Chagoury aides also struck deferred prosecution deals with U.S. prosecutors. It’s unclear why the cases were kept under wraps for so long, but one of the aides’ agreements was not signed until earlier this month.

Published reports and internal State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks have tied Chagoury to the Hezbollah group in Lebanon — which is part of the government there but which the U.S. considers a terror organization. Chagoury has denied any wrongdoing or ties to terrorism, but at times he appears to have landed on a U.S. no-fly list.

In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security sent Chagoury a written apology over an incident that year where he and his family were delayed while trying to travel in a private jet from Teterboro, N.J., to Paris.

In the fall of 2016, Chagoury sued the U.S. government. He accused various government agencies of violating his privacy and due process rights by leaking derogatory and false information about him to the media. In July 2017, both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, with the U.S. government declaring that Chagoury was never on a specific sanctions list and that certain types of disclosures of personal information violate U.S. laws and agency policies.

A press release the Justice Department issued Wednesday suggests Chagoury provided valuable help to the U.S. government, but does not elaborate.

“Federal prosecutors entered into the deferred prosecution agreement considering, among other factors, Chagoury’s unique assistance to the U.S. government, his payment of a fine, Chagoury’s acceptance of responsibility for his actions, and his residence outside the United States,” the statement said.

Lawyers for Chagoury did not respond to requests for comment. LaHood did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The deals with both men contain provisions that could allow them to be prosecuted if they or their representatives publicly dispute any of the facts they agreed to in the legal settlements.

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Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood admitted to federal prosecutors that he intentionally excluded from his financial disclosures a $50,000 loan he obtained while in office from a billionaire foreign donor, a document released by the Justice Department said Wednesday.

During an interview with the FBI in 2017, LaHood initially denied receiving the loan, but later acknowledged the payment after being shown a copy of the $50,000 check he received in 2012, according to a non-prosecution agreement LaHood signed with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles.

Under the deal struck in 2019, federal prosecutors agreed not to file criminal charges over the omissions and misstatement, while LaHood agreed to pay a $40,000 fine and to repay the loan.

The agreement with the former Transportation secretary says he was “suffering significant financial difficulties” at the time he took the loan and that he used the money for home repairs.

The legal scrutiny for LaHood, a former Republican member of Congress from Illinois who served in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet from 2009 to 2013, appears to have emerged from a Justice Department investigation into the Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who was the ultimate source of the loan, Gilbert Chagoury.

The Justice Department also announced Wednesday that Chagoury reached a similar resolution in 2019 to an investigation into his involvement in foreign donations to U.S. political campaigns. Chagoury acknowledged that he paid $180,000 to individuals in the U.S. to fund donations to political candidates.

While Chagoury became the focus of media attention and GOP attacks because he donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation and had contacts with Hillary Clinton’s inner circle at the State Department, all the $180,000 prosecutors contend Chagoury routed into U.S. presidential campaigns appears to have gone to Republican candidates.

The campaigns and candidates are not identified by name in the documents released Tuesday, but a POLITICO analysis shows that the individual donations match with $100,000 in gifts to a Mitt Romney presidential campaign fund in 2012, $10,000 to the 2014 campaign of former Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), $30,000 to the 2014 campaign of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and $30,200 to the 2016 campaign of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).

The documents do not allege that the campaigns or candidates were aware the donations originated with Chagoury, who — as a foreigner without legal residence in the U.S. — is prohibited from donating to U.S. campaigns.

Chagoury, who lives in Paris, paid a $1.8 million fine and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement that kept criminal charges at bay. While he accepted the facts in the agreement about his donations, he did not admit to breaking the law. The deal seems to have been structured to allow Chagoury keep open certain legal defenses.

Two Chagoury aides also struck deferred prosecution deals with U.S. prosecutors. It’s unclear why the cases were kept under wraps for so long, but one of the aides’ agreements was not signed until earlier this month.

Published reports and internal State Department cables obtained by WikiLeaks have tied Chagoury to the Hezbollah group in Lebanon — which is part of the government there but which the U.S. considers a terror organization. Chagoury has denied any wrongdoing or ties to terrorism, but at times he appears to have landed on a U.S. no-fly list.

In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security sent Chagoury a written apology over an incident that year where he and his family were delayed while trying to travel in a private jet from Teterboro, N.J., to Paris.

In the fall of 2016, Chagoury sued the U.S. government. He accused various government agencies of violating his privacy and due process rights by leaking derogatory and false information about him to the media. In July 2017, both sides agreed to dismiss the lawsuit, with the U.S. government declaring that Chagoury was never on a specific sanctions list and that certain types of disclosures of personal information violate U.S. laws and agency policies.

A press release the Justice Department issued Wednesday suggests Chagoury provided valuable help to the U.S. government, but does not elaborate.

“Federal prosecutors entered into the deferred prosecution agreement considering, among other factors, Chagoury’s unique assistance to the U.S. government, his payment of a fine, Chagoury’s acceptance of responsibility for his actions, and his residence outside the United States,” the statement said.

Lawyers for Chagoury did not respond to requests for comment. LaHood did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The deals with both men contain provisions that could allow them to be prosecuted if they or their representatives publicly dispute any of the facts they agreed to in the legal settlements.

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