Ex-House Staffer Guilty in Fraud Case

By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 26, 2008

A former office manager for Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.) and two other House Democrats pleaded guilty yesterday to fraud for taking $200,000 in public money by submitting phony expense reports, according to Justice Department and House documents.

Laura I. Flores, 47, of Arlington pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in federal court in Alexandria and is scheduled to be sentenced May 2, officials said. She faces as much as 20 years in prison.

Court documents filed yesterday did not identify the lawmakers for whom she worked from January 2005 to December 2006, when the thefts occurred.

But House records show that Flores worked as an office manager during that time for Harman, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii) and Rep. Jim Costa (Calif.). She left that joint position early last year, according to records and officials.

Many office managers in the House and Senate have great leeway in overseeing the expenses for congressional offices. However, Flores's case is unusual, in that it involves official funds.

Abercrombie said Flores "attempted to take advantage of her budgeting and administrative position for personal gain. However, the House accounting system includes built-in safeguards and Ms. Flores was caught. She will now have to accept the consequences."

Harman and Costa's offices did not respond to requests for comment yesterday. Flores's attorney could not be reached.

Prosecutors said Flores submitted false vouchers for money set aside for staff expenses. In one example outlined by prosecutors, she received more than $17,000 after turning in a bogus invoice for database services in April 2005. She also submitted thousands of dollars in invoices for office products.

In all, the House Finance Office transferred approximately $200,000 into Flores's personal banking account in Virginia, prosecutors said, which led to the wire fraud charge.

Records show that Flores was employed in the House since at least 2003, when she worked part time for Harman, who was then the intelligence committee's ranking member.

According to LegiStorm, an online database of congressional salaries, Flores earned more than $237,000 in 2005 and 2006 from the part-time job. Her 2006 salary of more than $132,000 is more than most House chiefs of staff earn.

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