NRCC Says Ex-Treasurer Diverted Up to $1 Million
Friday, March 14, 2008
The former treasurer for the National Republican Congressional Committee diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and possibly as much as $1 million -- of the organization's funds into his personal accounts, GOP officials said yesterday, describing an alleged scheme that could become one of the largest political frauds in recent history.
For at least four years, Christopher J. Ward, who is under investigation by the FBI, allegedly used wire transfers to funnel money out of NRCC coffers and into other political committee accounts he controlled as treasurer, NRCC leaders and lawyers said in their first public statement since they turned the matter over to the FBI six weeks ago.
"The evidence we have today indicated we have been deceived and betrayed for a number of years by a highly respected and trusted individual," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the NRCC chairman.
The committee also announced that it has submitted to banks five years' worth of audits and financial documents allegedly faked by Ward, some of which were used to secure multimillion-dollar loans. It is a violation of federal laws to obtain loans through false statements; the crime is punishable by up to $1 million in fines and 30 years in prison.
Before yesterday, the committee, which raised $49 million in 2007, had not acknowledged that any money was missing. It announced on Feb. 1 that it had discovered "irregularities" that might involve fraud, dismissed Ward and called in federal investigators.
Robert K. Kelner, a lawyer with Covington & Burling, which has been hired to oversee an internal forensic audit, told reporters he is certain only that Ward had made "several hundred thousand dollars" in unauthorized money transfers since 2004. However, he said, the year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2006 overstated the NRCC's cash on hand by $990,000.
That may be the upper level of what Ward allegedly skimmed from NRCC coffers, Kelner said. But the total will not be known until forensic auditors finish "drilling down" to determine how much money might have been misappropriated and how much may be missing as a result of sloppy bookkeeping, he said.
Kelner said Ward was the only NRCC official empowered to use wire transfers to shift money into any account without a second approval. After transferring the money into accounts he controlled, often for dormant fundraising committees associated with the NRCC, Ward allegedly moved it into accounts for his political consulting business or his personal bank accounts, Kelner said.
Kelner said the NRCC has had no contact with Ward since he was fired on Jan. 28. Ronald Machen, Ward's attorney, declined to comment on the investigation yesterday, as did the FBI.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Ward had served as treasurer for 83 GOP committees this decade. In the past five years, the committees took in more than $400 million in contributions.
Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) told The Post this week that Ward paid himself $6,000 from King's PAC in 2007 after the congressman thought he had closed down the committee.
Politico.com reported last night that Ward lent himself more than $4,200 from the political action committee of Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), an unusual expenditure for a campaign treasurer to make. Ward repaid the money early last month, after the FBI was called in to investigate his work at the NRCC, Politico.com reported.