House ethics panel looked at staff sharing by Sanchez sisters

By Scott Higham and Alice Crites
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 30, 2009; 11:38 AM

A document from the House ethics committee lists an examination into whether the chamber's rules were violated when Rep. Linda T. Sanchez put three legislative aides to her fellow-congresswoman sister on her payroll after an embezzlement scheme had left Rep. Loretta Sanchez's office short of funds.

The document, a July tracking report obtained by The Washington Post, says that the sisters, both California Democrats, "shared transferred staff from one office to another after embezzlement," and that a meeting between lawyers for the ethics committee and the congresswomen had taken place June 1. The document also says that lawyers for the congresswomen had submitted a letter with "additional information" on June 19.

On May 19, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that the ethics committee was examining the employee transfer. The paper reported that the panel was investigating an agreement in which Linda Sanchez put three aides from her sister's office on her payroll in 2006 shortly after discovering that one of Loretta Sanchez's employees had stolen money from the office. That employee, Caroline Valdez, later pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to charges that she embezzled from $5,000 to $10,000 from the office.

Roll Call reported that Loretta Sanchez discovered the theft after the House inspector general detected duplicate payouts from the office and referred what was found to the Justice Department.

Stanley Brand, an attorney for Loretta Sanchez, did not return a message Thursday, but he told the paper that the sisters sought an opinion from the ethics committee in late 2006 or early 2007 about the employee transfer. The committee document obtained by The Washington Post says staff members for the panel had drafted a "closeout letter" for the consideration of its chairman and ranking Republican.

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