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Ethics panel eyes whether Reyes misused his authority

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 30, 2009; 11:37 AM

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), the powerful chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, drew scrutiny from ethics investigators last year after an aide contacted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the kidnapping of a distant relative of Reyes's wife.

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In June 2008, the Reyes aide called an ICE official in about the kidnapping of Erika Posselt, a Mexican citizen. ICE officials then arranged meetings with Chihuahua state police, contacted that state's attorney general, briefed FBI and other ICE officials in Mexico City, and coordinated technical support.

The ICE officials also set up a command post with Mexican state and federal authorities and helped interview people in the United States who were thought to have relevant information.

Three days later, Posselt's family paid $32,000 in ransom, and she was released.

After details about the episode became public, a nonprofit group in Washington complained that Reyes may have behaved inappropriately.

"The United States does not . . . routinely step in and offer its assistance in recovering foreign kidnapping victims not related to powerful members of Congress," Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, wrote to then-Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

In a letter in response to the group's complaint, an ICE official said that the agency's personnel "routinely engage collaborative efforts to combat cross-border crime."

A document prepared by the House ethics panel in July shows that committee staff members were reviewing the case at the time and preparing recommendations. It was unclear Thursday what those recommendations were and what the status of the case is.

Reyes spokesman Vincent Perez said the complaints grew out of misinformation about the call, which he described as simply an effort by a Reyes aide to pass on information about a serious crime that was underway.

Perez said Reyes had never met Posselt. He said the issue was pushed by a border protest group that does not like Reyes or ICE policies. "It got very politically motivated," he said.

Perez said his office has heard nothing lately about the ethics committee effort or the complaint.

"The congressman was never contacted by anyone from the ethics committee because the facts regarding this incident clearly demonstrated this was a frivolous complaint without merit," Perez said.

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