Former South Florida Congresswoman Under Federal Investigation
Former Florida congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is under federal investigation for allegedly spending campaign money on personal trips and vacations. The Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department is running the investigation.
It was recently revealed that several former campaign staffers have been interviewed regarding vacations Ros-Lehtinen took to Disney World with her children and grandchildren. Former staffers have been subpoenaed to provide records and appear before a grand jury related to the illegal misuse of funds. The former Congresswoman did not return any requests for comments regarding the case.
Intentional Misconduct Versus Bookkeeping Errors
An attorney for Ros-Lehtinen told reporters that she and her former staff are cooperating fully with investigators and told the press that if there were any accounting issues, that they were the result of negligence and not intentional misconduct. This is important because the Justice Department will need to show that Ros-Lehtinen intentionally misused the funds knowing that they were a part of her campaign coffers.
The Case Against Ros-Lehtinen
In 2017, Ros-Lehtinen announced that she would not be seeking reelection in 2018. At this point, $177,000 was transferred from her campaign to a PAC she controlled. Regardless, this money cannot be spent on what the law defines as “personal use”.
An accounting of the PAC’s (IRL PAC) expenditures do show some expenditures that would raise eyebrows if one was inclined to prosecute elections fraud. One of those expenditures was a $4,000 trip to Disney World. There were also $40,000 in hotel expenses at some of the most lavish hotels across the country. At one point, she dropped over $3,000 on a tab at an upscale seafood restaurant.
The issue in a case like this (for both sides) is when does an expenditure cross the line into personal use and what constitutes wining and dining potential political allies. Nonetheless, the Justice Department maintains that there is reason to believe that these expenditures had no valid connection to either Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign or her political duties.
A non-partisan watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, filed the complaint with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).
The FEC Had to Wait to Act
The FEC has been running under quorum due to three vacancies in the six-person panel. President Trump only recently appointed the three remaining seats preventing several campaign investigations from moving forward. Whether or not the Justice Department took the case on their own or if it was referred to the Justice Department by the FEC is currently unknown. The Justice Department is refusing to comment.
Thus far, Ros-Lehtinen has not been charged with any crime. In a similar case against California’s Duncan Hunter, Hunter was sentenced to 11 months after diverting campaign funds to personal vacations and to finance an affair he had with another woman while he was married.
Talk to a Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney
If you’re facing charges related to federal crimes or white-collar crimes, call a Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer at the Matassini Law Firm today to learn more about how we can protect you from overzealous prosecutions based on speculative evidence.