In early 2016, a corruption scheme emerged inside the D.C. office of Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Brooklyn). One-tenth of her taxpayer-funded Congressional office budget — $120,000, or enough for eight computers for every staffer — disappeared.
If Clarke had been honest and open about what had happened, she very likely would have lost reelection in 2018, when she won her primary by only 1,075 votes against a young, popular grassroots progressive.
Neither Clarke nor any of her staffers ever faced punishment – perhaps because Clarke herself was on the very Ethics Committee tasked with doling it out.
With a new Congress taking the reins, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is slated to announce the Ethics Committee’s new roster any day. Clarke shouldn’t remain on it – and after the way she treated taxpayer dollars intended to help her constituents, those voters should send her home in 2020.
The corruption scheme in Clarke’s office was first brought to light by her own deputy chief of staff, Wendy Anderson. When Anderson swung by the office unexpectedly on a weekend in December 2015, she found what “looked like Christmas with little TVs, iPods, etc. scattered around the room,” she later told investigators.
Her curiosity piqued, she found office records, including emails, that she believed suggested that chief of staff Shelley Davis and the office’s part-time IT guy, Abid Awan, were in cahoots to bill huge quantities of personal goods to the office and abscond with them.
Davis was earning a salary of $160,000, but had a history of money problems including an eviction.
Clarke’s expenditures on electronics were far higher than other offices, and that some of the products seemed to have no legitimate use, a House review later found.
Investigators also discovered that Davis was submitting purchase orders to the House’s central office that were systematically falsified to list items as costing $499, when in fact they cost much more. House officials assign barcodes to all items costing $500 or more and check on them yearly, whereas anything $499 or less is treated as petty cash.
In early 2016, Anderson ordered an audit that found nearly $120,000 in items were missing – a sum that would be virtually impossible to miss in an organization as small as a Congress member’s office, which generally has 15 employees and a tight budget of $1.2 million.
Davis abruptly left his job, and Clarke quietly “wrote off” the missing equipment – a highly unusual occurrence that made it as if the taxpayer-funded equipment simply never existed.
But beyond that, Clarke didn’t seem to want to take action, and Anderson took her findings to the House’s Inspector General. Anderson later departed Clarke’s payroll.
On Feb. 3, 2017, a letter marked “URGENT” from the House’s top law enforcement official, the Sergeant-at-Arms, memorialized what had quietly been known to Clarke for a year. It said “eighty-three pieces of missing equipment with a purchase price of $118,683.80 … had been ‘written off’ from the House inventory.”
Not long before, on Dec. 6, 2016, the FBI wrote a memo captioned “Fraud Against The Government – Legislative Branch.” It said “some of the equipment either disappeared or never made it to the Member’s office.”
Though by January 2016, Clarke knew that her IT aide, Pakistani-born Abid Awan, was implicated in the scheme in addition to her chief of staff, she refused Anderson’s pleas to fire him until September 2016. That inaction risked national security and raises major questions about her judgment.
Read the full article at the New York Post