Friday, June 13, 2008

Estimated haul in the Republicrook embezzling scandal zooms up from $500K to over $800K. Do I hear $1 mil? (It appears that it's anybody's guess!)


"Once considered the gold standard among bookkeepers for Republican political operations -- he was treasurer for at least 83 GOP committees over the past decade -- Ward came under scrutiny in late January when lawmakers demanded to meet outside auditors who had purportedly performed annual audits of the NRCC."
--from Paul Kane and Ben Pershing's report in today's Washington Post,
"House Republicans' Audit Shows Treasurer Stole at Least $800,000"

I know we shouldn't laugh about this, but it's kind of hard to keep a straight face when it comes to Republicrooks stealing from one another. Although Charles J. Ward's reign of pilferage apparently came to an end in October, when he was still on the National Republican Congressional Committee payroll as a consultant, after stepping down as treasurer in the summer, estimates of the size of his haul are still growing.

Just last week, when federal prosecutors filed a civil action aimed at the seizure of Ward's Bethesda home -- into which he was claimed to have funneled chunks of pilfered pelf for mortgage payments plus another $200K for renovations -- they estimated his total take as "more than $500,000." Now, based on on a forensic audit commissioned by the NRCC (the tab for which itself is closing in on $600K, and the committee is reported to have spent another $300K beefing up its security procedures -- or possibly instituting some), the guesstimate has reached $810K and is still climbing.

"We'll never know the full extent," NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma predicted confidently to reporters.

One person who might have derived some small pleasure from the Ward revelations, but who unfortunately can't because of his position atop the blossoming scandal, is House Minority Leader John "Rhymes With Complainer" Boehner of Ohio [right], who as the House's top GOP-er since the fall of former Speaker "Planet Denny" Hastert (on whose watch most of Ward's creative bookkeeping took place) seems to have turned mahogany with embarrassment. Boehner, alas, appears poorly positioned to derive much comfort from the eclipse of his own office's embezzling scandal:

In 2003, a former campaign staffer for Boehner pleaded guilty to embezzling $617,000, which had been the largest political embezzlement in this decade. A staffer for the late Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) pleaded guilty in 1993 to stealing $1 million from the former senator's 1992 presidential campaign, an incident believed to mark the biggest political fraud case ever uncovered.

Kane and Pershing have some delicious detail about the nuts and bolts of Ward's funds diversions as he worked his way up the NRCC's accounting hierarchy in his 12 years there. For example, once he became deputy treasurer in 2001 he was able to divert money to his own bank accounts with wire transfers, for which his signature alone was then sufficient. It appears that once he was promoted to NRCC treasurer, he began diverting NRCC funds directly into mortgage payments.

Ironically, the House GOP may also face the wrath of the famously toothless Federal Elections Commission, "which last year issued guidelines telling political committees that lax oversight of treasurers would result in hefty penalties."

Republicans, of course, aren't great believers in oversight, at least oversight of Republicans. Ward's problems came to public attention when he acknowledged in January that he hadn't actually been having outside audits done of NRCC accounts, and had instead been forging his own audits. Even in Republican circles, this falls below what are considered accepted accounting procedures.

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