Update: IT staffer for Wasserman Schultz arrested; staff for Deutch, Frankel, other Dems probed

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, in 2015.

A congressional information technology staffer who has worked for U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, and several other Democrats was arrested on a bank fraud charge this week after months of investigation into a group of staffers connected to the House’s computer and email systems.

Other IT staffers targeted in the investigation have worked for U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and former Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter. The other staffers have not been charged with wrongdoing, but had their access to the House computer system revoked in February, leading most of their employers to terminate them.

Imran Awan was arrested Monday night at Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia as he attempted to travel to Pakistan. He entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday, according to Politico. An affidavit by an FBI agent accuses Awan of attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a $165,000 home equity loan and representing that it was for a primary residence rather than a rental property.

The $165,000 loan was used as part of a wire transfer of $283,000 to Pakistan, the affidavit says.

A law firm representing Awan issued a statement today blaming his arrest on “a frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry” and saying he looks forward to clearing his name.

Awan was paid about $160,000 a year, with 13 different Democratic members paying a portion of his salary during the last quarter of 2016, according to House records.

Deutch’s office said it was among those paying Awan between 2012 and 2014 for stints that totaled about 10 months.

Reports in The Daily Caller and other publications have linked Awan, his wife Hina Alvi, his brothers Abid Awan and Jamal Awan and a staffer named Rao Abbas to an investigation by the U.S. Capitol Police that began earlier this year. None of the others has been charged with any offense.

Frankel was among the Democratic members paying a portion of Abid Awan’s salary. He received $20,000 from her in 2016 and $1,833 from Frankel’s office between Jan. 1 and Feb. 3, when he was denied access to the House system and terminated by Frankel and others.

“We were one of 20+ Member offices that were using the services of Abid Awan to provide technical support for our computing technology,” Frankel spokeswoman Rachel Huxley-Cohen said. “When we were contacted about the investigation, our office immediately terminated the service. We have not since been informed of the details of the ongoing probe.”

Abbas worked until February for Deutch and three other Democratic House members, including Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg. Abbas also worked for former Rep. Murphy, who left office after losing a 2016 Senate bid.

Deutch declined comment on the IT staffers.

“There’s an ongoing investigation…that will be fully pursued, as it should,” Deutch told The Palm Beach Post.

The Daily Caller reported this week that the FBI had “seized smashed computer hard drives” from a home that Imran Awan owns and has been renting to tenants.

Alvi, Imran Awan’s wife, left the country for Pakistan in March, according to the FBI affidavit, which says she was accompanied by her three children after “abruptly” removing them from public schools in Northern Virginia. Imran Awan had bought a ticket to Pakistan and was preparing to board a flight to Qatar when he was arrested Monday.

While most House members dropped Imran Awan and the others from their payrolls, Wasserman Schultz continued to pay Imran Awan at least through the end of March. He received $1,495 from her office for the quarter.

“Mr. Awan previously served as an employee in our office, but his services have been terminated,” Wasserman Schultz spokesman David Damron said late Tuesday.

 

 

After two congressional defeats, Carl Domino gets a win in court

Carl Domino in 2010.

It’s been nearly three years — and two congressional defeats — since Republican Carl Domino fired fundraising consultant Annie Marie Delgado.

Delgado filed a breach of contract suit against Domino on Oct. 29, 2014, less than a week before Domino lost his challenge to former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, in a Palm Beach-Treasure Coast congressional district.

A Circuit Court judge ruled in Domino’s favor in 2016 and, after Domino finished fourth in a six-candidate GOP congressional primary, ruled in November that Domino is entitled to $60,000 in legal fees from Delgado.

An appeals court upheld the Circuit Court ruling last month.

Domino could not be reached today and Delgado declined comment.

Domino, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit against West Palm Beach consulting firm Public Concepts, which hired Delgado in 2014, seeking to recover the costs he incurred defending Delgado’s lawsuit. Two initial versions of Domino’s lawsuit have been dismissed.

 

 

Democratic governor candidates Gillum, Graham, King coming to West Palm Beach

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, businessman Chris King and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham before a Democratic candidate forum in Hollywood June 17.

The three leading Democratic candidates for Florida governor — Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and businessman Chris King — will appear at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches lunch on Aug. 28.

The three candidates also appeared together, and aired few differences, at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue fundraiser in June.

The last Democrat to win an election for governor was the late Lawton Chiles in 1994.

The Forum Club lunch will be at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach. It begins at noon, with doors opening at 11:15 a.m. Tickets are $40 for Forum Club members, $50 for their guests and club applicants and $75 for the general public.

 

Yet another Palm Beacher in Donald Trump’s Cabinet?

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at Donald Trump’s election night celebration.

President Donald Trump‘s Cabinet already has a distinctive Palm Beach flavor.

Rudy Giuliani with friend and former Palm Beach Town Councilman Bill Diamond outside Palm Beach Town Hall in 2015.

Trump, the part-time Palm Beacher who visited his Mar-a-Lago estate seven times in his first 100 days as president, has already tapped Palm Beach neighbor Wilbur Ross for Commerce secretary and Palm Beach resident Robert Lighthizer for the Cabinet-level post of U.S. trade representative.

Palm Beach Gardens resident Ben Carson is secretary of Housing and Urban Development. And Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is a Miami resident who made headlines overseeing corruption probes in Palm Beach County as a federal prosecutor.

Now that Trump has made his irritation with Attorney General Jeff Sessions clear, Axios.com is reporting that the president is considering longtime ally Rudy Giuliani to replace Sessions.

Former New York Mayor Giuliani is frequently sighted in Palm Beach and owns a pair of condos on the island — a Lake Drive unit valued at $1.6 million and Cocoanut Row place appraised at $390,000.

Palm Beach County Democrat: ‘We all felt that there was fraud going on’

“We all felt that there was fraud going on,” says former Democratic Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor. who lost her re-election bid with a narrow primary defeat last year. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, knocked out of office last year when she lost a Democratic primary to Mack Bernard, continues to question the role absentee ballots played in her defeat.

“We all felt that there was fraud going on,” says Taylor in a story by award-winning Palm Beach Post reporter Lawrence Mower.

Taylor got 766 more votes than Bernard at early voting sites and election-day polling places. But Bernard piled up a 1,287-vote margin in absentee ballots to win the Aug. 30 primary.

Detectives with State Attorney Dave Aronberg‘s office found clear-cut evidence of voter fraud in last year’s August primaries, with nearly two dozen people’s signatures forged on requests for absentee ballots.

But prosecutors are dropping the case.

Find out why by clicking here to read Mower’s entire story at MyPalmBeachPost.com.

 

Jeb Bush calls Donald Trump ‘deeply troubling’

Jeb Bush campaigning in Iowa in 2016. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the first establishment Republican casualty in Donald Trump‘s rise to the presidency, took some shots at President Trump  and the celebrification of American politics on Saturday at OzyFest in New York City.

Bush also accused some of his fellow Republicans of being inconsistent on Russia.

“If Barack Obama did something as it related to Russia and you get, you say this is outrageous, all this stuff, then when your guy does the same thing, have the same passion to be critical,” according to a video clip posted on Twitter by Business Insider politics reporter Maxwell Tani.

Bush told Trump’s Democratic critics that Trump isn’t a true Republican.

“He’s not really affiliated with the party, just to be clear. He’s Trump,” Bush said, according to an Associated Press account.

“We may have really talented people that are really good on TV being our leaders for a while until we sort things out…Ideas and policy really matter. It’s not just about personality,” said Bush.

While critical of the president, Bush said he wants Trump to be successful.

“I find him deeply troubling in a lot of ways. But I pray for him every night. And I pray for our country every night,” Bush said. “I care about my grandkids.”

Trump shake-up: Sean Spicer, Anthony Scaramucci both have Palm Beach County ties

Sean Spicer, left, and Anthony Scaramucci

Sean Spicer resigned as President Donald Trump‘s press secretary, reportedly because he disagreed with Trump  naming Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

Like part-time Palm Beacher Trump, both Spicer and Scaramucci have Palm Beach County connections.

Spicer worked for former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Foley in the late 1990s, then worked on the 2000 re-election campaign of the late Republican Rep. Clay Shaw for a Palm Beach-Broward congressional seat.

Scaramucci opened an investment management office in Palm Beach Gardens in 2015. Click here for an article on Scaramucci’s venture by esteemed Palm Beach Post scribe Jeff Ostrowski.

Conservative guerilla videographer James O’Keefe heading to Palm Beach County

Guerilla videographer James O’Keefe will headline the Palm Beach County GOP’s annual Lobsterfest next month.

Conservative activist James O’Keefe — whose Project Veritas Action has released controversial undercover videos targeting CNN, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the liberal group ACORN — will keynote the Palm Beach County Republican Party’s annual Lobsterfest dinner next month.

U.S. Reps. Brian Mast and Ron DeSantis are also scheduled to appear at Lobsterfest.

The dinner is slated for Aug. 17 at the Polo Club of Boca Raton, with tickets selling  for $145 a plate or $250 for a VIP reception. The event will also feature U.S. Reps. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, and  Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach. Freshman Mast is the only Republican in Palm Beach County’s U.S. House delegation. DeSantis is a potential 2018 candidate for governor or attorney general.

O’Keefe burst onto the political scene in 2009 when he and a Florida International University student posed as a pimp and prostitute and recorded hidden-camera footage in which they visited offices of the liberal Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now and appeared to get advice from ACORN employees on setting up a brothel and evading taxes.

Last fall, O’Keefe’s Project Veritas recorded videos in West Palm Beach in which Clinton campaign staffers appeared to make light of sexual assault and condone the destruction of voter registration forms submitted by Republicans.

O’Keefe’s critics accuse him of selectively and deceptively editing videos and note he was sentenced in 2010 to three years’ probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine for the misdemeanor charge of entering a federal building under false pretenses.

What Florida says about O.J. Simpson’s potential return

Former NFL football star O.J. Simpson appears via video for his parole hearing at the Lovelock Correctional Center in Lovelock, Nev., on Thursday, July 20, 2017. Simpson was convicted in 2008 of enlisting some men he barely knew, including two who had guns, to retrieve from two sports collectibles sellers some items that Simpson said were stolen from him a decade earlier. (Jason Bean/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool)

O.J. Simpson was granted parole by a Nevada board today, paving the way for his possible return to Florida.

Simpson lived in Kendall after he was acquitted of murder charges for the 1994 deaths of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman. He was jailed on armed robbery charges in Nevada after a confrontation over football memorabilia.

A spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott referred questions about Simpson’s potential return to Florida to the state’s Department of Corrections.

Here’s what Department of Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady said:

“We are aware of his potential relocation to Florida. Pursuant to the Interstate Commission on Adult Offender Supervision, if Nevada’s request meets all criteria, Florida must accept the transfer.

“As is the case with any offender who transfers under this routine procedure, he will be assigned a Florida probation officer and will be supervised in accordance with the conditions of his parole.”

Glady said that, under the compact signed by all 50 states, a receiving state has 45 days to determine whether to accept a parolee from another state.

She added: “If the transfer is submitted in accordance with the mandatory acceptance criteria (such as the offender being a resident of the receiving state or the offender’s family is residing in the receiving state), the individual supervision plan is automatically considered valid under the Interstate Compact and the receiving state must accept the individual for supervision.”

Click here for more on Florida’s connection on O.J. Simpson

 

 

Rep. Ted Deutch: Tax the rich to extend Social Security

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, calls for extending Social Security payroll taxes to incomes above $127,200. (George Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)

With Social Security facing solvency problems in less than 20 years, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, is reintroducing his bill to extend the life of the program by hitting higher-income earners with a payroll tax increase.

Don’t expect Deutch’s plan to get anywhere in the Republican-controlled House. His similar bill in the last Congress never got a hearing, and the chairman of the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee — Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas — was dismissive of the concept at a hearing last week.

Workers and employers each pay a 6.2 percent payroll tax — or a combined 12.4 percent — on earnings up to $127,200 to finance Social Security retirement and disability benefits. Deutch’s bill would eliminate the cap, making all income subject to Social Security taxes.

(In addition to the Social Security tax, workers and employers each pay a 1.45 percent tax — or a combined 2.9 percent — to pay for Medicare. There is no cap on income subject to the Medicare tax.)

Social Security Trustees report released last week estimates that, if no changes are made to the system, Social Security will only be able to pay 93 percent of promised disability benefits beginning in 2028 and will only be able to pay 77 percent of promised retirement benefits beginning in 2035.

That means a person who is 49 years old today would see about three-quarters of promised benefits when he or she reaches the retirement age of 67.

So revenue increases or spending reductions are needed to preserve Social Security’s long-term viability. Some Republicans, including Republican Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have proposed gradually increasing the retirement age for younger workers — but not current beneficiaries or those nearing retirement — to extend the program’s solvency.

The Social Security trustees don’t recommend a course of action in their report, but urge Congress to act soon.

“The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them,” the new report says. “Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits and could preserve more trust fund reserves to help finance future benefits.”

Subjecting all income to the Social Security tax would make the retirement program solvent through 2067, Social Security Chief Actuary Stephen Goss said at a Ways and Means hearing last week. The program’s expenditures would begin exceeding revenues in 2026, he said, and would draw on reserves to pay benefits for the next four decades.

“So even if we get completely rid of the taxable maximum, the program will be running cash-flow deficits within the next decade, is that true?” Subcommittee Chairman Johnson said. “That sure doesn’t get us much and as I’ve said before we clearly can’t tax our way to solvency.”

In addition to his proposal to make all income subject to the payroll tax, Deutch’s bill proposes to make annual cost-of-living adjustments more generous to retirees by using a Consumer Price Index for seniors, called CPI-E, instead of the CPI-W formula currently in use.

The CPI-E, as calculated by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, places more emphasis on housing and medical costs than the regular CPI formula. For the 30 years ending in 2011, CPI-E  increased by an average of 3.1 percent per year rather than 2.9 percent a year for CPI-W.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“I’m proud to once again join with my friend Senator Hirono to re-introduce this bill,” Deutch said in a statement released by his office. “Social Security is a fundamental program that protects millions of American workers’ economic security. It protects retirees, people with disabilities, and families who have lost a breadwinner. Yet, with President Trump willing to break his promise of protecting Social Security from cuts, and with ongoing threats to the program from Congressional Republicans, it’s more important than ever to fight for Social Security. We are standing with the American people who want Social Security protected and strengthened, not weakened. For many of my constituents, Social Security is the only thing keeping them from having to choose between medicine and a meal. Our bill bolsters Social Security to continue its success as the most efficient, effective, and popular promise we make to our fellow Americans.”

A budget plan released by House Republicans this week does not specifically address changes to Social Security retirement benefits, but calls for savings in the Disability Insurance program by eliminating payment of both unemployment and disability benefits to a recipient.