Ex-Rep. Siljander Indicted

Posted January 16, 2008 at 6:43pm

Former Rep. Mark Siljander (R-Mich.) was indicted for money laundering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice on Wednesday for his alleged role in helping an Islamic charity accused of financing terrorists.

Siljander, 56, who served from 1981 to 1987, is charged with lying about whether he was lobbying the Senate Finance Committee to get the charity removed from a list of suspected terrorist organizations and helping the group mark stolen funds.

The Islamic American Relief Agency, as the charity was known, paid Siljander for the advocacy work with $50,000 in funds it allegedly stole from the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to the indictment.

Siljander later lied about the lobbying to federal investigators, telling them the payments were charitable donations to support a book he was writing about bridging the gap between Christianity and Islam, the indictment charges.

The 42-count indictment, unsealed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Mo., also charges the IARA with sending about $130,000 to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan mujahedeen leader whom the United States has designated as a terrorist with ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The funds were concealed as charitable contributions to an orphanage located in buildings Hekmatyar owned, according to the indictment.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Kenneth Wainstein said the indictment “paints a troubling picture of an American charity organization that engaged in transactions for the benefit of terrorists and conspired with a former United States Congressman to convert stolen federal funds into payment for his advocacy on behalf of the charity.”

Siljander did not return a call for comment.

The former lawmaker faces three counts of money laundering, one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice. Together, those crimes carry a maximum penalty of 90 years.

Siljander has agreed to surrender “in the near future,” said Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City.

Aitan Goelman, a former Justice Department prosecutor with experience on terrorism, said the strength of the evidence notwithstanding, the charges set up a compelling case.

“The fact that this was money from American taxpayers that was later used to hire him to get this organization off the Senate’s list — it strikes me as having a great deal of innate jury appeal for a prosecutor,” he said.

Goelman said Siljander’s alleged lobbying for IARA itself was perfectly legal. But the indictment alleges Siljander knew he was being paid with stolen money and conspired to help launder it. The IARA transferred his payments to accounts he controlled with the International Foundation and the National Heritage Foundation, which helps administer family foundations.

At 29, Siljander was elected to the House in 1981 to replace David Stockman when he resigned the Western Michigan seat to become President Ronald Reagan’s budget director.

An evangelical, he was outspoken on abortion, homosexuality and what he called “general moral-type issues.” He also served on the House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on Europe and the Middle East, and International Operations.

Siljander’s Congressional career ended in a 1986 primary battle with Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). In the final days of that race, he sent local ministers a tape asking them to help him “break the back of Satan.” He blamed the resulting backlash for his loss.

The following year, President Reagan appointed him to serve as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations.

Siljander has only registered to lobby briefly, in 1998, with Advantage Associates, a firm made up of former lawmakers. Firm founder and former Rep. Bill Sarpalius (D-Texas) said Siljander was a “very nice guy” but failed to bring in any clients and the arrangement ended after a few months.

“He didn’t do anything that productive, so there was a parting of the ways,” Sarpalius said.

More recently, Siljander founded Global Strategies Inc., a consulting firm focused on government and public relations. “After spending nearly 25 years in Washington, D.C., power circles and traveling to 120 countries, I have learned that forging coalitions through a vast network of high-level international contacts can get things done,” Siljander says in a statement on the firm’s Web site. “‘Power politics’ is the art of accomplishing the impossible through a winning strategy by using a team of highly placed professionals.”