House Ethics Closes Gift Case Involving Meeks
The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it had ended its investigation of whether a loan Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, D-N.Y., received from a personal friend was an impermissible gift due to lack of evidence.
Meeks failed to disclose on his financial filings for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 the $40,000 loan he received from real estate broker and personal friend Edul Ahmad in 2007. But such omissions are “not uncommon” and “no further action by the Committee is warranted” because they have since been corrected, Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., noted in a statement.
“The record is less clear with respect to the allegation that the Ahmad loan was an impermissible gift,” a report prepared by the committee said.
In January 2007, Meeks accepted a $40,000 loan from Ahmad, a businessman based in his Queens congressional district. Several years later, the New York Daily News reported that the loan had been made without any set interest rates or repayment terms. Meeks denied the account and days later sent a check to Ahmad for $59,684, which was obtained by taking out a home equity loan, to repay the sum with an interest rate of about 12.5 percent, according to the committee report.
Shortly after, Meeks filed amended financial disclosure forms to include the previously omitted liability. His chief of staff told the Ethics Committee that it had been a “good-faith oversight” and had not been “identified until very recently,” the committee said.
The independent Office of Congressional Ethics, a fact-finding agency that reviews allegations of wrongdoing within the House and sends its conclusions to the Ethics Committee for further action, began looking into the loan at the beginning of 2011. In May of that year, it recommended that the Ethics Committee investigate whether Meeks had omitted the loan as a gift on his annual disclosure filings.
The committee’s report on the matter indicated the bulk of its investigation had focused on whether the loan was an impermissible gift. Meeks’ chief of staff twice told the committee that his office would produce documentation of the loan and its terms but later said that it could not be found.
“The [chief of staff] stated that Representative Meeks said the contract was a standard document and that Representative Meeks had purchased it at a store and that he was very angry at himself for having lost it,” the committee’s report said.
Meeks, in a letter to committee leaders, said that he had accepted from Ahmad an “unsecured balloon loan to be paid, with interest, within 10 years” and that it had been recorded in a “formal loan agreement” that he had later misplaced, the report said.
Ahmad’s attorney told committee investigators that no such documentation existed and no interest rate had been set, although his client would not cooperate unless given immunity from criminal prosecution.
“Considering the highly compromised credibility of Mr. Ahmad, unless he could provide some documentary evidence indicating that the payment to Representative Meeks was not a loan — which his attorney has stated he cannot do — it would be unreasonable for the Committee to conclude, on the basis of his testimony alone, that Representative Meeks had been untruthful to the Committee in his sworn statement that such a document accompanied the loan,” the joint statement said.
Ahmad pleaded guilty in October to a scheme that used straw buyers to defraud banks. He faces more than 10 years in prison and will pay $14 million restitution, according to local media reports.
“Even if the Committee was able to interview Mr. Ahmad and Mr. Ahmad contradicted Representative Meeks’ version of the events regarding the Ahmad loan, the Committee would be left with a ‘swearing contest’ between a Member and a person who has pled guilty to conspiracy to committee bank and wire fraud,” the committee’s report said.
“Given this situation . . . the Committee has decided to close its investigation regarding the allegation that Representative Meeks received an improper gift from Mr. Ahmad,” the report concluded.