Wasserman Schultz kept paying tech expert suspected of stealing House computers

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House Budget Committee member Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, questions Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Capitol Hill in Washington. Wasserman Schultz fired IT staffer Imran Awan on July 25, 2017, following his arrest on a federal bank fraud charge. Jacquelyn Martin AP Photo

BY ALEX DAUGHERTY AND AMY SHERMAN
Miami Herald

When a computer expert who worked for congressional Democrats was accused of stealing computers and data systems in February, members of Congress cut him loose within days, leaving Imran Awan with no supporters five months later.

Except for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Weston Democrat has not explained in detail why she continued to employ Awan until Tuesday when she fired him — after he was arrested on bank-fraud charges at Dulles International Airport in Virginia attempting to board a flight to Pakistan.

And she has not elaborated on what work Awan did for her after he lost access to the House computer network.

She declined to answer questions about Awan in Washington on Wednesday, and her spokesman, David Damron, accompanied her to the House floor while instructing a reporter that Wasserman Schultz would not take questions about her former employee.

Wednesday evening, Wasserman Schultz released a statement:

“After details of the investigation were reviewed with us, my office was provided no evidence to indicate that laws had been broken, which over time, raised troubling concerns about due process, fair treatment and potential ethnic and religious profiling,” she said. “Upon learning of his arrest, he was terminated.”

Damron told the Miami Herald that Awan was still working for Wasserman Schultz in an advisory role until Monday, and was fired Tuesday. Wasserman Schultz was one of more than two dozen Democrats in Congress who employed Awan, 37, and four other information-technology staffers accused in February of stealing computer systems.

But months after Awan was fired by everyone else, Wasserman Schultz grilled Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa in May over why computer equipment was confiscated from her office as part of the investigation into Awan even though she was not under investigation.

“Under my understanding, the Capitol police are not able to confiscate a member’s equipment when the member is not under investigation,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It is their equipment and it is supposed to be returned.”

Verderosa told Wasserman Schultz that he couldn’t return the equipment without the permission of the investigation.

“Until that’s accomplished I can’t return the equipment,” Verderosa said.

Wasserman Schultz was not pleased.

“I think you are violating rules when you conduct your business that way and you should expect that there will be consequences,” she said.

The Capitol Police declined to comment on the investigation.

Eight House Democrats, including Wasserman Schultz, each paid Awan more than $1,000 for IT work in 2017. Congressional salary records indicate that Awan’s employment stopped in early February for six of the eight Democrats shortly after the investigation was announced.

“He was terminated as soon as we learned about the allegations of wrongdoing,” said Joyce Jones, spokeswoman for Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, who paid Awan $1,166 for work in 2017. “His official termination date was February 2, 2017.”

One other Democrat, Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, paid Awan through the end of February, according to congressional salary records.

But Wasserman Schultz continued to employ Awan even though the other Democrats purged him from their payroll. Awan was well-paid during his time in Congress. He made $164,000 in 2016 and $170,000 in 2015, according to congressional payroll records.

Awan’s lawyer, Chris Gowen, described the case in a written statement as “part of a frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry” and that Awan has no intention of leaving the U.S. to avoid the bank-fraud charges and investigation.

Awan could not be reached on the telephone numbers or email listed in the criminal complaint.

He pleaded not guilty to the bank-fraud charges and was released into a high-intensity supervision program that requires him to use a GPS monitor, abide by a curfew, and not travel more than 50 miles from his home. He was also ordered to turn over all of his passports.

“Mr. Awan’s family is presently staying with extended family in Pakistan because he and his wife were both abruptly and unjustly fired, leaving them without a reliable source of income to pay typical U.S. living expenses, and because extremist right-wing bloggers were beginning to harass them and their children — even going to their children’s schools,” Gowen said.

Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, briefly worked for Wasserman Schultz this year and recently left for Pakistan, although FBI agents also approached her as she awaited her flight at Dulles.

An FBI spokeswoman confirmed that Awan was arrested but declined to answer additional questions.

Wasserman Schultz, first elected to Congress in 2004, represents a left-leaning district that stretches from Weston to northern Miami-Dade. She resigned as chair of the Democratic National Committee in July 2016 amid the Wikileaks publication of thousands of emails showing favoritism to Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz talks DNC email leak

Former Democratic National Convention chair and Congressional candidate Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks with the Miami Herald editorial board about the DNC email leak on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, in Doral.

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http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics-government/article163818253.html

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