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Another Twist in Embezzlement Case

Capitol Briefing would like to revise and extend his post from yesterday on alleged embezzler Christoper Ward's apparent theft from LUISPAC, the political action committee of Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño (R).

It turns out that Ward actually gave some of the money he took back to LUISPAC already, and he appears to have taken $41,000 from the PAC, not $40,000. That extra grand may not mean much in a scandal whose overall toll is now north of $850,000. But what is interesting is where that additional $1,000 went.

When LUISPAC filed nearly two-dozen amended financial reports with the Federal Election Commission last week, it's revised report covering January 2008 included a new disbursement that hadn't been there previously: a $1,000 "unauthorized political contribution" to SAXPAC, Rep. Jim Saxton's (R-N.J.) committee whose books, of course, were also kept by Ward. Interestingly, SAXPAC did not report receiving the contribution (or any other receipts) on its own FEC report covering the same time period, and the PAC was terminated at the end of January. Saxton is not running for re-election.

Why did Ward send the money from Fortuño's PAC to Saxton's, and what happened to it after that? Saxton's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment, nor did Ward's attorney.

Now, one thing we do know about this still-unfolding scandal is that Ward frequently shuffled money between different committees he controlled. The National Republican Congressional Committee's internal audit, conducted by Covington & Burling and PricewaterhouseCoopers, concluded: "The essence of Ward's apparent scheme was that he used his authority to order wire
transfers to direct funds through various committees and ultimately to his own accounts."

In the case of the NRCC, Ward used committees established for the annual President's Dinner fundraiser as a conduit, sometimes to other committees he controlled and sometimes directly to himself. It's not clear if Ward did something similar with LUISPAC, moving cash from there to SAXPAC before ultimately putting it in his own pocket. SAXPAC has not filed any amended FEC reports this year.

LUISPAC was able to discover Ward's thievery because it went back and tried to reconcile the committee's FEC reports with its actual bank records, according to the PAC's lawyer, Brett Kappel of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. In the process, the committee discovered that Ward actually gave back $23,500 on Feb. 8 of this year, just after the scandal broke. That entry now appears on LUIS PAC's amended report for February as "Refund/Unauthorized Disbursement." Fortuño's is at least the third PAC to which Ward is known to have returned money.

By Ben Pershing  |  June 25, 2008; 5:48 PM ET
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