Washington (PTI): A Pakistan-born former IT aide of a top Democratic lawmaker has been arrested while trying to leave the US by the FBI on charges of bank fraud, officials have said.
Imran Awan, 37, an information technology administrator of Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was arrested from the Dulles International Airport on Monday while he was about to board a flight to Lahore.
FBI has seized smashed computer hard drive from his home, federal investigators said.
Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, had earlier left for Pakistan along with their children. The FBI said they do not believe she and their kids would return to the US.
He was at the center of a criminal investigation potentially impacting dozens of lawmakers, with possible security breach into their emails and computer systems.
Awan, who pleaded not guilty, was released Tuesday on a high intensity supervision program, the Department of Justice said.
Capitol Police is investigating this criminal incident into “serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network” by Awan and three of his relatives who had access to the emails and files of the more than two dozen House Democrats who employed them on a part-time basis, said the Daily Caller which has been carrying out investigative reports in the case for the past several months.
In its complaint, the FBI accused Awan of attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a USD 165,000 home equity loan for a rental property. This is against the credit union’s policies since it is not the owner’s primary residence.
Those funds were then included as part of a wire transfer to two individuals in Pakistan’s Faisalabad, the FBI alleged in its chargesheet.
“Bank records show that USD 165,000 of USD 283,000 wired to Pakistan. Alvi had numerous pieces of luggage with her, including cardboard boxes. A secondary search of those items revealed that the boxes contained household goods, clothing, and food items. US Customs and Border Protection conducted a search of Alvi’s bags immediately prior to her boarding the plane and located a total of USD 12,400 in US cash inside,” FBI said.
Alvi, who was permitted to board the flight to Qatar, has not returned to the US along with her daughters.
Awan’s attorney Chris Gowen, in an email statement to Politico, said: “This is clearly a right-wing media-driven prosecution by a United States Attorney’s Office that wants to prosecute people for working while Muslim. A quick glance at what the government filed in court confirms the lack of evidence or proof they have against my client”.
However, the Republican National Committee has accused Congresswoman Schultz of not being truthful on this matter.
“We have to get to the bottom of this, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz has obstructed at every level on something that affects potentially our national security. So to have this gentlemen try and leave the country, and now we know there is bank fraud and we know he destroyed these hard drives, when you read story about the Marine that found them in the apartment he was trying to rent,” the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.
RNC said that the criminal investigation alleges the “stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network”.
Awan allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment from House offices and funnelled sensitive congressional data offsite as part of a massive cybersecurity breach, RNC said, adding that last year Awan worked for as many as 13 House Democrats.
According to Politico, most Democratic lawmakers cut ties with Awan and his family after the criminal investigation came to light in early February.
“But Awan continued to be employed by Wasserman Schultz, although it is unclear what his job duties were, given he had been barred from accessing the House IT system for months,” it added.