Obama-era Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took $50,000 in undisclosed foreign cash while he was still in office in 2012 because he was “suffering financial difficulties,” Axios reported on Wednesday.
The cash came to LaHood as a loan from Virginia businessman Toufic Baaklini, an associate to Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, who conspired to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections. The Department of Justice noted that LaHood purposefully refused to mention the loan on government ethics forms “because LaHood did not want to be associated with Chagoury,” which was unrelated to a larger scheme of making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. politicians. Prosecutors say he also “understood at the time” who the money was coming from but “made misleading statements to FBI agents” during the investigation anyway.
LaHood paid a $40,000 fine for his ethics violation after he signed a nonprosecution agreement and repaid the loan. Chagoury, the mastermind of the foreign dollars donation scheme, however, paid more than $1.8 million as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, noting that he paid “approximately $180,000 to individuals in the United States that was used to make contributions to four different federal political candidates in U.S. elections.”
“According to a deferred prosecution agreement with the government, Chagoury accepted responsibility for his role and conduct that resulted in violations of federal election contribution laws between June 2012 and March 2016 and agreed to cooperate with the government’s investigation,” the DOJ press release reads. “Chagoury entered into the agreement on October 19, 2019, and he paid the fine in December 2019.”
Baaklini paid a $90,000 fine related to the scheme, and another associate, Joseph Arsan, paid $1.7 million in penalties as well as to resolve a tax probe concerning money “he held in foreign bank accounts.”
While it is unclear from the DOJ’s press release which candidates benefitted from Chagoury’s plot, the billionaire has a regular contribution history with the Clinton Foundation and gave “nearly half a million dollars to a Clinton-aligned voter registration group during President Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign.” Baaklini also made multiple donations to “GOP campaigns and party committees,” including Trump, and gave $2,700 to re-elect LaHood’s son to the House of Representatives.