Luke Rosiak – Investigative Reporter
Multiple members of Congress hired as their information technology (IT) administrator an individual whose most recent job experience was being fired from McDonald’s, The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group has learned.
Spokesmen for the members won’t say what their bosses knew at the time, but the hiring decisions highlight the role — witting or unwitting — the representatives played in what turned out to be an alleged multi-million-dollar IT scam in Congress with serious implications for national security.
Soon after Imran Awan joined the staff of Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in 2005, his brothers Abid and Jamal, his wife Hina, and his brother’s wife Natalia all appeared on other members’ payrolls, supposedly as IT administrators. His best friend Rao Abbas landed on the payroll too. Most of them made salaries ordinarily only chiefs of staff earn, but they were rarely seen or heard from in Hill IT circles.
The crew is now the target of a U.S. Capitol Police criminal information security probe with assistance from other law enforcement agencies as needed. Politico reported the “House staffers are accused of stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network.”
Abbas lived in the basement of a house that Hina owned as a rental property, according to Cristal Perpignan, who occupied the top floors of the house. Abbas administered the email accounts and computers of eight members of Congress, according to official payroll records. House IT administrators can read all emails sent and received by members for whom they work.
“Rao did appear to be home most days,” Perpignan said, and she claimed that Imran told her Abbas had lost his job at McDonald’s. Imran appeared to use Abbas as a cutout in more ways than one because he instructed her to make rental checks payable to Abbas instead of the landlord, she said.
For years, Abbas was the only IT worker for Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri and the only D.C.-based one for Ted Deutch of Florida, according to payroll records. If Abbas did not actually perform IT work for Congress, it raises the question of whether someone else with no staff relationship, such as Imran, was performing sensitive administrator-level IT work when required.
To get administrator-level access to a congressional office’s accounts, a form must be submitted that requires the member’s signature, House IT workers told TheDCNF. People who are not on staff are not permitted to do work for the office, according to House rules.
Spokesmen for Cleaver and Deutch refused to say whether Abbas was ever seen in their offices, how Abbas came to appear on their payrolls or who on their staffs had IT administrator-level access to computer files.
Cleaver put five out of the six members of the Awan circle — all but Jamal — on his payroll at various times. It’s an unusual number of tech workers, and an arrangement that should have made the existence of nepotism obvious to the member or his chief of staff. For the last two years, Abbas was the sole person with access to Cleaver’s computers.
Deutch, meanwhile, had Natalia — who is from Ukraine, while the others are Pakistani — as his IT person in 2011. Soon he had Natalia, Imran and Abbas all listed as working for him. Then, for the last two years, there was only Abbas, meaning if Abbas was a no-show employee, it should have been obvious. Deutch also has a full-time IT worker based out of his district office, which most members do not have.
With allegedly no-show employees connected to Imran being added to numerous offices, someone had to do the work. Imran enlisted an old high school friend, Haseeb Rana, for this purpose. Haseeb did not respond to TheDCNF’s multiple requests for comment.
His father, Tanwir Rana, said Haseeb is a skilled IT professional and “they made him do all the work … After three months, he wanted to leave. We were having a very charged relationship with Imran. [Haseeb] was not satisfied with their behavior.”
Payroll records show that Haseeb began working for the House in 2013 and quit by the end of 2014.
Tanwir described Imran as having hired Haseeb even though the men are not part of a company and are hired as individual W-2 employees by congressional offices. Members or their chiefs of staff generally make hiring decisions.
TheDCNF interviewed multiple people who know Imran personally and say he boasted that he had outsized influence over numerous Democratic lawmakers.
Wasserman Schultz has refused to fire Imran despite House authorities banning him from accessing official computers. She also threatened the Capitol Police with “consequences” if they didn’t return a computer Imran used that was later seized as evidence in the investigation.
According to payroll records, two newly-elected Democrats, Reps. Charlie Crist of Florida and Jacky Rosen of Nevada, put Abbas on their payrolls when they took office in January — the time when IT workers would have been setting up the freshmen’s office IT systems and email accounts.
Spokesmen for Crist and Rosen declined to say who recommended Abbas, despite the availability of many reputable companies and individuals competing for members’ business. They also would not say who set up their offices’ email accounts.
Former Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, who left the House after losing a Senate race, also had Abbas on his payroll. Like Wasserman Schultz, Deutch and Crist, Murphy is from Florida.
A House central IT employee who requested anonymity told TheDCNF that “they were ghost employees … When a new Congress would come in, they would have the members of the offices they were servicing vouch for them.”
A congressional IT employee who has taken over some of the Awans’ offices said employees there “weren’t used to seeing their technicians.”
Before the criminal probe was revealed, the employee told members Imran was “putting members at risk, so I used that to try to get several members to switch over,” he said. He added that he couldn’t understand why no one seemed to care.
Politico described Wasserman Schultz and Democratic Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York as having a “friendly personal relationship” with the Imran and his wife.
Previously, a second Democratic House IT worker told TheDCNF “there’s probably a core of 8-10 members that know whats going on,” including Wasserman Schultz and Meeks. “Several members should be kicked off the Hill.”