On the heels of new reporting that Congressman Jim Hagedorn was intimately involved in his office’s potentially illegal spending of taxpayer money on businesses owned by his own employees, a Minnesota lawyer has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). OCE is required to investigate all complaints it receives, “all but assuring Congressional investigators will take a look at questionable spending by [Hagedorn’s] office.”
As the Minnesota Reformer writes this morning, the complaint “alleges Hagedorn, a first term Republican, violated ethics rules by allowing more than $111,000 to be paid to Invocq Technologies, a company controlled by John Sample, an employee in Hagedorn’s office.” Citing several irregularities and an “alarming lack of documentation and accountability for expenses,” by Hagedorn’s office, the lawyer who filed the complaint urged OCE to investigate how Hagedorn’s office disbursed payments to Invocq – a defunct company with no assets.
The complaint comes as Hagedorn has taken heat from ethics experts for clearly violating House ethics rules. Last week, the Mankato Free Press editorial board slammed his actions saying, “the district deserves better of its congressman.”
By Daniel Newhauser, September 16, 2020
WASHINGTON — A Minneapolis lawyer filed the first known ethics complaint against U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn on Tuesday, all but assuring Congressional investigators will take a look at questionable spending by his office over the past year, if they aren’t already doing so.
…Her complaint alleges Hagedorn, a first term Republican, violated ethics rules by allowing more than $111,000 to be paid to Invocq Technologies, a company controlled by John Sample, an employee in Hagedorn’s office. It also alleges that Hagedorn’s former chief of staff, Peter Su, violated ethics rules by “quietly awarding his brother a contract that was significantly above market rate without justification.”
She’s referring to a printing contract granted to a Delaware company called Abernathy West that was paid almost $340,000 in the past year at taxpayer expense to send positive mailers about Hagedorn to his constituents. A spokesperson for the company confirmed to the Reformer that it is owned solely by Nien Su, Peter Su’s brother. Dunlop wrote in her complaint that investigators should determine whether that is true. Hagedorn fired Su over the matter, he has said previously.
Dunlop said she independently researched the allegations aired in the press and read over a summary of an internal review of the issues, written at the behest of Hagedorn by D.C. lawyer Eliot Berke. She said she came to the conclusion that Hagedorn violated ethics rules by paying companies owned by people with close connections to the office, and that the congressman is responsible for spending made by his employees.
Hagedorn, whose spokeswoman did not return a request for comment Tuesday, has previously acknowledged that he is ultimately responsible for the spending by his office but denied wrongdoing, saying he delegated the task of choosing printing vendors.
Still, Dunlop said in the interview that she was motivated by two irregularities. “One: They had connections to them, which is suspicious. But it looks like they were being charged a lot more than market for the services they were buying from those people that they knew. And so the one-two punch of that just feels not cool.”
Dunlop also questioned the accuracy of Hagedorn’s internal review, particularly regarding the spending on Invocq Technologies, which was first reported by the Reformer. Berke wrote in the review that Sample had his onetime co-owner in the company, Catherine Keszei, perform graphic design work for Hagedorn. Keszei, however, died in December, “shortly after Invocq completed its work,” which “rendered Invocq essentially defunct with no financial assets,” according to the internal review.
Dunlop commented in the complaint: “However, Ms. Keszei passed away on 12/28/2019, while Invocq was paid $70,671 in January through April 2020, including $42,399 for services rendered in 2020. OCE should investigate how those payments were disbursed to a defunct company and how it had no assets after more than $70,000 in payments.”
Dunlop also flagged an “alarming lack of documentation and accountability for expenses,” citing the fact that — according to the internal review — no contracts existed for work with the two companies, and few documents exist to back up why those companies were selected over others.