Current Affairs

Pakistani Men Behind the IT Scandal, One Arrested for fraud

Mark Patricks

The Capitol Police is a specialized force responsible for securing the safety of Congress and its offices. It's been in place for nearly two centuries and has protected lawmakers and their staffs from terrorist threats and domestic enemies alike.

But recently, a Capitol Police investigation into internal IT administration in the House of Representatives has confounded staffers and lawmakers who had previously trusted a number of the workers in question.  Pakistan-born brothers Imran, Jamal and Abid Awan, were IT managers who were responsible for administrating various members of the House of Representatives' computer networks from 2009 to 2016. They were working for a few Democratic Party’s leaders, including the Chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. 

Imran Awan, 37, was arrested by the FBI at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, earlier this week as he attempted to fly to Qatar then to Pakistan. 

Wasserman Schultz stepped down as DNC chair last year after the Democratic Party’s email systems were hacked.  

Authorities had been watching Imran for months as part of an investigation into information and equipment theft.

His wife, Hina Alvi, and two other relatives, Jamal and Abid Awan, were fired as a result of the probe in March but Imran was kept on by Wasserman Schultz. 

Imran Awan was arrested on suspicion of banking fraud for allegedly taking out a $165,000 loan with his wife on a house that they did not live in and sending the money back to Pakistan. [It was also reported that he had sent nearly $280,000 to Pakistan earlier.]

Imran Awan (above with Bill Clinton) was arrested trying to board a flight to Qatar. 

He has denied the charge and was granted bail on the condition that he surrenders his passports and wears an electronic ankle bracelet until his next court date in August. 

His lawyer told Politico later that '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 today confirms the lack of evidence or proof they have against my client.' 

Awan's arrest is the culmination of months of investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies. As a result of it, several of the man's relatives were fired. 

Awan has worked on Capitol Hill for more than a decade and has served as a staffer to numerous Democrats.

Authorities launched an investigation earlier this year on the suspicion that he and his family were involved in the procurement of theft. 

In March, Awan's wife was fired from her job working for Rep. Gregory Meeks. She fled the country shortly afterwards with the couple's two daughters, a haul of luggage and $12,000 in cash but was never arrested.

Authorities say they do not believe she intended to return to the US. Her husband had a return flight booked for January next year. 

Awan was fired from Rep. Marcia Fudge's staff but he was kept on by Wasserman Schultz despite having his access to the House network denied. 

She said nothing of the investigation about him and instead protested that a laptop seized as part of the probe had not been returned to her promptly. In May, she was filmed telling US Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa to 'expect consequences' if he did not promptly return a laptop that was part of the investigation 

After Awan’s arrest Wasserman Schultz announced that he had been fired. 

A total of five staffers were being investigated and charged. They included Imran's brothers, Abid and Jamal. It was not clear if they were also arrested or if either was still in the country.3

In April, Imran and Abid's stepmother, Samina Gilani, filed a lawsuit against them claiming they were threatening and forcing her to sign over power of attorney to them for assets in Pakistan.

According to The New York Post, which obtained information about her lawsuit, she said they had tapped her phones and threatened to kidnap relatives in Pakistan so that she would sign their father's $50,000 life insurance policy over to them. Mohammad Ashref Shah, their father and her husband, died in January. 

Samina Gilani, said they'd stolen disability checks from her and convinced their ailing father to transfer the management of a life insurance policy to them on his deathbed. Gilani claimed in court documents that "Imran Awan threatened that he is very powerful, and if I ever call the police, [he] will… kidnap my family members back to Pakistan."

Gilani also charged that the brothers used her to access money that was stashed overseas and that they held her in virtual captivity from October 16, 2016 until February 2, 2017, planting surveillance equipment in her house and listening to private conversations she held with visitors.

Regarding cyberattacks of Democratic Party’s e-mails it was Wasserman Schultz who was the chair of the Democratic National Committee when its computer systems were hacked in the summer of 2016. 

The cyberattack was traced back to Russian officials and was categorized by the Obama administration as an attempt to influence the election in favor of Donald Trump. The security breach led to the harvesting of thousands of emails written by Clinton's campaign team. 

They were sent to WikiLeaks and dumped en-mass and by drip-feed in to the public sphere before the 2016 presidential election. The hack prompted Wasserman Schultz's resignation. 

It now appears that the three brothers, along with the rest of their family, were paid more than $4 million in that time for poorly performed services and most likely illicit activities such as theft of electronic devices and data.

It's also been discovered that the brothers are notorious fraudsters who have left a trail of bankruptcy and deceit in their wake. In fact, Capitol Police have discovered that practically anyone who came into contact with the head brother, Imran, considered him a "dishonest manipulator with an unquenchable thirst for money," according to The Daily Caller.

"Imran is very cunning and shady," said Cristal Perpignan, a government manager who had rented a property from him — just one of the several brothers able to buy with the funds they were paid by the federal government. "He gives you a sob story, and you believe him."

"They're brazen," declared another renter who wished to remain anonymous, claiming that the Awans demanded rent payments in cash. The brothers not only bought property with their government gains, they also ran a now-bankrupt car dealership in partnership with an Iraqi politician, Ali Al-Attar, who's wanted by the U.S. government.

According to Philip Giraldi, a former CIA employee, Attar "was observed in Beirut, Lebanon, conversing with a Hezbollah official" in 2012. (Hezbollah is one of the most notorious terrorist groups in the Middle East, long responsible for acts of violence against Israel and other non-Shia-aligned states.)

Attar not only was involved in the car dealership, he also defrauded Medicaid, Medicare and a number of insurance companies by using medical practices in Virginia and Maryland to bill the government for non-existent medical procedures. In 2009, the FBI raided the offices of these practices, and in 2011, the federal Department of Health and Human Services filed a lawsuit against one of his business partners. In 2012, Attar was indicted on tax fraud charges but fled to Iraq.

House of Representatives officials have acknowledged that the Awans are the subject of a criminal investigation for allegedly "committing serious, potentially illegal violations on the House IT [computer] network." These violations may include accessing Congress members' computers without their knowledge and stealing equipment.

In their influential positions, the brothers had access to thousands of sensitive files, emails and personal messages from 31 members of Congress, all belonging to the Democratic Party. In fact, the brothers used recommendations from some Democratic lawmakers to get others to hire them for extra IT work.

A number of those members of Congress were on the House Select Committee on Intelligence and on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, both of which deal with some of the most sensitive and secret documents legislators lay their hands on, including information related to terrorism and homeland security. "You'd think in the [Democratic] Party they'd know these guys were working for all of [these representatives], and they couldn't possibly support all of them. Someone must have been turning a blind eye," said one IT specialist knowledgeable about the affair.

IT staffers believe Wasserman-Schultz's lack of cooperation and sometime defense of the brothers, along with similar stances from a number of other Democrats, may be indicative of a blackmail scheme being perpetrated. "I don't know what they have, but they have something on someone. It's been months at this point [since an investigation was opened], with no arrests," said Pat Sowers, a 12-year IT veteran of the House. "Something is rotten in Denmark."

Some Congressional staffers said the brothers' work was routinely sub-standard and that requests for IT help were typically ignored for weeks. Records were found showing that members of Congress in some cases were being billed for phone lines that hadn't been used for years.

"You have the power to shut down the office, remove all their data and lock everyone out. It’s got to be a trusted advisor. How could you not see this? Maybe it’s not specifically blackmail — maybe it’s 'you knew this was going on, and let me do this,'" suggested one unrelated IT contractor.

According to the same contractor, members of Congress "are saying, 'don't say anything; this will all blow over if we don't say anything.' The Awans had [Congress people] in their pocket; there are a lot of members who could go down over this."

An independent IT professional who says he tried to offer similar services to House members at one-fourth the cost was rebuffed repeatedly. This has led him to believe the brothers are asserting some kind of leverage over House members. "There's no question about it; if I was accused of a tenth of what these guys are accused of, they'd take me out in handcuffs that same day, and I'd never work again," he stated.

In February, all three brothers were banned from the House IT network, and their security clearances were revoked. The brothers' wives, who also worked with them, have additionally been banned. Other IT staffers who've taken over computers previously managed by the brothers say they have found "thin client" network software that sent data to offsite servers in violation of House technology policies.

All three brothers, who are in their 20s, made at least $160,000 per year each — very nearly the same salary as a member of Congress and three times the average House IT staff salary. There are also indications the brothers had several no-show employees on their payroll at the same income. At least one of those employees had recently been fired from an area McDonald's. Reportedly, the brothers all prominently made mention of their work at the House to gain additional computer service contracts, and they displayed huge House of Representatives emblems in their homes' windows.

Since the Capitol Police investigation began, Imran Awan's wife Hina has moved with the couple's daughters back to Pakistan, and allegedly is being given government protection there. Despite much negative media attention over the story, some members of Congress continue to insist the brothers did nothing wrong. Unrelated House IT staffers contend there's some kind of scheme taking place. "There's probably a core of eight to 10 members [of Congress] that know what's going on. Several members should be kicked off the Hill," said one.

As of this writing, the Capitol Police investigation is still ongoing, and the brothers have yet to be charged with any crimes, despite significant evidence pointing to fraud, theft and possibly extortion. Visitors to their homes say they have seen pictures of Imran Awan with former President Bill Clinton among other photos of holy site Mecca. "If they were real Muslims, they wouldn't treat people like this," said one relative. Sources such as Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan say the Capitol Police have contacted additional agencies for help with the case.

[Courtesy: League of Power]