US House Ethics Committee furthers Mooney review following report into Aruba vacation, personal errands and evidence tampering

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics announced Monday an extension of its review into Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., following additional allegations against the congressman.

The announcement came with the release of a House Office of Congressional Ethics report detailing multiple incidents, including a company’s purchase of a family vacation to Aruba, the utilization of a Washington, D.C. residence, tasks assigned to staff, the use of campaign funds, and possible document tampering.

The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics in December voted 6-0 for the House committee to further its review, citing evidence showing Mooney likely violated House rules and federal law.

The report is from the second inquiry involving Mooney; the House Ethics Committee previously received findings regarding a failure to disclose more than $40,000 in campaign spending since 2017.

Mooney’s office responded to the latest report by calling for its dismissal. The congressman also contended he continues to work on resolving the matters.

MOONEY, HSP DIRECT AND ARUBA

A significant portion of the office’s report concerns Mooney’s relationship with HSP Direct LLC, a company that has provided services to the Mooney campaign since January 2020. The Mooney campaign has paid $60,688 to HSP Direct over the last two years, and HSP Direct’s PAC has contributed at least $17,750 to Mooney since 2015. The office mentioned ties to Mooney and HSP Direct CEO Jamie Hogan, noting the two men have been friends for at least two decades.

According to the report, HSP Direct covered the costs of a week-long family vacation to Aruba in March 2021; Mooney and his family stayed at the Ritz-Carlton. The board estimates the firm covered at least $10,804 in expenses on travel, lodging, meals and entertainment.

Mooney informed staff in November 2020 that he was considering a campaign event for early March 2021 in Aruba, noting HSP Direct would serve as the host. HSP Direct’s PAC had nothing to do with the trip.

“In fact, as explained by an HSP Direct employee in emails to Former Staffer 2, the trip was a reward to approximately 160 HSP Direct employees for meeting certain company sales goals,” the report states. “The OCE is not aware of any individuals, other than the Mooneys, not employed by HSP Direct that participated in the trip. Additionally, counsel for HSP Direct told the OCE that no other Members of Congress were present on the trip.”

Mooney’s staff who knew of the trip were aware it was “personal in nature and characterized it as a family vacation.”

A Mooney staffer worked with HSP Direct and the Mooney family on travel arrangements, setting up coronavirus tests for Mooney and his family, and relaying information about the trip to the Mooneys.

“Former Staffer 2 recalled returning home from work around 6:00 PM the night before the trip and continuing to work remotely with Rep. Mooney’s wife, Dr. Grace Mooney, until about 11:00 PM to ensure that all the proper documentation detailed above was prepared and organized for a smooth departure the next day,” the report states.

“In addition to the time she devoted to these tasks at home after work hours, Former Staffer 2 says she used her official office and computer during official work hours for planning the Aruba trip for the Mooneys.”

The office found Mooney reimbursed HSP Direct for a portion of the family’s flights to Aruba. The Mooney family flew on a flight from Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. to Aruba on March 6, 2021; HSP Direct had charted the flight for its employees.

HSP Direct employees were invited to stay in Aruba until March 9, 2021, but Mooney’s wife and three children did not leave until March 12, 2021. HSP Direct covered the expenses of the extended trip and arranged travel back to the United States. The congressman returned from Aruba on March 8, 2021 for official business.

“The OCE could not determine the source of payment for Dr. Mooney and the children’s return flights,” the report says. “Rep. Mooney appears to have paid for his return with campaign funds, which is likely a violation of law forbidding the personal use of campaign funds.”

HSP Direct submitted a copy of a $1,638 check from Mooney to cover the trip. A former Mooney staffer told the office they did not believe HSP Direct gave Mooney a receipt detailing the exact cost.

An invoice notes Mooney’s hotel room charges included purchases at several restaurants, bars and shops around the resort and cabana rentals. Mooney later asked HSP Direct to reimburse him for one expense; the office believes it was a Jeep tour valued around $490.

The office’s estimate does not include drinks and meals offered at group dinners and banquets, which cost HSP Direct more than $92,500.

The office notes no evidence of Hogan previously inviting Mooney and his family on vacations. The board notes the vacation happened “only after 2020, when Rep. Mooney began paying HSP Direct tens of thousands of dollars for campaign services, that he and his family were invited on such a trip.”

MOONEY AND ‘THE HSP HOUSE’

The office also detailed Mooney’s use of a residence near Capitol Hill referred to as “the HSP House.”

HSP Direct stated Mooney stayed at the house for free around 20 times between 2015 and November 2021. Mooney’s family and staff also used the home for lodging, work activities and events at no cost.

HSP Direct, through attorneys, told the office that the firm’s founding principals — Hogan, Amy Paul and Matthew Schenk — owned the house. It is unclear if Hogan, Paul and Schenk bought the house with personal, company or political funds.

“Given the house’s Capitol Hill location and the guests who frequent it — namely HSP clients like Rep. Mooney — the house appears to be used for a business purpose,” the office states.

The office described Mooney’s use of the house and the Aruba vacation as “impermissible gifts.”

The office noted HSP Direct did not cooperate with the office’s review. The firm did not return MetroNews’ interview request.

‘YOU WERE AT THEIR BECK AND CALL FOR ANYTHING’

The report additionally describes multiple incidents of Mooney assigning staff to perform personal errands for the congressman and his family.

Seven former and current employees told the office about frequent requests benefiting the Mooney family such as babysitting, buying groceries, dog-sitting the family dog Skipper, and taking children to various activities. The staffers were rarely paid for this work and took time away from official and campaign duties to complete these tasks.

One former employee — identified as Former Staffer 1 — told the office certain staffers and people who worked for both Mooney’s office and campaign completed personal errands “on a daily basis.”

“Former Staffer 1 stated, ‘I think the understanding is: If you work on the campaign, you also work for the Mooney family. You were at their beck and call for anything, even though you got official salary as well,'” the report says

Another staffer, who worked as a scheduler, described their role’s evolution as similar to becoming a personal assistant. One person told the office they often worked additional hours because they had to complete requests in addition to campaign and official tasks.

“Because personal requests were so pervasive, a number of staff members expressed confusion over what constituted personal versus official or campaign work, and which tasks were voluntary, and which were required,” the report states.

One campaign and district employee, Rainer Kissel, helped maintain Mooney’s personal vehicles, which involved taking the cars to a repair shop or performing tasks himself. Mooney kept Kissel as a part-time worker after other staff members raised concerns about his ability to perform office work.

The congressman’s wife also asked staff to perform errands and assist with their children’s school projects; one such incident involved arranging a visit to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture so her son could complete a school project. Staff also assisted Grace Mooney with questions about transferring her inactive Maryland medical license to West Virginia and steps to open a medical consulting business.

The report notes employees did not receive compensation most of the time.

“I know a couple of times I’ve ended up eating costs just because he bought some things and I put on — on my card and he said ‘Well, just write those off,’ and I never felt comfortable writing them off because they seemed more personal in nature than they were sort of legitimate,” a current staffer told the office.

The office also found incidents when official staffers helped arrange fundraisers and events supporting Mooney’s campaign. One event was a July 2021 birthday party at the Clarion Hotel in Harpers Ferry that the office notes Mooney planned for himself.

“The party doubled as a campaign fundraiser and guests were asked to pledge from $50 up to $2,500 to attend,” the report states.

A former staffer who did not hold a campaign position told the office she helped make the invitation, called venues, planned the menu and assisted with renting the event space and a projector showing childhood photographs of Mooney. She was also told to make a list of donors to invite to the event, but she did not get the chance to do such.

“Former Staffer 2 estimated that she spent up to ten hours coordinating the birthday celebrations during the months leading up to the event,” the report says. “She confirmed that some of that work occurred during official work hours.”

QUESTIONABLE FINANCIAL ACTIONS

A financial administrator for Mooney’s office — listed as Current Staffer 3 — raised concerns about Mooney’s spending habits, telling the office that Mooney is “egregious in that he pushed the boundary all the time” regarding the use of official and campaign funds.

“Whether he’s choosing to forget or not, I don’t know. I don’t have this problem in my other offices,” the employee said.

The office found one incident in which Mooney attempted to use official funds for a House Freedom Caucus retreat in Florida, which would have been against House rules. The financial administrator told Mooney and another employee to cover the cost with campaign or personal funds. The former employee told Current Staffer 3 that Mooney wanted to use official funds and the legislator told the worker not to discuss the matter with the financial administrator.

The office notes an August 2021 instance in which Mooney successfully used office funds for a trip. Mooney, his wife and one of their children took a personal tour of Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park in Parkersburg, which is in West Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. The trip happened before the West Virginia Legislature approved a new congressional map that put Mooney in the same district as Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va.

“It was widely known at this time that West Virginia would lose a House seat in the next Congress due to a population decline identified in the 2020 Census,” the report states.

“It was also a near certainty that because Rep. Mooney’s 2nd district was between the 1st and 3rd Districts, he would face one of his Republican colleagues in a primary election in 2022. In interviews, one of Rep. Mooney’s staffers recognized this reality and opined that Rep. Mooney’s motivation for making these forays into another Member’s districts was likely associated with redistricting.”

During the trip, Mooney met with Matthew Herridge of the Burger King National Franchisee Association. Burger King Franchisee PAC later made its first donation to the Mooney campaign.

Current Staffer 3 approved the use of official funds because he believed it was for official congressional business.

“When that context was explained to Current Staffer 3, he stated his advice would likely have been different, and he would have directed Rep. Mooney and his staff to pay for the Wednesday evening lodging and Thursday portions of the trip with personal or campaign funds because that leg of the trip was not officially connected,” the report states.

The office also notes Mooney’s use of campaign funds for “personal and entertainment-related stops,” including an August 2018 showing of “The Little Mermaid” at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston

ALLEGATIONS OF DOCUMENT TAMPERING AND WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE

Two witnesses told the office Mooney may not have fully completed requests related to the inquiry and the congressman may have withheld or changed some documents, which would be against House rules and federal law.

“Additionally, other evidence in this matter indicates that Rep. Mooney may have given false testimony to the OCE during its first review,” the office states.

The witnesses noticed changes to Mooney’s schedule, in which Former Staffer 2 said the edit happened after the ethics office began its first investigation in March 2021. The employee produced 138 notifications of calendar edits, in which the changes started in April 2021.

The office also notes Mooney’s campaign reported at least $17,250 in gift card expenditures to the Federal Elections Commission. The congressman noted the gift cards were only used on campaign purchases, but Former Staffer 1 recalled receipts appeared to be for personal reasons.

One receipt flagged as problematic has disappeared.

“In considering the totality of the evidence discussed above, in conjunction with Rep. Mooney’s refusal to cooperate and answer questions about these concerns, it is likely that Rep. Mooney impeded the OCE’s first investigation by providing false testimony and withholding evidence or making edits to his calendar,” the report says.

MOONEY: REVIEW ‘TAINTED FROM THE OUTSET’

The report comes nearly two weeks after Mooney defeated McKinley in the Republican primary for West Virginia’s new 2nd Congressional District. Mooney, carrying the endorsement from former President Donald Trump, won the contest with 54.2% of the vote.

In a release, Mooney’s office criticized the review as “tainted from the outset by the OCE’s procedural irregularities and denial of due process.” Mooney’s office says the board misrepresented facts and made wrong conclusions from its evidence.

“For these reasons, Congressman Mooney believes the only fair outcome in this matter would be the outright dismissal of the OCE’s report and referral,” Mooney’s office stated Monday. “Nonetheless, as the Committee on Ethics continues to review this matter, Congressman Mooney pledges his continuing cooperation with the Committee.”

According to Mooney’s office, he worked with officials to reimburse HSP Direct — identifying it as “the company” — for what he considered to be “more than the value” of the gift.

“There was no improper connection between any gift and any official action by the Congressman. No taxpayer funds were used to pay for this trip,” Mooney’s office added.

Mooney also rejected the allegations of evidence tampering and false statements, describing the claims as examples of the Office of Congressional Ethics reaching “biased conclusions.”

“It should be noted that Rep. Mooney has been and will continue to be in cooperation with the committee,” Mooney’s office added. “Congressman Mooney looks forward to working with the Committee on Ethics to resolve these matters.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics noted the congressman refused to cooperate with its review. The office recommended the House Ethics Committee issue subpoenas to Mooney and HSP Direct.





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