Former Congressman Fined by Dept. of Justice for Accepting Foreign Money

By Benjamin Cox on March 31, 2021 at 9:42pm

Former 18th District Congress and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has paid a major fine to the U.S. government for accepting foreign contributions.

According to Peoria Public Radio, LaHood took a $50,000 check from Toufic Joseph Baaklini of Washington, D.C. in 2012, with knowledge that Gilbert Chagoury was the money’s original source while he served as member of the Obama Administration cabinet as Transportation Secretary. The word “loan” was written in the memo line. Baaklini was an associate of Chagoury’s, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who agreed to pay the U.S. government $1.8 million to settle allegations he illegally contributed $180,000 to four different political candidates through proxies. Both Baaklini and Joseph Arsin of Paris, France were associates of Chagoury’s who reportedly assisted Chagoury in his illegal contributions. As a foreign national, Chagoury is prohibited by federal law from contributing to any U.S. election, said the Department of Justice.

LaHood said he didn’t disclose the check on two government ethics forms, as required, because he didn’t want to be associated with Chagoury, federal prosecutors said. He also later allegedly “made misleading statements” about the check and its source to FBI agents investigating Chagoury. The Department of Justice says that LaHood told federal investigators he was having financial difficulties in 2012 when he accepted the money.

Peoria Public Radio also reports as part of a non-prosecution agreement finalized in December 2019, LaHood cooperated with federal investigators and repaid the $50,000 to Baaklini. In a news release, LaHood had to pay a $40,000 fine to the government.

Baaklini also contributed to other politicians, including a $2,700 contribution to the campaign of current 18th District Congressman and Ray LaHood’s son, Darin LaHood in April 2015, and $500 to former Illinois Republican U.S. Senator Mark Kirk in March 2016.

The Department of Justice called the investigation into LaHood a “separate and unrelated matter” to the wider alleged campaign contribution violations involving Chagoury, Baaklini, and Arsan.

Ray LaHood currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Abraham Lincoln Public Library and Museum in Springfield.