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Law & the Courts

Why Was Wife of DWS’s Swindler Staffer Allowed to Leave the Country?

In the Morning Jolt, Jim nicely outlines the increasingly bizarre story of a family of Pakistani information technologists who became House staffers under the auspices of Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (DWS) of Florida, the former head of the Democratic National Committee and a Clinton partisan. Over the years, family members were paid millions of dollars, and there are allegations of fraud, property theft, and potential swiping of information to which they had access on the House IT network.

The entire story merits attention and follow-up, working backwards from yesterday’s arrest of Imran Awan, DWS’s top IT staffer, whom she has gone to great lengths to protect despite the swirling investigation. Awan was bagged trying to flee to Lahore, Pakistan. According to the complaint filed in federal court in support of his arrest, Awan wired $283,000 in January from the Congressional Federal Credit Union to Faisalabad, Pakistan. He has been charged with bank fraud in a scheme involving mortgages on various properties owned by the Awan family. The FBI has also reportedly searched his home, seizing computer hard drives that had been smashed to pieces.

For now, I want to focus on a narrow part of the story. In early March, as Jim details, Imran’s wife, Hina Alvi, suddenly left the country for Lahore, by way of Doha, Qatar. Notwithstanding the return flight she booked for a date in September 2017, the FBI believes that she actually has no intention to return to the U.S. She had abruptly pulled the couple’s three daughters out of school without alerting the school’s staff, and brought them with her — along with lots of luggage and household goods — to Pakistan.

Hina had also been on the House payroll.

I want to draw attention to a detail about her apparent flight. According to the aforementioned complaint, agents of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) found $12,400 in cash when they searched her belongings. Yet, “ALVI was permitted to board the flight to Qatar and she and her daughters have not returned to the United States.” Her husband, Awan, appeared to be headed to join her when he was arrested yesterday.

Why was Hina Alvi permitted to leave? Why was she not arrested?

Under federal law, a person may carry as much cash in or out of the U.S. as she wishes. There are, however, reporting requirements. A Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments must be completed and filed with CBP if the amount of currency being removed from the country exceeds $10,000. An effort to smuggle out such an amount of cash without completing the report form is a felony, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. If it is done in conjunction with some other crime (e.g., fraud), or as part of a pattern of illegal activity, the penalty is up to ten years’ imprisonment.

The complaint does not indicate whether Alvi filed the currency-transportation report. I would be very surprised if she did. The form requires the person providing information to identify whose money it is, how the person transporting it came to have it, where it is destined to go, who is to receive it, and so on. Whether a person in the middle of a fraud probe provides truthful information or lies in answering these questions, the answers are usually relevant to the investigation. If she’d filled out the form, you’d expect to find reference to it in the complaint.

So, given the highly suspicious circumstances of her sudden flight from the country, and the indications that the CBP agents had grounds to arrest and detain her, why was Alvi permitted to board the plane and fly to Doha?

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