PEORIA — The U.S. Department of Justice says former Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood took undisclosed foreign money while serving in President Barack Obama’s administration.
The Peoria Republican paid a $40,000 fine to the government to settle a federal criminal investigation, the DOJ said in a news release.
LaHood, 75, reportedly took a $50,000 check from Toufic Joseph Baaklini, 58, of Washington, D.C. in 2012, with knowledge that Chagoury was the money’s original source. The word “loan” was written in the memo line.
Baaklini was an associate of Gilbert Chagoury, 75, 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 DOJ.
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.
LaHood told federal investigators he was having financial difficulties in 2012 when he accepted the money, the DOJ said.
As part of a non-prosecution agreement finalized in December 2019, LaHood cooperated with federal investigators and repaid the $50,000 to Baaklini, prosecutors said.
Baaklini also contributed to other politicians, including a $2,700 contribution to the campaign of current U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, who is Ray LaHood’s son, in April 2015, and $500 to former U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., 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.
An email sent to Ray LaHood seeking comment bounced back to the sender. A text message seeking comment was not immediately returned.
This story will be updated.