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The former congresswoman from Florida, a Republican Cuban-American known for her anti-Cuba positions, is the subject of a joint Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Election Commission (FEC) investigation due to misuse of campaign money.
According to a Miami CBS affiliate, several one-time staffers have been subpoenaed to provide records or testify before a grand jury on Ros-Lehtinen's alleged misuse of campaign funds for personal expenses, vacations, and ornate meals—part of an investigation by the DOJ's Public Integrity Section.
Announcing in April 2017 she would not be seeking re-election in 2018, Ros-Lehtinen transferred almost $180,000 from her re-election campaign fund to a political action committee (PAC) she ran, not an unusual move. However, personal use of these funds is illegal under federal law, even if transferred first to a PAC.
Expense reports from the PAC show Ros-Lehtinen indulged in a nearly $4,000 family trip to Walt Disney World in December 2017, a $3,100 dinner at Coral Gables restaurant Mesa Mar for New Years 2018, more than $10,000 in rooms at New York's Lotte New York Palac and $28,000 at the W Hotel on South Beach, among many other expenditures.
Nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against Ros-Lehtinen with the FEC in October 2019, claiming her PAC violated federal law by "converting contributions for personal use...none of which have any apparent connections to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen candidacy or duties as an officeholder." It remains unclear if the FEC referred the case to the DOJ or whether the DOJ began its own investigation independently.
Fmr US Rep. @RosLehtinen is under DOJ investigation for misusing campaign funds on a family trip to Disney World and New York City, among other expenses. Not great. pic.twitter.com/jthncoOBaO
In a statement to CBS Miami, Ros-Lehtinen's attorney Jeffrey Weiner said: "She and her former staff members and volunteers are cooperating fully with the Federal Elections Commission and the Department of Justice. We are gathering the information requested by the Department of Justice and are confident that, if bookkeeping errors were committed, they were due to negligence and not willful or intentional misconduct by the former congresswoman or anyone on her staff or her accountants."
Weiner added: "As my team and I have investigated and studied the facts in this matter, we have not found any evidence whatsoever of intentional wrongdoing by Ileana or anyone on her behalf."
Ros-Lehtinen, who represented Miami-Dade county from 1989-2019 and was the first Latina and Cuban-American elected to Congress, served as the Chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from 2011-2013, widely known her punitive and interventionist positions towards Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.