- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2008

Federal authorities are seeking to claim the Bethesda home of a former treasurer of the National Republican Congressional Committee, saying an ongoing investigation uncovered evidence he took more than a half-million dollars in political money and spent much of it on home improvement projects.

Christopher J. Ward sent the NRCC money through accounts for the annual President’s Dinner Committee - a fundraiser organized by congressional Republicans and headlined by President Bush - to his own bank account, according to recent court filings by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District.

“According to NRCC, there was no apparent legitimate reason for the numerous large withdrawals or transfers of funds from the yearly President’s Dinner Committee Wachovia accounts to accounts held by Ward,” states a court document signed by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Diane G. Lucas and William R. Cowden.

Mr. Ward has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. This week, he and his wife filed papers to contest a civil-forfeiture action against their property by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which was filed in the civil division of federal court in the District. A message left at Mr. Ward’s home was not returned. His attorney, Ronald C. Machen, declined comment Friday.

From 2003 to last year, Mr. Ward made more than a half-million dollars in unauthorized withdrawals from the Republican accounts, with nearly one-third of the money paid to design, remodeling and landscaping companies for work on his home, according to the claim by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Authorities are also investigating whether NRCC funds were used by Mr. Ward to make mortgage payments totaling up to $72,000, according to the federal complaint.

Mr. Ward’s two-story brick home in the Glen Echo Heights section of Bethesda was built in 1940 and is assessed at $652,463, according to property records. He purchased the home in 2000 for $365,000. Much of the missing NRCC money went to pay for home-improvement projects, prosecutors say.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, more than $150,000 went to pay “design/remodeling and landscaping companies,” with payments closely preceded by deposits from the yearly President’s Dinner Committee account to Mr. Ward’s own bank account. Prosecutors said some of the money also went to pay for cabinetry and countertop work.

The government’s claim included a sworn statement from FBI Agent Charles E. Price, who is investigating the case.

The money laundering probe began earlier this year after the NRCC noticed accounting irregularities and hired Covington and Burling LLP to investigate. The law firm recommended the NRCC notify the FBI and Federal Election Commission.

Mr. Ward worked as the NRCC treasurer from 2003 to July 2007 at an annual salary of $120,000, according to court records. He was also slated to receive about $10,000 per year as treasurer of the President’s Dinner Committee, according to court records.

In separate filings, both Mr. Ward and his wife filed claims for the Bethesda home in response to the government’s civil action.

The NRCC fired Mr. Ward from a consultant’s job on Jan. 28. In March, NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Cole, Oklahoma Republican, said the NRCC was “betrayed for a number of years by a highly respected and trusted individual.”

“From the moment we learned that bogus financial statements had been submitted to the bank on our behalf, we took decisive and speedy action by contacting the FBI, which opened a criminal investigation,” Mr. Cole said.

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