- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Landmark Legal Foundation filed Monday a House ethics complaint against Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, over his role in writing a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency that supported a waste project tied to his wife, a former Detroit City Council member who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery.

The foundation, a conservative public interest law firm in Virginia, called Mr. Conyers’ actions in his wife’s political dealings “very serious allegations.” Mr. Conyers is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a powerful member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The foundation said Mr. Conyers attempted to influence the EPA on behalf of a family member, whose office reviewed a draft of the EPA letter he sent. He also violated house rules by failing to report funds in a transaction by his wife, the complaint stated.

Monica Conyers pleaded guilty to a federal count of conspiracy to commit bribery for her role in accepting money in exchange for her vote in a city sludge hauling contract. She is awaiting sentencing.

In a separate business arrangement, her former aide said he received $20,000 after she brokered a deal for consulting with a Detroit businessman whose company sought the injection well contract referenced in Mr. Conyers’ EPA letter. The aide, Sam Riddle, said Mrs. Conyers later demanded, and he paid her, a $10,000 “finder’s fee” on the deal.

Mr. Conyers has yet to comment on his wife’s federal bribery conviction, but Landmark says he needs to speak out on what he knew about the EPA letter and money received by his wife. In late June, when news of the questionable EPA letter broke, Mr. Conyers’ spokeswoman defended his switch in a statement: “In the context of the Congressman’s representational duties to his constituents, including the Detroit pension board, he determined that this was something the EPA should reconsider.”

“I don’t believe John Conyers’ wife could have done these things and John Conyers written the letter that he wrote without knowing something. It’s absolutely crucial that he be questioned under oath under penalty of perjury about what he knew,” said Mark R. Levin, Landmark Legal Foundation president, about its ethics complaint, filed Monday to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.

Mr. Levin said his organization will be filing a similar request within the week for investigation with the public integrity section of the criminal division of the U.S. Justice Department. “Mr. Conyers’ role needs a very thorough review both in terms of ethics in the House and in terms of criminal law,” Mr. Levin said.

Mr. Conyers’ spokesman, Jonathan Godfrey, did not respond to a request for comment on the ethics violations charges by Landmark. Federal prosecutors in Mrs. Conyers case said they knew of nothing to suggest that Mr. Conyers knew anything about her dealings in the waste project.

In its complaint to the House committee, Landmark asserts that Mr. Conyers violated House Rule 25, which covers the acceptance of gifts by members, officers and employees of the House. It said the rule applies to family members of lawmakers. Under the House Ethics Manual, “No funds or things of value other than one’s official salary may be accepted for dealing with an administrative agency on behalf of a constituent,” the complaint said. The complaint letter also said that he violated House Rule 26. The foundation said that federal law requires: “No gift may be accepted pursuant to gift rules and regulations in return for being influenced in the performance of an official act.”

The complaint also describes what it says was a flip-flop of Mr. Conyers’ position with the EPA on the injection well contract. “It is important to note that Representative Conyers was originally opposed to the operation of these waste injection wells,” the ethics complaint charges. However, after his wife received $10,000, he changed his position and advocated for EPA’s approval of the well’s operation, it said.

According to Associated Press reports, Mr. Conyers. 80, is said to spend much of his time in Washington, while his wife, 44, works in Detroit. At the time of her plea deal in a Detroit courthouse, which Mr. Conyers did not attend, Mr. Conyers’ House Judiciary Committee colleague Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, told the AP that “it shouldn’t have any impact at all,” on Mr. Conyers’ House work.

Mrs. Conyers was a former aide to her husband. They married in 1990. A former public schools educator, Mrs. Conyers first ran for public office in 2005, earning her seat on the Detroit City Council by what some political consultants have described as her husband’s name recognition. During her tenure, she was outspoken, contentious and frequently sparred with council President Ken Cockrel Jr., whom she publicly called “Shrek” in an exchange that made its way to the online video site YouTube.

A spokesman for Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, did not respond to a request for comment on the ethics complaint.

• Andrea Billups can be reached at abillups@washingtontimes.com.

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