Former central Illinois Republican congressman Ray LaHood has acknowledged to federal prosecutors that he failed to disclose a $50,000 loan he receive
Former central Illinois Republican congressman Ray LaHood has acknowledged to federal prosecutors that he failed to disclose a $50,000 loan he received through a wealthy Lebanese-Nigerian businessman during his tenure as U.S. Transportation secretary in President Barack Obama’s administration.
The acknowledgment came in the form of a non-prosecution agreement reached with federal prosecutors in the Central District of California and apparently was an offshoot of a larger investigation into campaign contributions made by the businessman, Gilbert Chagoury. Because he is not a U.S. citizen, Chagoury is prohibited from contributing to political campaigns.
Ray LaHood, the former U.S. secretary of Transportation, speaks at the opening of the new 28L-10R runway at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Oct. 15, 2015. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)
Prosecutors disclosed late Wednesday that LaHood, 75, of Peoria, who was Transportation secretary from 2009 to 2013, denied to FBI agents that he had received the loan until he was shown a copy of the $50,000 check. He also did not tell agents that he knew Chagoury was the ultimate source of the loan.
According to the non-prosecution agreement signed by LaHood in December of 2019, but not made public until Wednesday, LaHood met Chagoury and Toufic Baaklini, one of Chagoury’s U.S. representatives, in July 2009 at a convention in Los Angeles.
In 2011 and 2012, the agreement said, LaHood was suffering “significant financial difficulties in part due to problems from home remediation and sought funds to conduct home repairs.”
Through an unnamed intermediary, Baaklini gave LaHood a $50,000 personal check with the word “Loan” written in the memo line. Prosecutors said LaHood understood Chagoury was the ultimate source of the funds.
The agreement said LaHood “willfully” failed to disclose the loan in annual financial disclosure statements because Chagoury in 2009 “was reported to have been on the U.S. ‘No Fly List’” of suspected terrorists. Chagoury has denied being involved in terrorism and filed a lawsuit in an effort to restore his flying privileges in the U.S.
As part of the agreement, LaHood agreed to pay a $40,000 fine to the federal government and repay the $50,000 loan.
Federal prosecutors said the factors they considered in agreeing not to prosecute LaHood were his “willingness to acknowledge and accept responsibility” for his actions, his cooperation with the government, the nature of the offense and “LaHood’s substantial mitigating factors.”
LaHood did not respond to a request for comment.
Separately, Chagoury, who lives in Paris, 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. Baaklini and Joseph Arsin of Paris reportedly assisted Chagoury in his illegal contributions, and they entered into payments to the government to settle allegations against them.
Before the Republican LaHood joined the Democratic Obama administration, he represented the central Illinois 18th Congressional District from 1995 to 2009. He was succeeded in Congress by his son, Republican U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of Peoria.
Just months before signing the non-prosecution agreement, the elder LaHood was named in September 2019 chairman of the board of directors of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The Pritzker administration did not respond to a question about LaHood’s status on the library and museum board.