Rep. Alex X. Mooney and his family vacationed at a Ritz-Carlton resort in Aruba mostly on the dime of HSP Direct LLC — a company to which the lawmaker has significant personal ties — likely constituting an impermissible gift under House rules, according to an Office of Congressional Ethics report.
Mooney also likely violated federal law by enlisting congressional staff to plan that trip on official time and using official resources, OCE said.
The nonpartisan office’s report on its examination of the West Virginia Republican, which was released Monday, says Mooney and his family enjoyed that Aruba vacation on HSP Direct’s tab to the tune of over $10,800 for travel, lodging, meals, amenities, entertainment and activities.
It details findings from the OCE’s second inquiry into Mooney’s conduct. The first ethics inquiry into Mooney concerned his campaign spending. The House Ethics Committee, which received both of those reports from the OCE, also is investigating Mooney.
The second report offers a sprawling array of evidence that OCE says establishes Mooney, his family and staff used a house associated with HSP Direct on Capitol Hill at no cost for lodging, as a workspace and to host events. Further, Mooney regularly diverted official resources and staff time from his constituents and official duties in favor of his and his family’s personal needs, and sometimes for campaign activities, according to the report.
The OCE also said it is “likely” Mooney impeded the first OCE investigation into him by providing false testimony and withholding evidence.
“In considering the totality of the evidence discussed above, in conjunction with Rep. Mooney’s refusal to cooperate and answer questions about these concerns, it is likely that Rep. Mooney impeded the OCE’s first investigation by providing false testimony and withholding evidence or making edits to his calendar,” the report states.
Mooney denies any wrongdoing and accused OCE of being biased against him.
A statement released by his office said the OCE review of Mooney “was tainted from the outset by the OCE’s procedural irregularities and denial of due process” and that the report contains “plainly wrong legal conclusions.” There was “no improper connection between any gift and any official action by the Congressman” regarding the Aruba trip, the statement said.
“Second, Congressman Mooney flatly rejects the OCE’s allegations of evidence tampering and false statements,” Mooney’s office.
The OCE said that “HSP Direct’s payment for the Mooney family’s vacation, totaling at least $10,803.65 in travel, lodging, meals, amenities, entertainment, and activities, likely constitutes an impermissible gift under House rules.” Further, Mooney also “likely violated House rules and federal law when he enlisted his congressional staff to plan the Aruba vacation for his family on official time using official resources.”
HSP Direct is a direct mail fundraising company, which Mooney has hired and paid for direct marketing ($60,688 from Mooney’s campaign committees to HSP Direct since 2020), the OCE said. Mooney has also received substantial campaign contributions from HSP Direct and its principals, according to OCE. Jamie Hogan, CEO of HSP Direct and his wife have contributed at least $28,100 to Mooney’s campaign committees since 2016, the OCE said. Counsel for HSP said Hogan and Mooney have been close personal friends for years.
When congressional staff and HSP Direct asked questions about the House Ethics Committee’s involvement (or lack thereof) in approving the Aruba trip, Mooney dismissed them and went forward with the trip without consulting the ethics panel, the OCE report said.
Mooney and his wife, Grace Mooney, heavily relied on an aide the report identifies as former staffer 2 to handle the logistics involved in getting Mooney’s family of five to Aruba, including COVID-19 related hurdles, the OCE said. That former Mooney staffer described hours of work leading up to the March 6, 2021 departure.
The staffer worked on setting up COVID-19 tests required to enter Aruba, getting travel visas for Mooney, Grace and their children, and securing travel insurance. The night before the trip, the former Mooney staffer said they got home around 6 p.m. and worked with Grace until 11 p.m. to ensure proper documentation was ready for the trip.
On March 6, 2021, the Mooneys flew out of Dulles International Airport on a chartered flight with HSP Direct employees, the report said. Mooney only reimbursed a portion of his family’s flight to Aruba, the OCE said.
The HSP Direct employees were invited to stay until March 9 and the Mooneys extended their stay until March 12. HSP Direct paid for the extended trip and arranged for private transportation to return the Mooneys to the airport for their commercial flight. While the rest of his family stayed, Mooney returned March 8 for official business, a trip for which he used campaign funds, the OCE said.
“Rep. Mooney appears to have paid for his return with campaign funds, which is likely a violation of law forbidding the personal use of campaign funds,” the OCE report said.
Itemized receipts from the Ritz-Carlton in Aruba show the Mooneys’ hotel room racked up over $2,500 in charges paid by HSP Direct. This included spending on restaurants, bars, in-room dining expenses and on “Ritz Kids shop apparel.”
Other expenditures included hundreds of dollars on tropical drinks, a $37 pair of goggles and “Ritz Kids activity,” which is a child care program offered at the hotel, OCE said. Mooney and his family also rented poolside cabanas three times for a total of $977.
The OCE said emails produced by HSP Direct show Mooney paid for an activity with his personal credit card— likely a $489 Jeep tour — and asked HSP Direct to reimburse him. At the end of the trip, on March 12, former staffer 2 helped get Mooney a full refund.
The only copy of a reimbursement check from Mooney regarding the Aruba trip that HSP gave to OCE was a $1,637 check with the note “Mooney flight.” OCE said that figure is much less than Mooney’s $3,322 pro rata share of the chartered flight.
“Other than this partial airfare reimbursement, it appears that Rep. Mooney did not reimburse HSP direct for the above-detailed expenses for the family vacation,” the OCE said.
HSP Direct house
Mooney stayed at the HSP Direct house near Capitol Hill for free around 20 instances from 2015 to 2021, the OCE said. Members of Mooney’s family have also stayed at the house, former staffers told the OCE.
Other than using the house for free lodging, Mooney staff used the house for campaign and official work purposes. Mooney also used the place to host events without charge, OCE said.
HSP Direct told the OCE through counsel that the house is not a company asset but owned by Jamie Hogan, Amy Paul and Matthew Schenk — three founding partners of HSP Direct in their individual capacities. Hogan spoke with Roll Call in 2019 about a home he owns near the Capitol.
The OCE did not identify any gift rule exceptions for the Aruba trip and the house.
“Based on the foregoing, the Board finds that there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Mooney accepted impermissible gifts,” the OCE report said.
Seven current and former employees recounted frequent requests of staff to complete unofficial tasks for the personal benefit of Mooney and his family, the OCE report said. Those assignments involved babysitting, automotive repair work on personal cars, and helping Mooney and his wife with personal finances and business. Staff were almost never compensated for that work and were often required to divert time from campaign or official congressional business to complete those errands.
“I think the understanding is: If you work on the campaign, you also work for the Mooney family. You were at their beck and call for anything, even though you got official salary as well,” another aide the report identifies as former staffer 1 told OCE.
Former staffer 2 and another identified as former staffer 3 drove together from the D.C. area to pick Mooney up from the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, Va., and then drive him back to the Capitol for votes. The Great Wolf Lodge is a resort with a large water and entertainment park.
Staffers were also required to complete tasks to help the Mooney children with their school projects. On one occasion, Grace Mooney contacted staffer 2 to help her son with a school project on Carter G. Woodson and wanted the staffer to arrange a guided tour of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The staffer contacted the museum through official channels and indicated Mooney would be present on the tour so that museum staff would give greater attention to the request, the OCE report said.
The tour was scheduled for Dec. 27, 2020, and months later, the former staffer, while gathering documents for the first OCE inquiry, found a $116 receipt for a meal at the museum cafe charged to Mooney’s campaign. In conversations with official staff during the first OCE investigation, Mooney defended that campaign purchase, claiming the meal was part of an official tour of the museum, the OCE said.
The OCE said Rep. Mooney recruited members of his staff to help him and his family in maintaining their multiple personal vehicles.
One of those employees, Rainer Kissel, a former mechanic, was employed by the campaign and official office and performed a substantial portion of the work on the Mooney’s cars. Kissel was described by a current employee as a “do-all kind of guy.” He was asked to drive Mooney and his family around the district for personal and official events and maintain their personal vehicles by either performing auto repair work or taking the cars to a repair shop.
“In sum, the OCE found that Rep. Mooney routinely and intentionally diverted substantial official staff time to personal tasks that had no connection to official duties,” the report said.
Mooney and HSP Direct did not cooperate with the OCE, an entity that does not have subpoena authority. The OCE recommends the House Ethics Committee send subpoenas to Mooney and HSP Direct.