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The U.S. Justice Department is investigating a former South Florida Congresswoman accused of spending at least $50,000 of campaign money on vacations and restaurant and luxury hotel bills.
The federal department’s Public Integrity Section is looking into the expenditures by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a U.S. Rep. from Miami, including a 2017 trip to Walt Disney World with her children and grandchildren, rooms at a Ritz-Carlton resort and a New Year’s Eve meal at a high-end seafood restaurant.
Jeffrey Weiner, an attorney for Ros-Lehtinen, said in a statement that Ros-Lehtinen was aware of the investigation and she and former staff members and volunteers were cooperating with the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department.
In a statement to the Miami Herald, the attorney added that they are turning over campaign finance and other records subpoenaed by the Justice Department.
“We … 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,” the news outlets quoted Weiner as saying.
Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who represented Florida’s 27th congressional district, declined to seek reelection in 2018 after a 30-year career in Congress during which she became the first woman elected to Congress from Florida and the first Hispanic woman elected to Congress.
Following her retirement announcement in April 2017, she transferred more than $177,000 from her reelection campaign account to a political action committee she controlled, according to reports. Federal law prohibits campaign funds, including those transferred to PACs from being spent on personal use.
But expense reports from her PAC show she spent nearly $4,000 on a Disney World trip in December 2017, a combined $44,000 on rooms at hotels in New York and Florida, as well as more than $3,000 at a Miami restaurant in 2018.
Weiner declined to explain the campaign-related purpose of the expenditures but said his team has not “found any evidence whatsoever of intentional wrongdoing” by the former Congresswoman or her staff, adding that he was confident prosecutors would ultimately decline to file charges against the politician.
The Justice Department and Ros-Lehtinen declined to comment to the news outlets.