Ethics panel refers San Nicolas' case to DOJ for possible criminal prosecution
Updated: Jun 25, 2022
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The House Committee on Ethics has voted to refer Congressman Michael San Nicolas' case to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution related to his alleged violations of the campaign contribution rules and other federal laws during the 2018 elections.
According to the committee's report released Friday, the investigative subcommittee "unanimously concluded that there was substantial evidence that San Nicolas accepted improper excessive campaign contributions and engaged in a conspiracy to hide the proceeds of the illicit campaign contributions."
The subcommittee also alleged that San Nicolas filed "false or incomplete" financial reports with the Federal Election Commission and "attempted to improperly influence a witness in connection with this committee’s investigation."
San Nicolas, who is serving his second term in Congress, is not seeking reelection for the delegate seat. Instead, he is running for Guam governor in this year's race.
"In light of the delegate’s impending retirement from the House and the potential for the expiration of applicable statutes of limitations, the (investigative subcommittee) recommended that the committee refer these allegations to the Department of Justice," Rep. Theodore E. Deutch, committee chair, said in a statement.
Deutch said the ethics panel has unanimously voted to adopt the subcommittee's report, "and with it, refer the substantial evidence of potential violations of federal criminal law to the Department of Justice for such further action as it deems appropriate."
San Nicolas may have violated several campaign finance laws, federal conspiracy law, and laws against witness tampering and obstruction of Congress, the committee stated in its report.
The ethics investigation stemmed from a complaint filed on Sept. 6, 2019 by John Paul Manuel, the delegate's former campaign manager, who alleged that San Nicolas received "an excessive $10,000 cash contribution" and dipped into his campaign account to reimburse himself for personal travel.
The committee said it received "substantial evidence" that San Nicolas may have solicited and accepted cash contributions totaling at least $9,000 from a single donor during the 2018 election cycle,
San Nicolas allegedly asked the donor "to sign a prepared letter containing false statements about the campaign donation."
The investigative subcommittee also looked into other allegations against San Nicolas, including his alleged sexual relationship with a staffer in his congressional office, misappropriation of campaign funds for personal use, and alleged manipulation of campaign invoices.
"The committee agrees with the (subcommittee) that the evidence it has collected regarding some of these additional allegations is concerning and Delegate San Nicolas’ decision not to meaningfully address the allegations is alarming," the report states.
However, Deutch's panel determined that “the interests of justice would best be served" by focusing on allegations related to illicit campaign contributions, concealment of proceeds and witness interference.
Stanley Woodward, attorney for San Nicolas, said the report is "rife with the unsubstantiated allegations of the delegate's former campaign staffer, relies on anonymous statements unsupported by any contemporaneous documented evidence."
Despite a two-year investigation, Woodward said no new evidence was uncovered other than a rehash of the report completed by the Office of Congressional Ethics nearly 30 months ago.
"This resolution comes more nearly 32 months to the day after the committee first announced its investigation based upon the public allegations of a disgruntled former campaign staffer ultimately not selected to join the delegate's staff when he was sworn in as a member of the 116th Congress," Woodward said in a statement
"To be sure, the level of collegiality afforded by Delegate San Nicolas to the investigative subcommittee was not reciprocated," he added.
Woodward claimed the subcommittee has "repeatedly trampled the due process rights and other constitutional protections" otherwise afforded to San Nicolas.
He alleged, for example, that the subcommittee obtained testimony from San Nicolas without properly serving him with a subpoena.
"Rather than meaningfully respond to the delegate's concerns about the subcommittee's process, the subcommittee described the delegate's objections as 'a hodgepodge of manufactured issues' and concluded
the interests of justice' warranted resolving its investigation rather than obtaining Delegate San Nicolas's responses to the allegations under investigation," Woodward said.