The attorney for a Pakistan-born Democratic House IT staffer, Imran Awan — arrested on Monday over bank fraud allegations, says the charges are politically motivated and “began as part of a frenzy of anti-Muslim bigotry in the literal heart of our democracy, the House of Representatives.”
“For months we have had utterly unsupported, outlandish, and slanderous statements targeting Mr. Awan coming not just from the ultra-right-wing ‘pizzagate’ media but from sitting members of Congress,” Christopher Gowen, Awan’s attorney said in a statement obtained and published by the Washington Examiner.
“The government had been informed he would travel and had stated no objection. Yet on Monday night he was hastily arrested at Dulles airport,” in Texas the statement read.
Awan, 37, a former IT congressional staffer for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., was arrested on Monday by FBI agents at Dulles International Airport while attempting to board an international flight to Lahore.
Awan pleaded not guilty to one count of bank fraud on Tuesday at his arraignment in Washington, D.C. He was released but will be required to wear a GPS ankle monitor until his preliminary hearing on Aug. 21, according to Fox News.
Awan’s wife, Hina Alvi, had earlier left for Pakistan along with their children. The FBI said they do not believe she and their kids would return to the US.
In its complaint, the FBI accused Awan of attempting to defraud the Congressional Federal Credit Union by obtaining a USD 165,000 home equity loan for a rental property. This is against the credit union’s policies since it is not the owner’s primary residence, it said.
Those funds were then included as part of a wire transfer to two individuals in Pakistan’s Faisalabad, the FBI alleged in its chargesheet.
Awan’s attorney Chris Gowen, in an email statement to Politico, said: “This is clearly a right-wing media-driven prosecution by a United States Attorney’s Office that wants to prosecute people for working while Muslim. A quick glance at what the government filed in court confirms the lack of evidence or proof they have against my client”.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said that the criminal investigation against Awan alleges the “stealing equipment from members’ offices without their knowledge and committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network”.
Awan allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment from House offices and funneled sensitive congressional data offsite as part of a massive cybersecurity breach, RNC said, adding that last year Awan worked for as many as 13 House Democrats.
According to Politico, most Democratic lawmakers cut ties with Awan and his family after the criminal investigation came to light in early February.