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Justice Dept: Ward Took At Least $500K In GOP Campaign Funds

Christopher Ward, once the highly respected former treasurer for the National Republican Congressional Committee, allegedly improperly diverted more than $500,000 in GOP campaign donations during a four-year period from 2003 to 2007, according to documents unveiled by the Justice Dept. on Friday.

No charges have been filed against Ward yet, but DOJ has placed a lien on his Bethesda, Md., home, stating that the funds he took were used to pay his mortgage for several years, as well as cover the cost of a $200,000 home renovation.

Ward "made over $500,000 in unauthorized withdrawals" from several bank accounts created to handle donations for the annual President's Dinner, according to the DOJ filing. Those yearly galas, where money was raised for House and Senate Republicans, took in millions of dollars, and Ward, as the NRCC treasurer, allegedly diverted a big chunk of those funds directly to his own bank accounts.

Ward is under investigation by the FBI for alleged embezzlement and bank fraud. As of today, five GOP campaign committees and PACs have formally reported that Ward misappropriated at least $47,000, although the diversion from the NRCC is believed to be much larger. NRCC officials have been tight-lipped so far on what the exact number is.

Several GOP insiders said that an internal audit of NRCC records by the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers has found that Ward diverted between $550,000-600,000 from the committee, but Karen Hanretty, the NRCC communications director, disputed that figure and said the audit was not complete at press time.

Hanretty would not comment on the Justice Dept's action against Ward. DOJ officials could not be reached for comment late Friday night.

NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) is expected to brief the NRCC's executive committee and House Republican leaders on the audit results next Thursday, according to GOP insiders. The audit cost the committee at least $370,000, according to NRCC disclosure filings.

A loss in the $500,000 range would be less than some Republicans had feared; there was speculation that Ward could have misappropriated $1 million or more from the NRCC. But it would still make the NRCC case the largest of a rash of campaign embezzlement cases in recent years.
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