Homeland Security Nominee Mayorkas Raked in Millions at Corporate Law Firm Representing Utility Company Responsible for Fatal Gas Explosion

by Chuck Ross

 

Alejandro Mayorkas, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of homeland security, received $3.3 million last year as a partner at his law firm, where he represented a defense contractor accused of kickbacks to secure a Department of Energy contract and a utility company found responsible for an explosion that killed one person in Massachusetts.

Mayorkas, who served as deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under President Barack Obama, also faced an investigation during the Obama administration regarding a visa program he oversaw as director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

A 2015 report from the DHS inspector general said Mayorkas “exerted improper influence” to help politically-connected Democrats navigate the EB-5 visa program, which awards green cards to foreigners who invest in American companies.

Mayorkas was also accused in a House report in 2002 of “inappropriate” intervention on behalf of a Democratic donor who sought a presidential pardon from Bill Clinton.

Mayorkas will appear before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Jan. 19 for his confirmation hearing.

Mayorkas, who was a U.S. attorney in Los Angeles during the Clinton administration, joined Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, a prominent Big Law firm, after leaving the Obama DHS in October 2016.

According to financial disclosures filed with the Office of Government Ethics, he received $3.3 million in payouts as a partner with the firm.

Mayorkas represented multiple billion-dollar companies at WilmerHale, including Uber, Cisco, Clorox, Blackstone, and Airbnb. He also represented several clients that were targets in federal investigations for their business practices.

One of Mayorkas’s clients was Mission Support Alliance, a subsidiary of defense contractor Lockheed Martin. The company was charged on Feb. 8, 2019, under the False Claims Act, and was accused of paying $1 million in kickbacks in order to secure an environmental cleanup project with the Department of Energy.

The case remains open.

Mayorkas also represented NiSource, Inc., an Indiana-based energy provider, against federal charges one of its subsidiaries faced over its role in a gas explosion in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on Sept. 13, 2018, that left one person dead, one person severely disabled and 22 others injured.

According to the Justice Department, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, the NiSource subsidiary, “recklessly disregarded a known safety risk” related to a system that regulated gas pressure.

An internal notice from the company in 2015 said that negligence of the control lines could lead to a “catastrophic event.”

Columbia Gas entered a plea agreement with the government on Feb. 26 and was ordered to pay $53 million in a settlement, the largest settlement ever paid under the Pipeline Safety Act.

Mayorkas signed the plea agreement in the case. He also negotiated an agreement with federal prosecutors in Massachusetts that deferred prosecution for NiSource.

NiSource agreed to sell the subsidiary and to compensate victims of the gas explosion, according to the deferred prosecution agreement.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to file criminal charges against NiSource or Columbia Gas.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat, said in a statement after Columbia Gas agreed to the plea deal that the fine was a “mere slap on the wrist” for NiSource. He said that the terms of the plea deal “will not do nearly enough to dissuade other massive billion-dollar energy companies from future negligence or from exploiting the same regulatory loopholes.”

Mayorkas also represented Intuit, the tax preparation company, against charges that it tricked customers into paying to file their taxes through TurboTax, its tax filing program.

Courthouse News reported that Mayorkas represented Intuit in litigation in Los Angeles, but was not part of the legal team that handled a Federal Trade Commission investigation into the company.

Neither Mayorkas nor the Biden transition responded to questions about Mayorkas’s clients at WilmerHale. The Biden team has largely avoided the various scandals that have followed Mayorkas over the years, instead highlighting the historical significance of his nomination to lead DHS.

Mayorkas, who was born in Cuba, would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve as homeland security chief.

The Biden transition website says Mayorkas has led a “distinguished legal career,” including at WilmerHale, where “he has specialized in strategic counseling and crisis management.”

No Democratic senators have expressed opposition to Mayorkas’s nomination, meaning he is likely to win confirmation in the Senate, which is now controlled by Democrats. But some Republicans are likely to put up a fight during confirmation over investigations conducted into Mayorkas’ activities in the Obama and Clinton administrations.

A report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general released in March 2015 said Mayorkas “exerted improper influence” in the process to approve the EB-5 applications for a company owned by former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe and Tony Rodham, the late brother of Hillary Clinton.

According to the report, McAuliffe and Rodham communicated directly with Mayorkas when he headed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regarding a pending application for their company, GreenTech Automative, to participate in the EB-5 program, which grants green cards to foreign nationals who invest at least $500,000 in American companies.

McAuliffe and Rodham were later sued by 32 Chinese investors who claimed they were falsely promised that their investments in GreenTech would help them get green cards in the U.S.

Mayorkas also met with then-Sen. Harry Reid, whose son was legal counsel for a Nevada-based casino that wanted access to the EB-5 program, according to the inspector general.

USCIS granted the companies’ EB-5 applications after Mayorkas’ intervention, the IG report said.

Some Senate Republicans delayed a vote to confirm Mayorkas as deputy secretary of DHS, citing the ongoing IG investigation. He was eventually confirmed to the post on Dec. 20, 2013, on a vote of 54-41.

Mayorkas was also criticized in a congressional report of a 2002 investigation into former President Bill Clinton’s last-minute presidential pardons.

Mayorkas, who was the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles during the end of Clinton’s tenure, intervened in the pardon process to help Carlos Vignali, a convicted cocaine trafficker whose father was a major Democratic donor in Los Angeles.

The House report said that Mayorkas’s intervention in seeking a commutation for Vignali was “totally inappropriate” given his position as a federal prosecutor.

The federal prosecutor who handled the initial case in Minnesota expressed outrage that Mayorkas would be involved in a case far outside his jurisdiction.

Todd Jones, who was a U.S. attorney in Minnesota, told House investigators he was “troubled” that Mayorkas intervened in Vignali’s case. He said at the time that Mayorkas should “stay the hell away” from the case.

Xavier Becerra, who Biden chose as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, also lobbied for Vignali’s pardon. Vignali’s father donated to Becerra’s political campaigns, according to the House report.

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Chuck Ross is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation. 
Photo Alejandro Mayorkas by World Travel & Tourism Council CC2.0.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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