While President Trump has mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren’s claims of a distant Native American ancestry and derisively nicknamed her “Pocahontas,” relatives of a senior Republican congressional leader have leveraged suspect assertions of tribal identity into the basis for winning more than $7 million in no-bid federal contracts, according to an investigation conducted by The Los Angeles Times.
The brother-in-law of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), William Wages, is the principal owner of Vortex Construction, which has landed a series of prime contracts — mostly for construction projects at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in McCarthy’s Bakersfield-based district and the Naval Air Station Lemoore in nearby Kings County — through a federal program designed to help disadvantaged minorities. McCarthy’s mother-in-law co-owns the company which also employees his father-in-law and sister-in-law.
According to The Times:
“Vortex faced no competitive bids for most of the contracts because the Small Business Administration accepted Wages’ claim in 1998 that he is a Cherokee Indian. Under the SBA program, his company became eligible for federal contracts set aside for economically and socially disadvantaged members of minority groups, a boon to its business.”
“Wages says he is one-eighth Cherokee. An examination of government and tribal records by The Times and a leading Cherokee genealogist casts doubt on that claim, however. He is a member of a group called the Northern Cherokee Nation, which has no federal or state recognition as a legitimate tribe. It is considered a fraud by leaders of tribes that have federal recognition.”
The revelation of the dubious genealogical claim has led ethics experts to call for the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate whether Congressman McCarthy used his influence to help his family members win the contract awards and to ascertain exactly what he was aware of regarding his brother-in-law’s participation in the minority contracting program.
“There is a direct and symbiotic connection between who McCarthy is and what he does and what his brother-in-law does,” said Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson, a former member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. She said Wages’ work on federal contracts important to McCarthy’s in-laws and his district “should never have happened at all.”
When The Times contacted the Small Business Administration to ask about Wages’ participation in the minority contracting program, it referred the questions to its Inspector General, Hannibal Ware, whose office said that it “takes any potential instance of fraud in any of its programs very seriously and refers such matters to the appropriate authorities for further independent examination and enforcement action where appropriate.”
After the newspaper contacted the SBA, references to Vortex Construction on the agency’s public database as being a Native American-owned company mysteriously disappeared. All of the three Cherokee tribes recognized by the federal government consider the Northern Cherokee group illegitimate.
“’It’s very much a con,’ said David Cornsilk, the Cherokee genealogist and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, the largest of the recognized Cherokee tribes.”
“At The Times’ request, Cornsilk cross-checked Wages and his ancestors against census records and the membership rolls of the recognized Cherokee tribes. Neither Wages nor any of his known ancestors appear on the rolls, which date to the early 19th century, Cornsilk said.”
“A Times examination of census, birth, death, marriage and other available public records show Wages’ ancestors were identified as white. He is listed as white on his birth certificate.”
“’It’s disheartening to see this,’ Cornsilk said. Native Americans are ‘the poorest people in the United States,’ and ‘the poverty gets worse’ if there are abuses in the SBA program, he added.”
The abuse of a program that awards millions of dollars of federal contracting work designated for minorities to unqualified, but well-connected, applicants is exactly the sort of corruption that defines the Republican crony capitalism swamp. Hopefully, the voters in McCarthy’s California district will see fit to drain that swamp in the upcoming midterm elections.
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