By Ethan Barton, DCNF
A Pakistani-born House IT administrator suspected of misusing access to congressional files is a charming, dishonest manipulator with an unquenchable thirst for money, a dozen people who know him personally said in interviews with The Daily Caller News Foundation’s Investigative Group.
Relatives said that Imran Awan had such a penchant for taking advantage of people that his stepmother called the police and accused him of extortion, while his father changed his last name so he wouldn’t share it with his son.
Awan had full access to the emails and files of dozens of members of Congress, and is the target of a Capitol Police criminal investigation into, as Politico described it, “committing serious, potentially illegal, violations on the House IT network.”
However, members of Congress have not treated the situation as a potential security breach, instead saying that they trust Imran and do not think he would sell their data or use it for nefarious purposes like blackmail.
Among almost every person interviewed by TheDCNF, those who know him — including close relatives — described Imran as a savvy person and a calculating tactician who had tried to scam them.
In one example of that, he filmed a bizarre video — viewable below — of his father signing a financial document that he correctly anticipated would become subject of fraud allegations. He flaunted his supposed power in government, many said.
“He’s a very charming guy, charismatic, you’d like him,” said one person who rents a house from Imran. “He’s brilliant, knowledgeable about everything.” The family owns multiple real estate assets, but renters said Imran wanted rental payments in cash.
Congress paid him and family members $4 million between 2009 and 2016. His younger brothers, Abid and Jamal, and his wife Hina appeared on the House payroll at chief-of-staff level salaries, even as Imran brought in additional income in other ways.
Politico described Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Gregory Meeks of New York as having a “friendly personal relationship” with Imran and his wife. Meeks said he saw no evidence of anything “nefarious,” and Wasserman Schultz refused to fire him even though the House Sergeant-at-Arms has banned him from the network.
“Imran is very cunning and shady,” said Cristal Perpignan, a federal manager who rented a house from Imran, and who had repeated run-ins with him over money. “He gives you a sob story and you believe him.” Imran told her and other renters that his name was Alec.
Imran manipulated a high school buddy, Haseeb Rana, by having him do the work of Imran’s relatives — who fellow IT guys said were rarely seen — while earning less money than them, Haseeb’s father Tanwir said.
Imran is outgoing and relishes displays of power and influence. “My son is quiet, Imran is the opposite of that. He has pictures of him shaking hands with all the officials,” Rana said.
In addition to prominently displaying pictures of him with high officials, including former President Bill Clinton, “he had a huge picture of Mecca on the wall” of his home, one acquaintance said.
But the Awan brothers are said to be not particularly religious. “If they were real Muslims, they wouldn’t treat people like this,” a relative said. Abid Awan has had repeated arrests for alcohol-related offenses.
Acquaintances described a confidence that turned into boldness. “They’re obviously brazen,” a renter said. Fellow IT workers said that the sheer number of congressional offices that eventually added them to their payroll seemed suspicious, as if the brothers didn’t know when to stop.
In a Capitol Hill culture in which staff keep their heads down, Imran made sure to tell people to whom he owed money or wanted to collect money from that he worked for the “U.S. House of Representatives,” according to court documents and interviews. His home displays a massive blue congressional seal on a first-floor window.
Court records and interviews indicate that Imran controlled the money in his family as a pooled asset.
While employed by the House, the brothers — with Imran in charge — also ran a car dealership that received $100,000 from an Iraqi politician wanted by the U.S. government, a business partner, Nasir Khattak, said in court.
The dealership’s financial books had “very bad record-keeping” and “no documentation” where “it is close to impossible to make any sense of all the transactions,” Khattak testified.
When the company racked up debts, Abid filed bankruptcy to discharge them, leaving Imran’s assets intact.
Ownership of houses was transferred between family members in unusual ways, and Imran represented himself as the owner of houses that, on paper, were owned by others, potentially making it harder for law enforcement to seize assets.
The Awan brothers’ mother died in a car crash in Pakistan, and a business associate described Imran as having “raised” his youngest brother Jamal.
Their father despised his sons’ behavior so strongly he changed his last name to Shah — his son-in-law’s surname — according to court records and relatives.
The brothers’ stepmother, Samina Gilani, said in court documents that her husband was angry, in part because they had stolen disability checks from him. On their father’s deathbed, however, the brothers convinced him to let them steward his assets, perhaps in part because his second wife did not speak English or drive motor vehicles.
Days before he died on Jan. 16, 2017, their father agreed to transfer management of his life insurance policy to Abid, and the brothers recorded a video of him signing it. That change did not remove Gilani as beneficiary.
Around that time, Gilani called Fairfax County, Va., police. “Imran Awan threatened that he is very powerful and if I ever call the police again, [he] will … kidnap my family members back in Pakistan,” she later claimed in court documents. She said the brothers were forcing her to sign a different document giving them access to family money in Pakistan.
Coincidentally, shortly thereafter, House officials told congressmen in February 2017 that the family was the subject of a criminal investigation involving abusing their congressional posts.
Despite the apparent nepotism and high salaries the Awans were paid, the normally confident Imran was stunned. “He was a very different person… If he killed himself, I wouldn’t be surprised,” a renter said.
Yet despite the official attention on them, the brothers insisted on taking the $50,000 life insurance money by removing their father’s second wife as beneficiary after his death, triggering a court case to sort out the rightful recipient. They also kicked Gilani out of her home, even though they owned numerous other houses.
A judge said it was unusual that the brothers moved so quickly for the money as their stepmom was mourning the father’s death. Their lawyer, James Bacon, said they needed the money but offered no explanation regarding why.
Gilani’s lawyer, Michael Hadeed, said that the brothers committed insurance fraud. Their desire for an extra $50,000 on top of the millions from Congress could have unintended side effects as it relates to the congressional probe. Because of the lawsuit, “we can go forward with discovery” to get detailed information about their finances, Hadeed said.
Investigative Group reporter Ethan Barton contributed to this report.
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