Former Justice Dept. employee pleads guilty to deceiving banks in effort to influence investigation
A former Justice Department official pleaded guilty Friday to conspiring to lie to banks about the source of money he accepted in order to influence an investigation into Malaysian businessmen.
George Higginbotham, who once held a “non-lawyer position” at the Justice Department, pleaded guiltybefore a federal judge in Washington, D.C. to one count of conspiracy to make false statements to a bank.
Prosecutors said Higginbotham helped facilitate the transfer of tens of millions of dollars from a Malaysian businessman to finance a lobbying campaign to thwart a Justice Department probe into 1Malaysia Development Bhd, a real estate company.
Higginbotham played “no role in any aspect of the investigation” and failed to influence it, the Justice Department said in a statement announcing the guilty plea.
The Justice Department was looking into a group of Malaysian businessman led by Jho Low, who allegedly diverted money from 1Malaysia Development Bhd into personal accounts disguised to look like a legitimate business, according to court filings.
Mr. Low and two Goldman Sachs lawyers were charged with conspiracy related to the scheme earlier this month.
Some of the funds were allegedly funneled through Pras Michael, a Malaysian businessman and entertainer, prosecutors said. Mr. Michael is said to have passed the money on to a political fundraiser and investment firm owner, according to court documents.
As part of his plea agreement, Higginbotham admitted to conspiring to make false statements to the banks about the source and purpose of the funds. He also admitted to creating fake loan and consulting documents in an effort to deceive banks.
Higginbotham’s LinkedIn page says he left the Justice Department three months and started working there as a “Senior Congressional Liasion/Oversight Counsel.” A Justice Department website indicated he worked for the department’s Office of Justice Programs, which doles out grants and training funding to local law enforcement across the country.
Also, on Friday, the Justice Department filed a forfeiture action seeking to collect more than $73 million from Higginbotham’s law firm and other entities.
“According to the allegations in the complaint, Michael and Higginbotham defrauded U.S. financial institutions and laundered millions of dollars into the United States as part of an effort to improperly influence the Department’s investigation into the massive embezzlement and bribery scheme involving 1MDB,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benckowski, who heads the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.