Due to the plethora of unsavory grifters who’ve found themselves in the administration of Donald Trump over the past few years, Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has mostly managed to fly under the radar despite being, in many ways, as laughably corrupt as Scott Pruitt or Ryan Zinke.
Since last year, Ross has been the subject of a series of Forbes exposes which revealed—among other things—that Ross has been accused of stealing at least $123 million from his associates, and that he falsely told ethics officials, in sworn statements, that he had divested from his holdings in the Atlanta-based investment management firm Invesco (which also owns WL Ross and Associates, Ross’ private equity company) when he hadn’t. The Center for Public Integrity reported in July that Ross had made between $1.2 and $6 million more from the Invesco stock by selling it in December 2017 than he would have had he sold it at the time he claimed he did, at the end of May 2017—90 days after his February 2017 Senate confirmation, when he was legally obligated to due so under his ethics agreement.
Ross’ problems with late and inaccurate financial disclosures earned him a strong rebuke in July from the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, David Apol. But now, a new investigation by the Center for Public Integrity has found that Ross again falsely claimed to ethics officials–twice!—that he had divested from another stock which he actually still owned.
Per the Center for Public Integrity:
Ross was supposed to sell his BankUnited, Inc. stock, valued at up to $15,000, within 90 days of his Senate confirmation, according to his federal ethics agreement — in other words, by the end of May 2017.
Ross twice submitted disclosure reports to federal ethics officials saying he had divested the stock — once in a transaction report from May 2017 and another time in his annual financial disclosure from August 2018.
But in October, Ross filed another transaction report with ethics officials acknowledging he had had not divested the BankUnited stock when he said he did — and continued to own it until October 1, 2018. The Office of Government Ethics has not yet certified this latest transaction report, but released the document in response to a request from the Center for Public Integrity.
Ross blamed the discrepancy on “a mistaken belief that the agent executed my sell order on that date.” He also reportedly told the Center for Public Integrity that he actually believed the shares were sold in May 2017. (We’ve requested comment from the Commerce department, and will update with any response we receive.)
“Wilbur Ross clearly is not taking his ethics obligations seriously.” Austin Evers, the executive director of the ethics watchdog group American Oversight, told the Center for Public integrity. “Wilbur Ross clearly is not taking his ethics obligations seriously. He’s been warned and at this point he needs a full audit by OGE and probably Congress to make sure he’s not operating with blatant conflict of interest.”
We’ve requested comment from the Office of Government Ethics as well as Sen. John Thune, the chair of the Senate Commerce committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee who referred Ross’ stock trades to the Department of Justice in July for investigation. We will update with any response we receive.
Despite Ross’ apparently blatant disregard for ethics rules, being in the Trump administration has cost him a ton of money. Forbes reported last week that as a result of just one deal involving a $25 million stake in a shipping fund—which Ross was forced to make in order to rid himself of those pesky conflicts of interest—his personal fortune took a $15 million hit. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Update, 12/20/2018, 10:06 a.m. ET: “My October 31st 2018 transaction report corrected an earlier filing,” Ross told Splinter in a statement. “As I explained in that report: ‘These shares, issued as directors qualifying shares in 2012 were held in book entry form by Bank United’s stock transfer agent. I previously reported selling the shares on May 31st, 2017 based on a mistaken belief that the agent executed my sell order on that date.’”
Update, 12/20/2018, 4:17 p.m. ET: “New documents show that Secretary Ross yet again made false statements about selling off stocks that presented a conflict of interest for him,” Sen. Wyden said in a statement provided to Splinter. “This administration’s contempt for the most basic checks on corruption is bottomless.”
Correction, 10:14 a.m. ET: A previous version of this story referred to Wyden as the ranking member on the Senate Commerce committee. He’s the ranking member on the Senate Finance committee.