A company owned by the in-laws of the number two Republican in the House of Representatives landed millions in government contracts based on a “dubious claim” of Native American heritage, according to an investigation by The Los Angeles Times.
The paper reported that William Wages, brother-in-law of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, avoided facing competitive bids for millions in federal contracts – almost entirely before McCarthy was elected to federal office – because the Small Business Administration accepted Wages’ claim that he is Cherokee Indian. The company was able to secure contracts that are set aside for economically and socially disadvantaged minority groups, the Times said.
The investigation said it did not find any evidence that McCarthy had done anything to steer the contracts to Wages. The report notes that Wages’ participation in the program ended in 2007, the year McCarthy first came to Congress.
McCarthy’s mother-in-law co-owns the company, Vortex Construction, which also employs McCarthy’s father-in-law and sister-in-law.
Citing government and tribal records along with a Cherokee genealogist, the report took issue with Wages’ claim of one-eighth Cherokee heritage. It said Wages is a member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, which the report said tribal leaders with federal recognition consider a fraud.
CNN has reached out to McCarthy’s office and the Office of Congressional Ethics, the latter of which does not typically comment on what it is or is not investigating. The Small Business Administration confirmed to CNN Monday that it had referred the issue to its inspector general to review.
McCarthy wrote in response to the Los Angeles Times that outside of a batting cage he operated with Wages in their 20s, he has not “had interactions with Bill on any of his subsequent business pursuits.”
The paper said after it reached out about the situation, Vortex’s Native American-owned designation was removed from the SBA’s public database.
Wages denied wrongdoing in an interview with the Times and said he would be “very surprised” to learn he was wrong about being of Cherokee descent. He told the Times that a now-deceased cousin informed him about 20 years ago of his Cherokee descent and that after he sent a family tree to Northern Cherokee, the group sent him a card saying he was one-eighth Cherokee and that he used that card successfully to apply with the SBA.
Accusations of misrepresenting Native American heritage has been a political point of attack for both parties. The investigation into McCarthy’s brother-in-law was published Sunday, one day before Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a DNA analysis showing she has distant Native American ancestry. Warren has been repeatedly mocked by Republican opponents – and President Donald Trump – after her Native American heritage was touted by Harvard Law School when she was a professor there. A video Warren published Monday includes testimonials from faculty at Harvard Law, the University of Houston, University of Pennsylvania Law School and UT Austin School of Law insisting Warren’s professional advancement was not tied to her Native American heritage.
McCarthy is a top ally of Trump and considered a leading contender to be Speaker of the House should Republicans maintain control of the chamber following the midterm elections this November.
CNN’s Ashley Killough, Eric Bradner and Rebecca Berg contributed to this report.