By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBS4) – The Justice Department has closed its criminal investigation of former Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, according to her defense attorney Jeffrey Weiner.

The investigation examined whether Ros-Lehtinen, who left Congress in 2018, illegally spent tens of thousands of dollars of campaign donations on high-end restaurants and resorts, including a family vacation to Disneyworld.

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“The Department of Justice had some concerns regarding expenditures that were made after a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice and with the evidence, information and statements that we presented to them, the Department of Justice advised me yesterday that they were closing their investigation,” Weiner told CBS Miami. “The Professional Integrity Section said no charges will be filed whatsoever and the matter is closed. The only thing that’s open now is the Federal Elections Commission administrative inquiry. We’ve answered their concerns. We haven’t heard back from them in a year, and that shouldn’t be a problem either. So we’re very, very, very happy for the former congresswoman. She did nothing wrong and she’s been totally vindicated.”

CBS Miami first reported on the investigation last September after former members of her staff were subpoenaed to either provide records or appear before a grand jury regarding tens of thousands of dollars of expenditures by Ros-Lehtinen, including a 2017 trip to Walt Disney World with her children and grandchildren.

After announcing on April 30, 2017, that she would not seek re-election in 2018, Ros-Lehtinen transferred more than $177,000 from her re-election campaign account to IRL PAC, a political action committee that she controlled. It is not uncommon for politicians to have PACs to support their political activities. And some of the IRL PAC’s spending is political in nature. Under federal law, however, campaign funds – even those funds that are transferred to a political action committee – cannot be spent on what election law describes as “personal use.”

A review of IRL PAC expense reports shows a series of questionable expenditures, including nearly $4,000 spent on the family trip to Disney World in December 2017.

Other expenditures include more than $10,000 on rooms at the Lotte New York Palace in New York; nearly $6,000 on rooms and meals at the Ritz-Carlton resort on Amelia Island in northern Florida; and another $28,000 at the W Hotel on South Beach.

On New Year’s Eve 2018, just days before she left office, she spent $3,100 at MesaMar, a high-end seafood restaurant in Coral Gables, according to the PAC’s expense reports.

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Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign spending was first reported by Noah Pransky on the Florida Politics website in June 2019.

Weiner said more than fifteen people were interviewed and hundreds of records were reviewed by Justice Department officials and FBI agents as part of the investigation.

The Justice Department declined to comment, which is not unusual, even after investigations are closed.

Nevertheless, Weiner said DOJ officials determined that “each of these events were legitimate and proper political events and that the people who attended were contributors, were lobbyists for other people, including some congresspeople who were there and who brought their grandkids, for example, and Disney, it was a family event.”

“And so the fact that Ileana sent some photos out on social media to her family and friends of her family was totally fine,” Weiner said. “So at first blush, we have no problem with them looking at the matter. But after all the facts came out, they fully realized and acknowledged there’s no wrongdoing.”

He said Ros-Lehtinen was relieved to have this matter behind her.

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“People’s reputations are what matter,” Weiner said. “And Ileana has an unblemished reputation. People love her. And this really hurt. But she’s totally clear now and we’re happy for her.”

Jim DeFede