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February 7, 2013

Probe into congressman's Taiwan trip to continue

PLATTSBURGH — An ethics group says there is substantial reason to believe Congressman Bill Owens may have broken House rules and federal law by accepting travel payments from the government of Taiwan for a trip there last year.

The House Ethics Committee will continue to review the matter, but a formal, full-blown investigation is not expected.

The congressman asserts that the trip was legitimate.

“This is the next step in the process, and I expect that ultimately it will result in an affirmation of my position that the trip was undertaken in the quest for jobs for my constituents and was done with every intention to comply with applicable rules,” Owens said in a statement.

‘IMPERMISSIBLE SOURCE’

The Ethics Committee was notified by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent group that refers cases to the Ethics Committee, that Owens’s trip may have been a violation of federal laws.

Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, went to Taiwan with his wife, Jane, from Dec. 27, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2012. The couple reportedly stayed in $500 per night hotels, and the total trip cost $22,132.

The Office of Congressional Ethics recommendation to the Ethics Committee says, in part: “The Board of the OCE recommended that the Committee on Ethics further review ... as there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Owens accepted payment of travel expenses for an officially connected trip to Taiwan from an impermissible source, resulting in an impermissible gift, in violation of federal law and House rules.”

Owens, who said he went on the trip to recruit businesses for his district, which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin and nine other counties, paid back the cost when it became an issue last year.

NO FORMAL PROBE

The trip, and its alleged impropriety, was raised often by Owens’s challenger in last year’s election, Republican Matt Doheny. Owens went on to defeat Doheny to earn his second full term in office.

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