President Donald Trump has long grown fond of the claim that U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has used false claims of Native American ancestry to get ahead, going so far that he’s adopted the derogatory slur “Pocahontas” for the Democratic leader. As it turns out, though, there’s a suspicious example of someone actually using questionable claims of Native American ancestry for financial gain right in his own party.
The family of U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, has garnered millions upon millions worth of government contracts throughout recent years based on the claim that McCarthy’s brother-in-law William Wages has Cherokee ancestry.
The problem, though, is that Wages claims his Native American background via the “evidence” of membership in a group whose legitimacy remains widely contested. Formerly known as the Northern Cherokee Nation of Missouri and Arkansas and now just the Northern Cherokee Nation, it claims government recognized legitimacy despite the fact that, well, there’s never been a legally binding measure implemented that acknowledges the group as anything other than attention-hungry. It came close at times, including when in 1985 the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill that would have granted formal legal recognition — but that bill never went anywhere.
That never stopped Wages, though. He used his membership in the questionable organization to get into a program run by the Small Business Administration that awards no-bid contracts to minority business owners. Wages and his family — mostly not including McCarthy’s wife Judy — benefited from the program for as long as they were allowed via Vortex Construction. That family business took on a number of important, massive contracts right in McCarthy’s own district, including about $5 million in prime contracts between 2006 and 2008. Those contracts included a $2.7 million payout for work at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Overall, Vortex benefited from about $4 million in contracts for work at China Lake, $2.4 million for work at the Naval Air Station Lemoore and smaller amounts for work at other federal properties like Edwards Air Force Base.
Vortex worked on a whopping $7.6 million worth of federal contracts, most of which came thanks to Wages’ membership in the SBA’s special program.
Even after Vortex’s membership in the SBA’s program maxed out, the company benefited, partnering with J.J. Leon Construction — an actually minority-owned company which was able to directly benefit from the SBA’s minority favoring government contract program and get everyone involved in its operations work. Vortex provided consulting work for Leon Construction.
There’s no evidence, at present, of wrongdoing — the Los Angeles Times spent months looking into the story. Wages asserted that he had his sister leave the company way back in the 1990s to keep it from becoming intertwined with Kevin’s then-burgeoning political work. McCarthy himself declined to be interviewed as part of the Times investigation, but he provided a written response in which he asserted that he’d had no part in either Wages’ business or his claims of Native American ancestry.
Still, Los Angeles City Ethics Commission member turned law professor Jessica Levinson asserted that the Vortex work in McCarthy’s own district “should never have happened at all.”
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