Henry Cisneros, former housing secretary, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on 18 felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to the FBI involving more than $250,000 in payments he made to an ex-mistress.
The indictment also charges the former mistress, Linda Medlar, 45, of Lubbock, Texas, with conspiracy and with making a false statement.
Also indicted were two former Cisneros aides, Sylvia Arce-Garcia, 43, of Los Angeles, who was charged with conspiracy, and John D. Rosales, 41, of the Washington area, who was charged with conspiracy and two counts of making false statements.
The 66-page indictment outlines a multifaceted conspiracy in which Cisneros, who headed the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 through 1996, worked frantically before, during and after his confirmation to keep Medlar from disclosing the true nature of their long relationship and the full extent of payments he had made for several years to keep her quiet.
Contrary to what Medlar and Cisneros had said at the time, the grand jury determined, Medlar had threatened to disclose publicly the relationship and the payments made to her. The grand jury also said Cisneros had made payments to a second woman with whom he had had an affair, though it did not name her. Medlar knew about the other woman and was being paid to keep that quiet, too.
And despite what Cisneros told the FBI, he kept on paying Medlar after he became housing secretary. In 1993 alone, the grand jury said, Cisneros paid her $73,000.
All of the lies, the grand jury said, became a conspiracy to impede the Senate in its confirmation responsibilities, the FBI in doing background investigations of Cabinet nominees and the Justice Department in determining who is worthy of top-secret national security clearance.
Former prosecutors reached Thursday said the charges reflect the seriousness with which the government views instances of lying to the FBI, whether it occurs in a confirmation probe or some other proceeding. During the time that Attorney General Janet Reno was weighing the appointment of an independent counsel in the Cisneros case, senior FBI officials were privately pushing aggressively for one, arguing that it was critical to maintain the bureau’s integrity.
Cisneros, 50, was one of three members of President Clinton’s Cabinet to come under scrutiny by independent counsels. An investigation of Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown was dropped when he died in a plane crash, and former agriculture secretary Mike Espy was indicted for illegally soliciting and accepting more than $45,000 in gifts from companies with business before his department. He is awaiting trial.
Unlike the other two probes, however, the investigation of Cisneros by independent counsel David M. Barrett has been done in relative quiet, with little criticism that the special prosecutor was overreaching. That charge was repeatedly lodged in the other other investigations.
Former federal prosecutors who scanned news accounts of the Cisneros indictment said Thursday night that it appeared to be based on a solid foundation and not to be a case of overreaching by the independent counsel.
“There’s no smell I get here that anybody was out to get anybody,” said John Q. Barrett, who prosecuted federal officials in the Iran-contra investigation and is now a law professor at St. John’s University in New York. “Based on a wire story, it looks like a professional federal indictment, not a case of let’s scrape up any old crime … Lying to the FBI is a very serious thing, and federal law enforcement needs to react to that,” said Barrett, who is not relationed to the independent counsel in the Cisneros case.
The Cisneros probe, begun in 1995, lasted longer than the independent counsel had hoped. David Barrett hit a snag when Medlar stopped cooperating last year. She was indicted in September on charges that she lied to the independent counsel’s investigators about various aspects of her dealings with Cisneros.
Cisneros, the charismatic former mayor of San Antonio, Texas, who was once viewed as an up-and-coming politician nationally, is president of Univision, a Los Angeles-based Spanish television network. His attorney, Cono R. Namorato, said in a statement, “While Mr. Cisneros has admitted that he has made mistakes in his personal life, he has attempted for many years to put these mistakes behind him.”
Namorato added, “While Mr. Cisneros and his family do not relish the prospect of further public airing of private events beginning a decade ago, he will defend himself vigorously and expects complete exoneration after a trial.”
Cisneros and Medlar began their affair in the late 1980s while he was mayor of San Antonio. He broke up with his wife, but they have since reconciled.
In 1988, the relationship was made public. Since then, the issue has always been how much Cisneros had paid Medlar, who now goes by her maiden name, Jones. The grand jury said Cisneros paid her about $5,000 a month from 1990 through 1993 - with the help of others, who were not named in the indictment.
Cisneros also allegedly gave her an additional $16,000 - split in two payments to avoid Internal Revenue Service detection. Medlar allegedly used the $16,000 to buy a house in Lubbock in the name of relatives to conceal that Cisneros was the true source of the money.
The grand jury listed several instances where Cisneros met with representatives of the then-President-elect Clinton’s transition team to discuss his relationship and payments to Medlar. He even met with Clinton personally to discuss the matter, according to the indictment.
After the FBI’s first interview with Cisneros on Dec. 30, 1992, it became suspicious, according to the indictment.
On Jan. 7, 1993, FBI agents were dispatched to question him again - and urge him to be forthcoming and truthful, the grand jury said.
But, the indictment said, Cisneros continued to lie.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER PROBES Here are other independent counsel investigations of Clinton administration members: Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, for possible financial improprieties. Daniel S. Pearson was named independent counsel in July 1995. The investigation ended in 1996 when Brown died in a government airplane crash outside Dubrovnik, Croatia. President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, for their involvement with the Whitewater real estate deal while Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Kenneth Starr was appointed independent counsel in 1994. Ongoing. Mike Espy, secretary of agriculture, for conflicts of interest. Donald Smaltz was named independent counsel in 1994. Espy was indicted this past August by a federal grand jury on charges of accepting $35,000 in prohibited gifts. Former AmeriCorps head Eli Segal. The name of the independent counsel, appointed in November 1996, and the nature of the investigation have never been made public. But the allegation was believed to be related to a possible improper contribution Segal brought to the Democrats. He was cleared of any wrongdoing earlier this year. Earlier this month, Attorney General Janet Reno refused to name an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising activities by President Clinton, Vice President Gore or former Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary. Reno said the Justice Department’s own investigation would continue.