Trump Cabinet Member Wilbur Ross Accused of Stealing More than $120 Million, According to Business Associates: Report

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was accused of having stolen $120 million through a complex scheme at his previous investment company, which led to lawsuits, a fine by the Securities and Exchange Commission and some paybacks, according to a Forbes report published Tuesday.

The firm, WL Ross and Co., would allegedly charge investors extra management fees even if the value of their investment had fallen, and would also neglect to pay the required minimum percentage of fees attained on other deals, the report said, citing five former employees of the company.

Instead, the company would give investors a smaller amount of the required percentage and keep the rest, according to the SEC. Ross sold WL Ross and Co. to Invesco in 2006.

“The SEC has never initiated any enforcement action against me,” Ross told Forbes in a statement. “No regulatory agency has ever asserted such charges or any other charges against me, and there is no basis for any such allegations.”

But the report noted that the SEC had fined Ross’s company $2.3 million in August 2016  for collecting some $10.4 million in fees from investors from deals completed between 2001 to 2011, which covered a portion of Ross's time at the firm.

In a statement to Newsweek, the Commerce Department challenged Forbes’s report and said it was the result of a “personal vendetta” against Ross.

“The anonymously sourced Forbes story is based on false rumors, innuendo, and unverifiable claims. The fact remains that no regulator has made any of these accusations against the Secretary. This rehash of old stories is clearly the result of a personal vendetta. The baseless claims made in this story were well publicized long ago and are not news,” the agency said.

Ross’s alleged practices led to several lawsuits filed by former employees and partners in his company.

Like other members of the Trump administration, Ross has been subjected to intense scrutiny, which has yielded some damaging claims. The president had to part ways with a number of officials, including Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, due to practices stemming from their lavish spending while in office.

Ross, 80, has faced previous accusations of financial impropriety while in office. Last year, he was a major figure named in the "Paradise Papers," a trove of 13.4 million leaked documents that detailed how high net worth individuals around the world used complex offshore finance structures to protect their money from higher taxes.

Notably, Ross was accused of failing to properly include all of his information in required financial disclosure filings, as well as having a stake in a shipping company linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ross owned part of a company called Navigator, which had a partnership with Russia-based oil and gas company Sibur. Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, was a Sibur shareholder.

Ross responded to the revelation by telling the BBC News last November that the fact that it happened to be a Russian company didn't mean there was any evil in it.

This story has been updated to include  statement from the Commerce Department.

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