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Congress: America's Criminal Class - Part II

Virginia's bombastic Congressman Jim Moran: "I like to hit people"

By the staff
of Capitol Hill Blue

August 17, 1999

Neighbors in the prosperous Del Rey residential area of Alexandria weren't surprised earlier this year when police cars showed up at the home of Democratic Congressman James Moran and his wife of 11 years.

It wasn't the first time the cops had shown up.

"There was always a lot of screaming going on there," said one neighbor. "They fought like cats and dogs."

Mary Moran called the Alexandria police that June night and said her husband was attacking her. The police came, talked to both, and left.

No charges were filed.

The next day, Mary Moran filed for divorce, saying - among other things - that the five-term Congressman had abused her.

Moran claimed the charges were "trumped up" and filed a counter suit for divorce the following month.

But the incident is just the latest violent act by the bombastic Virginia congressman who has a history of bar brawls, physical assaults, threats, intimidation and even fistfights on the floor of the House of Representatives.

And he has a history of getting away with it.

Jay Armington remembers his first and only encounter with Moran, then mayor of Alexandria, in a bar near the Potomac River in 1988.

"He and another guy went from arguing to shouting to fists in just a few minutes. One of my buddies pulled the other guy away and I grabbed the mayor," Armington recalls.

Moran, he said, wheeled around and slammed him against the bar.
"His cheeks were bulging and he was snorting like a bull," Armington said. "I realized I was looking into the eyes of a madman."

Arne Wilkens tended bar in Alexandria, where Moran served as mayor of the city from 1985-1990. He says the Mayor often got into fights.

"He was a bully and a thug," Wilkens said. "We'd call the cops, but they wouldn't do anything."

Jonathan Schnapp, a former Alexandria resident, tried to file a criminal complaint with the Alexandria police after the Mayor threatened him following an argument outside a city council meeting. The cops just laughed.

"They said they weren't going to risk their jobs by trying to arrest the Mayor," Schnapp said. Schnapp said he moved out of Alexandria because he felt both the Mayor and the police department were corrupt.

Alexandria police refuse to discuss Moran's tenure as Mayor publicly, but several officers admitted privately that his behavior would have led to the arrest of "ordinary citizens."

"The Mayor was clearly guilty of assault on more than one occasion," said one officer, who refused to be identified out of fear for his job. "But the word came down. The Mayor was off limits. Ordinary citizens go to jail. Not the Mayor."

Winning a seat in Congress in 1990 didn't change Moran's violent ways. He got into more than one shoving match with other members of Congress, including Indiana Republican Dan Burton and California Republican Randy "Duke" Cunningham.

Moran was an amateur boxer in his youth and told Washingtonian Magazine that had he not become a politician, he might have tried professional boxing because "I like to hit people."

Supporters of the temperamental Congressman say he is just a "typical Irish rogue," charming one minute, belligerent the other.

"Alexandria likes rogues," says one political supporter. "The city has a long, colorful history of flamboyant politicians.

But political opponents say Moran is a "violent man, a time bomb who is always ticking and ready to go off."

"He's always boiling," says Sam Asrets, a former Alexandria activist who opposed Moran on many issues during his term as mayor.

"He knows he can get away with this because there's never any accountability," Asrets says. "He gets breaks that ordinary people don't get. Had he learned early on that there would be punishment for his behavior, he would have been a lot better off."

Supporters say Moran deserves a break because his daughter, Dorothy, was diagnosed with brain and spinal cancer six years ago. The daughter, now 8, has gone into remission, but the Morans spent more than $15,000 on alternative care on top of $200,000 in insured treatment.

However, Moran, who was also a stockbroker before becoming mayor of Alexandria, is nearly a million dollars in debt from failed investments and out-of-control spending patterns that go far beyond what the couple spent on their daughter.

The financial problems have become a central part of the increasingly nasty divorce proceedings between Moran and his wife. Mary Moran, 44, went heavily into debt buying gifts and antiques the year her daughter was diagnosed with cancer.

Moran also lost $120,000 in high-risk stock options and futures contracts in 1995 and 1996, according to his financial disclosure forms on file in Congress. Two years later, he reported increasingly heavy debts

Alexandria public records show Moran more than doubled the mortgage on his home, from $202,000 to $447,000, and is frequently late with payments. Moran earns $136,700 a year as a Congressman, but has more than $7,000 a month in housing and loan payments.

Ironically, the Congressman sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which controls the finances of the nation. He serves on subcommittees overseeing defense and interior expenditures.

But the Congressman shows little ability to control his own finances and increasingly taps his campaign funds to pay personal bills.

In her divorce petition, attorneys for Mary Moran say the congressman has a history of "wasting the family assets on his stock market gambling." Mrs. Moran seeks $25,000 in support and possession of their home. She says her husband "has wasted marital funds on the excessive purchases for unnecessary items."

Moran played the stock market and lost. He wiped out earlier stock holdings and used income tax refunds as seed money, losing $34,000 in more than 80 trades in 1995. In 1996, he lost another $93,000 in more than 100 failed trades.

Even though the stock market was booming, Moran risked his money on high-risk, potentially lucrative futures and options trading, seeking higher profits by trading on the direction of general market index funds, as well as on an array of U.S. and foreign technology and industrial stocks. He lost it all.

As his losses mounted, Moran borrowed heavily against both his Alexandria home and a vacation home in King George County, VA. The two mortgages amount to more than $600,000.

Both loans came at above-market rates from MBNA Consumer Services Inc., a finance operation that makes high interest loans to high-risk customers.

Moran has tried, and failed, to sell both of his houses over the past 18 months. Public appraisals put the value of both homes below the amount that the Congressman owes on his loans.

Congressional disclosure forms also show the Morans tripled their credit card debt from 1993 to 1997 and now owe more than $45,000 on the cards. Moran also has borrowed the maximum against his congressional retirement fund -- $20,000.

Moran sold his car in 1996 and turned to his campaign fund to lease a car for his personal use, according to his campaign financial statements. While other members of Congress use campaign funds for a car in their districts far from Washington, Moran's actions have raised eyebrows in Congress.

He also tripled his reimbursement requests from the campaign in 1997--an off year for elections--for meals and gifts, increasing the amount the campaign pays from $4,000 in 1995 to more than $12,000 in 1997. Aides say he is increasing his use of campaign funds to pay such expenses.

"The campaign now pays for a lot of his personal expenses," says one former staff member. "It has to. He's broke."

Although the Morans refuse to discuss their finances or personal lives, attorneys for Moran told The Washington Post earlier this month: "The Morans, like millions of Americans, made investments. Mr. Moran used the knowledge he acquired as a stockbroker during the 1980s. Unfortunately it didn't work out."

Moran has moved out of his home and is renting a residence in Alexandria. He plans to run for a sixth term in Congress in 2000.

(This report was coordinated and written by Capitol Hill Blue editor Jack Sharp with assistance from researcher Marilyn Crosslyn and private investigator James Hargill.)


Tomorrow - Former California Republican Jay Kim. Even after a conviction for violating the law, he was called "an effective Congressman" and rewarded with plum appointments by Congressional leaders.



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