A construction company owned by the in-laws of House Republican second-in-command Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was awarded more than $7 million in federal contracts since 2000 based on a “dubious” claim of Native American heritage, the Los Angeles Times reported in a lengthy investigation Sunday.
William Wages, whose sister Judy is married to McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, claims he is one-eighth Cherokee. He is a member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, which is not a federally-recognized tribe and which the Times reported is considered a fraud by tribes that are federally recognized.
The company, Vortex, also employs McCarthy’s father-in-law and sister-in-law, and his mother-in-law is a co-owner. McCarthy’s wife stepped down as a partner in 1995, which William Wages said was to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest with McCarthy.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) accepted Wages’ claim of Native American heritage in 1998, making his company eligible for federal contracts designated for “socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
Contracts for projects at the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, which sits at the edge of McCarthy’s district, made up the majority of the $7 million in no-bid and “other federal contracts,” the Times found.
A lawyer for Wages told the Times: “Look, the SBA approved the application.” The SBA referred the matter to its inspector general and took Vortex off of its list of Native American-owned companies, but wouldn’t answer further questions, the Times said.
A review by the paper found that Wages’ ancestors were listed as white on available public records; none of his known ancestors were identified on records of recognized Cherokee tribes. Wages said he submitted Northern Cherokee Nation membership card to the SBA when he applied for the designation, and that he would be “very surprised” to learn he does not have Cherokee ancestry.
Cherokee genealogist David Cornsilk called Northern Cherokee Nation “very much a con.”
Wages and McCarthy both denied McCarthy having any involvement in the construction business, though McCarthy has supported millions in funding for programs at China Lake.
“I’m not aware of the program’s qualification process but have no reason to doubt that Bill and the SBA executed the process fairly and in accordance to program standards,” McCarthy told the Times in a statement. He added, referring to his wife: “Since growing up I understood Judy’s family to have some Native American heritage — along with other nationalities as well.”
“We saw it as an avenue to use,” Wages told the Times of his claim of Native American heritage. He said that a cousin told him in 1998 that his “paternal great-grandmother” was of Cherokee descent.
Wages, the Times said, acknowledged not participating in Cherokee culture growing up. But he has claimed in state filings, under penalty of perjury, that he had been “subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias, or have suffered the effects of discrimination, because of my identity.”
Vortex, the Times reported, also earned roughly $1 million over the years through its work with J.J. Leon Construction, a minority-owned business that it had mentored and helped finance.
J.J. Leon received its first contract for work at China Lake in 2015 for $3.6 million, the Times reported, a year after McCarthy led a successful effort to expand the China Lake’s borders.