Lawmakers, colleagues react to Siljander’s indictment

House Republicans and former colleagues expressed shock and disappointment at the indictment of former Rep. Mark Deli Siljander (R-Mich.) for allegedly laundering money for a charity linked to terrorists.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) who served with Siljander in the 1980s, said he knew Siljander well and was taken aback by charges that Siljander concealed lobbying fees for a group that the federal government charges with funneling money to an Afghan warlord with ties to al Qaeda.

“I’m just surprised,” said Burton. “All I know is what I saw on TV.”

Siljander served three terms in Congress as a Michigan representative in the mid-1980s and later worked as a lobbyist for two firms. He tried unsuccessfully to return to Congress in the 1990s by running for a seat in Virginia.

“I am really sad to hear that,” said Henry Butler, who defeated Siljander in the 1992 Republican primary for Virginia’s 11th district seat, now held by GOP Rep. Tom Davis. “I have nothing bad to say about him.”

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who defeated Siljander in the Republican primary for his Michigan seat in 1986 and currently represents part of his original district, declined to comment on the indictment.

Upton did say he received several calls about the indictment after it was announced, however, when Fox News mistakenly posted an old picture of Upton to go with the news about Siljander. Upton said the confusion was quickly resolved.

Siljander, known for his hard-line support of Israel, was a conservative who fought hard for anti-abortion causes in Congress. The primary race with Upton turned after a recording of Siljander asking local pastors to “break the back of Satan” by praying for his reelection was released late in the campaign.

“I read press accounts of what happened in Michigan. I really didn’t see that type of behavior when we [were] on the campaign trail,” said Butler. “Mark ran a good campaign.”

Butler, now executive director of Northwestern University’s Searle Center, a research center, eventually lost to Democrat Leslie Byrne in the 1992 general election.

According to the indictment, the former lawmaker was hired in March 2004 to lobby the Senate Finance Committee to remove a client, the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), from a list of nonprofit groups suspected of supporting international terrorism.

IARA transferred $50,000 in stolen federal funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development to Siljander to pay for his lobbying work, the indictment alleges. It accuses the former lawmaker of lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors by denying his lobbying work for IARA. Siljander contended the funds were charitable donations to help finance a book he was writing to bridge the gap between Christianity and Islam, according to the indictment.

The Columbia, Mo.-based IARA had been suspected of having ties to terrorist groups, according to the indictment.

Among other allegations, federal prosecutors believe IARA sent $130,000 to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan warlord with connections to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The ex-congressman’s attorney has denied the charges and said his client will plead not guilty. Messages left for Siljander and his lawyer were not returned before press time.

Siljander, a Chicago native who served in the Michigan state House of Representatives from 1977 until his election to Congress in 1981, was not a top donor for the Republican Party. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the former Michigan congressman only gave $2,000 in the early to mid-1990s to GOP candidates, including Burton.

Siljander founded his own consulting firm, Global Strategies Inc., in Great Falls, Va., after leaving Capitol Hill. He also did work for other firms, lobbying for their clients as well.

Siljander was “an independent contractor” for the Evans Group and provided “consulting services to some clients of the firm,” according to a registration he filed with the Justice Department in 1990.

While Siljander was registered as an active lobbyist for it, the Evans Group represented several foreign governments and political groups, including the Republic of Cyprus and the Kazakhstan 21st Century Foundation, a human rights group concerned about government corruption in that country. Both the firm and Siljander terminated their registrations in 2002.

Messages left at the firm were not returned before press time.  

Siljander was also registered briefly as a lobbyist for Advantage Associates, a firm that only employs ex-lawmakers, in 1998.

“He was going to help to bring in some business for Advantage, but it didn’t ever materialize,” said Bill Sarpalius, a former Texas Democratic congressman and president and chief executive officer for the firm.

Sarpalius said he was not particularly close to the former Michigan representative. He described Siljander as “a good guy” but said the ex-lawmaker only worked at the firm for about three to four months.

“I’m just as surprised as anyone else,” said Sarpalius about the indictment. “It sounds like he sure stepped into some mud.”

Michael Lemaire contributed to this article.