After allegedly failing to turn in 124 federal lobbying reports on time, a West Hempstead, N.Y.-based consulting firm with only one lobbying client is facing a fine up to $33 million.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia on Friday filed a civil suit against Biassi Business Services Inc. (BBSI) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming the firm knowingly violated requirements of the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The law governs the reporting of federal lobbyists' activities.
"The Government alleges that BBSI knowingly failed to comply with the periodic reporting requirements of the LDA and to remedy delinquent filings after being notified by the Secretary of the U.S. Senate (the “Senate”) and the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives (the “House”)," Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Hudak wrote in the compliant. "As such, and because BBSI has failed to remedy its unlawful actions despite a plethora of notices from the House, Senate, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, the United States brings this action."
Since 2009, BBSI has been delinquent in submitting to Congress 28 lobbying activity filings and 96 reports concerning lobbyists' campaign donations, according to the complaint. The lobbying activity filings are for The Africa Committee, a group in New York state. The organization works on "social and economic development projects in Africa," according to an amended lobbying registration filing from 2009.
Mensah Biassi, the chief executive officer of BBSI, said in a phone interview that the firm is "really not doing anything," for The Africa Committee, which he created. But he didn't contest the allegations against his firm.
"I'm going to file the papers they want," Biassi said, adding that he hoped the submission of the filings would resolve the matter.
BBSI hasn't reported any lobbying activity on behalf of The Africa Committee since the firm first registered to advocate for the group in 2001, congressional records show. The firm also hasn't disclosed any income from the organization.
In the 2009 amended registration filing, BBSI said it was lobbying for The Africa Committee on infrastructure, community renewal and agriculture projects, as well as "initiatives to usher a new era of thinking in Africa." But BBSI initially registered to lobby on the "abolition of slavery in black Africa," according to the firm's 2001 registration filing.
The amended registration filing lists Biassi, as well as Patricia Biassi, Kouevi Adamah, Koffi Houngbeke and Bright Adamah-Biassi, as the lobbyists handling the account.
In all past Lobbying Disclosure Act actions seeking fines or civil penalties, and revealed to the U.S. Government Accountability Office in the agency's annual report on compliance with the law, the U.S. attorney's office has reached settlements with the lobbyists.
But settlements were rare before D.C. U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen Jr. took office in 2010, with the U.S. attorney's office settling with only three lobbyists from 1995 to 2010. Since 2010, however, the office has settled with three lobbying firms.
Prosecutors in September most recently announced that they agreed to a combined $80,000 settlement with Lussier, Gregor, Vienna & Associates, in Alexandria, and the Da Vinci Group, which has offices in Washington and in Leesburg, Va.
And another Lobbying Disclosure Act action against a firm might be coming soon. In April, the GAO said senior officials were set to review a request to pursue criminal or civil charges against two, unnamed lobbyist organizations.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, at the time declined to identify the two organizations that have been brought to the attention of office leaders for possible charges. He said in a written statement that prosecutors are "aggressively pursuing organizations that repeatedly disregard their filing obligations."