Exclusive: Head of Congressional Ethics Office charged with DUI after crashing into Pa. home
The head of the Office of Congressional Ethics was arrested and charged with DUI and three other violations after veering off the road, plowing over a stop sign, hitting one parked car and then another before finally crashing straight into the front porch of a house in Pennsylvania last month, according to police records and the criminal complaint obtained by Yahoo News.
Omar Ashmawy was arrested on Sept. 10, according to police reports included with the formal criminal complaint filed on Sept. 28 in Pike County, Pa., court.
Ashmawy has been charged with driving under the influence, careless driving, driving on roadways laned for traffic and restrictions on alcohol in a vehicle, according to a copy of the criminal complaint obtained by Yahoo News through open records requests with the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 1.
Ashmawy has held the position of staff director and chief counsel for the ethics office for the past 12 years. In his most recent position, he oversaw investigations into allegations of misconduct by lawmakers. He was placed on leave Wednesday after he and the ethics office were contacted by Yahoo News.
“We take this matter very seriously and the Board will be reviewing the circumstances surrounding it,” read a statement from Mike Barnes and Paul Vinovich, co-chairmen of the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics. “In the meantime, Mr. Ashmawy has been placed on leave to deal with the issues that contributed to this incident. Helen Eisner will serve as the Acting Staff Director during his absence.”
Ashmawy told Yahoo News that the incident was a “wake-up call.”
“I’ve had some medical issues including a diagnosis of syncope that I am dealing with in this case, but this incident was a wake-up call to me that I have a problem with alcohol dependency,” he said in a statement. “I’ve since sought out treatment for my use of alcohol, and I’m currently in a program where I am addressing this dependency. I'm grateful for the continued support of my family, friends and colleagues.”
Ashmawy was arrested after the incident in the suburban town of Matamoros on the night of Sept. 10.
Hector Fernandez, the owner of the home and of one of the cars that were hit, told police and Yahoo News that he was inside his home when he heard a boom.
“I heard a loud boom, almost like a firework. Real loud, boom,” Fernandez recalled in an interview with Yahoo News. “And then I heard a loud boom that shook my house.”
Fernandez said he went outside and saw a car on the side of his house. When he approached the vehicle, he said, he saw Ashmawy in the driver’s seat with the airbag deployed, and the car was smoking. Fernandez’s car had been moved 9 feet from where he parked it and was damaged to the point of being deemed inoperable, he said.
Fernandez said Ashmawy came out of the car and seemed “highly intoxicated.”
“He almost looked stunned. Probably from hitting my house. He was definitely disoriented,” he told Yahoo News.
Fernandez told police that Ashmawy offered to pay for the damages if he wouldn’t call the cops, according to the probable-cause affidavit.
“Don’t do that. Don’t don't call the police. Come on. Don’t do that,” Ashmawy said, Fernandez recalled in his interview with Yahoo News.
But Fernandez did call the authorities, and when police responded, Ashmawy refused to take field sobriety and blood alcohol tests, according to police reports. He was handcuffed and arrested on suspicion of DUI.
Fernandez’s account to Yahoo News is supported by police reports, insurance claim forms and other documentation obtained by Yahoo News.
Fernandez shared cellphone video he took that night. In it, Ashmawy can be seen standing outside the driver’s-side door of his vehicle, still stuck to the porch it crashed into.
“Where you coming from?” an officer who responded to the scene can be heard asking. “Turkey Hill,” Ashmawy responds, referring to a nearby grocery store.
According to a police report, the officer noticed that Ashmawy “swayed, had glossy eyes, an unsteady gait and the odor of alcoholic beverages coming from his breath.”
“This officer also noticed inside Ashmawy’s vehicle, two bottles of Fireball whiskey, one empty, one full, a six-pack beer box, and a can of unopened beer,” the arresting police officer wrote.
The police officer’s observations and what Ashmawy allegedly said were included in the affidavit for probable cause signed by that same officer seen in the video and submitted with the formal criminal complaint, filed two and a half weeks later.
Ashmawy refused medical attention at the scene, according to the police report. But other records reviewed by Yahoo News show he checked into a hospital the following day and was released that Wednesday. The fainting condition mentioned in his statement to Yahoo News is listed as a reason for his hospital visit, but the records do not make or refute any potential connection to the accident and arrest the night before.
The docket report shows that a certified summons had been mailed to him informing him of the charges filed, and an order for fingerprints to be taken at the courthouse on Nov. 1, the scheduled date of his preliminary hearing.
Prior to joining the Office of Congressional Ethics, Ashmawy served eight years in the Air Force. He wrote about his time as a war crimes prosecutor in an op-ed last year for the Washington Post, calling on the Biden administration to shutter Guantánamo Bay.
In 2017, Foreign Policy reported that Ashmawy was being sued in federal court for allegedly using his federal position to influence local law enforcement. The lawsuit stemmed from a bar fight in 2015 involving Ashmawy, an air marshal named Greg Martucci and two others. Charges against Martucci were filed, then later dropped. The other two people pleaded guilty to charges in connection with the fight.
Ashmawy was never charged, but witness statements to police raised questions about his conduct. He was described by multiple witnesses as being drunk and belligerent and harassing and verbally abusing women at the bar. Martucci told police he saw Ashmawy physically assault two women at the bar that night. Ashmawy denied these allegations at the time.
“The OCE hired an independent counsel to investigate the allegations and he determined that Ashmawy did not commit any wrongdoing,” said William Beaman, a spokesperson for the Office of Congressional Ethics, about the 2017 allegations against Ashmawy.
Martucci’s lawsuit against Ashmawy was later settled out of court.