Reviving a contentious issue from US Representative John F. Tierney’s bruising 2012 reelection battle, the House Ethics Committee on Friday said it is considering opening an ethics investigation into the nine-term Salem Democrat.
The committee received an ethics report on Tierney — along with reports on three other House memberss — from the recently created Office of Congressional Ethics in June. But the House panel was not required to release the names of the House members until Friday.
The other House members with cases referred to the Ethics Committee are: Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican who waged a brief presidential primary campaign last year; Tim Bishop, a Democrat of New York; and Peter Roskam, a Republican of Illinois.
Although the announcement by the Ethics Committee contained no details about the nature of the reports, Tierney last year faced a barrage of questions about $223,000 that federal prosecutors said his wife received through a joint bank account she managed for her brother, Robert Eremian, a federal fugitive who was running an illegal gambling business from the Caribbean island of Antigua.
Patrice Tierney served a month in federal prison in 2011 after admitting to “willful blindness” about the source of the funds and pleading guilty to helping her brother file false tax returns.
Both John Tierney and Patrice Tierney have described the money she received through the account as a gift from a relative that was exempt from requirements that Tierney disclose the source of the money on his annual financial disclosure form and report the money as income to the IRS.
“It was a gift to my wife, so it was not income; it was not reportable,” Tierney said at a July 2012 news conference.
But while testifying in federal court at a second brother’s trial on illegal gambling charges, Patrice Tierney said she received the money – much of it in the form of regular monthly checks – as appreciation for work she performed on Robert Eremian’s behalf.
“I did a lot of work,” she testified at one point, listing a variety of tasks she performed for her brother.
Last August, three open-government groups contacted by the Globe said the House Ethics Committee should investigate to settle the question of whether the money should have been considered a gift from a relative or reportable income.
On Friday, the Ethics Committee noted that, “the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”
The Ethics Committee said it will announce a final decision on whether to formally launch an investigation of Tierney on or before Sept. 11.
The Office of Congressional Ethics is a nonpartisan organization created by Congress in 2008 in an effort to bring more transparency to congressional ethics investigations. The office reviews ethics complaints filed primarily by citizens but may also review matters raised by board members and staff and refers the cases it believes merit formal investigation to the Ethics Committee.