Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez remains under investigation for her 2021 Mat Gala appearance, where she made headlines for her white “Tax The Rich” Brother Vellies gown.
Thursday, the Office of Congressional Ethics determined “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accepted impermissible gifts” tied to her Met Gala attendance.
Ethics committee members voted unanimously to extend the investigation.
In an 18-page detailed report of the initial findings, they noted that the congresswoman was provided with a Brother Vellies couture dress, handbag, shoes and jewelry, as well as hair, makeup, styling services, transportation and a two-day room rental at the Carlyle Hotel, tallying thousands of dollars. Brother Vellies also provided Riley Roberts, Ocasio-Cortez’s partner, with a pair of shoes and a bowtie, according to the report.
Ocasio-Cortez was among the public officials invited to attend the Condé Nast-sponsored Met Gala in the fall of 2021. Her gown was designed by Brother Vellies founder Aurora James, who posed on the red carpet with the Bronx-born legislator, who represents New York’s 14th district. Along with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and select other officials, Ocasio-Cortez was among the officials whose estimated $35,000 tickets were comped by the museum. That practice has been in place for years and as of December, when the OCE’s investigation was announced, the museum planned to continue to do so, a spokesman said.
A media requests to Ocasio-Cortez’ office was not immediately acknowledged Thursday.
Her attorney, David Mitrani of Sandler, Reiff, Lamb, Rosenstein & Birkenstock LLC, issued an email to the Committee on Ethics’ staff director and chief counsel Tom Rust that read, “Though no Ethics violation has been found, the Office of Congressional Ethics did identify that there were delays in paying vendors for costs associated with the Congresswoman’s attendance at the Met Gala. The Congresswoman finds these delays unacceptable, and she has taken several steps to ensure nothing of this nature will ever happen again.”
The statement continued, “However, while regrettable, this matter definitively does not rise to the level of a violation of House Rules or of federal law. Even after OCE’s exhaustive review of the Congresswoman’s personal communications, there is no evidence that she ever intended to avoid these expenses. To the contrary, the record clearly shows that the Congresswoman always understood that she had to pay for these expenses personally — and she even worked with the undersigned counsel prior to the event to ensure that she complied with all applicable ethics rules. We are confident the Committee on Ethics will dismiss this matter.”
As part of the just-released report, the board recommended that the Committee on Ethics issue subpoenas to Aurora James, Brother Vellies, and publicist Janna Pea.
The group’s findings highlighted how a campaign staffer for Ocasio-Cortez was slow to pay a few invoices related to her Met Gala appearance.
For example, between Jan. 13, 2022, and Feb. 24, 2022, The Wall Group’s collections team made “repeated attempts to secure payment” for a $344 bill and noted on multiple occasions that the invoice was “EXTREMELY overdue.” The staffer initially attempted to pay the outstanding bill on Feb. 24, 2022, two days after the OCE first contacted Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s staff, but the payment was rejected. The staffer “finally made payment for the service on March 16, 2022,” but did not explain to the committee why there was such a delay, according to the report.
Representatives for James, Pea and Brother Vellies did not respond immediately to requests for comment Thursday.
The report said that Ocasio-Cortez recalled following up with campaign staffers several times after the Met Gala about the need to pay for the services she was provided and was told that they were in a “holding pattern,” since Brother Vellies needed to provide them with an updated invoice. An initial bill of for $2,283.93 came from Brother Vellies for the gown and handbag rental, and the purchase of a pair of shoes was later revised to $990.76.
Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged she was not privy to the details about how payment was supposed to be structured and/or when demands for payment were sent, and she relied on the campaign staffer to address these matters. She told the OCE that she only “learned about the extent of the nonpayment” on May 11, 2022, the day before her interview with the OCE,” the report stated. Ocasio-Cortez told the OCE that it was decided with her team and legal counsel in advance of The Met Gala that she would personally pay for the attire and services she received in connection with the Met Gala, as opposed to paying with campaign or official funds.
Streeters, which handled Ocasio-Cortez’ hairstyling for the red-carpet event, also had to come knocking more than once to get its $477 bill paid, according to the OCE report. Streeters’ accounts receivable department made repeated attempts to secure payment, and threatened in a Feb. 23, 2022, email to “file a complaint with [New York City’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards for Workers] against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez if payment was not deposited before the end of the following business day. “On Feb. 24, 2022, two days after the OCE first contacted Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s staff about this review, the campaign staffer paid for her hair styling service,” the report stated.