Henry Cisneros, who was Clinton's first housing secretary, was charged Thursday in an 18-count indictment with conspiracy, obstructing justice and making false statements to the FBI about payments to his former mistress, Linda Jones.
Jones, whose married name was Medlar, and two others also were indicted. All four defendants were charged with one count of conspiring to defraud the United States by impeding an official investigation. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison on each count.
Independent Counsel David M. Barrett alleged that Cisneros lied about the amount and nature of his payments to Jones when questioned during a background check by FBI agents as part of the Cabinet confirmation process.
Cisneros' indictment is just the latest case involving high-level Clinton appointees:
In August, former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was indicted on 39 counts for allegedly accepting favors from companies doing business with the Agriculture Department.
Former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown had been under investigation by an independent counsel when he died in a plane crash in 1996.
Attorney General Janet Reno is reviewing whether to ask for an independent counsel to investigate Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's role in rejecting an Indian casino opposed by other tribes that had contributed to the Democratic Party.
Clinton himself is the subject of a Justice Department investigation into fund raising during the 1996 campaign; an independent counsel's probe into an Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater; and a sexual harassment suit filed by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones.
Cisneros was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1993 until November 1996. He now heads Univision, a Los Angeles-based Spanish television network.
"While Mr. Cisneros and his family do not relish the prospect of further public airing of private events beginning a decade ago, he will defend himself vigorously and expects complete exoneration after a trial," said Cisneros' attorney, Cono Namorato.
Univision said in a statement that it was aware of the investigation when its hired Cisneros last January and that he will continue as its chief operating officer.
Clinton, on a fund-raising trip to Miami, offered kind words for his former Cabinet secretary.
"Henry Cisneros has a distinguished career of truly dedicated public service," Clinton said. "I have greatly valued his service."
The indictment alleged that Cisneros, who is married, paid Jones more than $250,000 from 1990 through 1993 and that he conspired with her and the other defendants to mislead investigators about the payments both before and after he became HUD secretary.
Among Cisneros' allegedly fraudulent statements were his assertions that the payments never exceeded $10,000 annually and that Jones had never threatened or coerced him.
The indictment also alleged that Cisneros lied when he "stated that he had only one extramarital relationship, other than that with (Jones), during his marriage."
Cisneros was separately charged with an additional 17 counts of making false statements and misleading the FBI "in an effort to obtain top secret national security clearance."
Jones was charged with a separate count of making false statements to the FBI.
Barrett initially granted Jones immunity from prosecution, but later accused her of misleading the FBI, thereby failing to "live up to her end of the bargain."
Jones has said she and Cisneros began their romantic relationship in March 1987, when he was mayor of San Antonio.
Cisneros acknowledged the relationship in 1988, then reconciled with his wife.
The indictment names John Rosales and Sylvia Arce-Garcia, who both worked for Cisneros' communications company before he became HUD secretary and later worked for him at the agency.
In addition to the conspiracy count, Rosales was charged with two counts of making false statements to FBI and Internal Revenue Service investigators.
Barrett's investigation cost $2.2 million through March 31. Cisneros is also the subject of a separate IRS investigation.