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Congresswoman broke ethics rules, House panel says

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - A seven-term U.S. congresswoman from Nevada, Shelley Berkley, violated ethics rules by using her office to try to help her husband's medical practice but had no "corrupt intent" in doing so, the U.S. House Ethics Committee said on Thursday.

The committee said no further action was needed against the Democratic member of the House of Representatives. It had launched a probe in July into allegations Berkley may have been improperly involved in a bid to help save a hospital program linked to her husband's business.

Berkley's husband, Larry Lehrner, is a kidney specialist who owns a string of dialysis facilities and had a contract with the transplant unit at University Medical Center in Las Vegas when it was threatened with closure.

Nevada Republicans asserted in their initial complaint to Congress that Berkley would have directly benefited financially from her involvement in the 2008 case due to her husband's links to the hospital's kidney center.

Berkley, who failed in November to unseat Nevada Republican Dean Heller from his U.S. Senate seat in a narrow race, has said her effort to help keep the center open when it was facing federal action that could have resulted in its closure was not motivated by a potential financial interest.

She said she did nothing wrong.

A House Ethics panel agreed that her work to help the transplant center did not constitute a violation, but said that it was a mistake for her office to assist her husband's dialysis business in getting payment reimbursements.

"Representative Berkley had a legitimate concern, raised at the time that these issues were ongoing, that failures on the part of government insurers to reimburse providers in a timely fashion might result in the providers opting not to see patients insured by those programs," the Ethics Committee said in a statement.

It added that Berkley testified credibly that she had not helped her husband to obtain future benefits, and that the level of assistance her office provided him was not unusual compared to that given to other doctors.

But the panel ruled that she was mistaken when she determined her course of action was proper, although her lack of "any corrupt intent" mitigates the severity of the violations.

Heller, who had been a member of the House at the time, also joined in the Nevada delegation's efforts to keep the government from closing the kidney unit.

(Reporting by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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