Angela Chao death being investigated as criminal matter


Angela A. Chao hosts The New York City Opera Pre-Gala Celebration at a private residence in New York City on Oct. 21, 2010.

Patrick McMullan | Getty Images

The death earlier this month of Foremost Group CEO Angela Chao, the sister-in-law of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is currently under “criminal investigation,” a Texas sheriff’s office said Thursday.

Chao, 50, was found dead shortly after midnight on Feb. 11 after being pulled out of a car that had gone into a pond on a private ranch in Johnson City, Texas, about 40 miles from Austin.

“This incident was not a typical accident,” the Blanco County Sheriff’s Office wrote in a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday.

“Although the preliminary investigation indicated this was an unfortunate accident, the Sheriff’s Office is still investigating this accident as a criminal matter until they have sufficient evidence to rule out criminal activity,” the letter said.

Since Chao’s death remains the subject of a criminal probe, the Blanco County Sheriff’s public information officer told the attorney general that reports, 911 logs, audio and video evidence as well as other material should not yet be released to media outlets that requested them, including CNBC.

“Releasing the reports, videos and other information prior to the completion of the investigation would interfere with the investigation and possible prosecution of this matter,” the sheriff’s office wrote.

The letter did not say that there was evidence that Chao died as the result of a crime.

But the statement in the letter that Chao’s death was not “a typical accident” and the prospect of a potential prosecution marked a shift from an initial statement released days after Chao’s death.

The sheriff’s office in that Feb. 16 statement had said, “EMS attempted emergency measures on Ms. Chao but she succumbed from being under the water.”

“Our preliminary investigation has determined this to be an unfortunate accident. The investigation is ongoing at this time,” the prior statement said.

The ranch where Chao died is owned by a corporate entity connected to her husband, venture capitalist Jim Breyer, who has an office in Austin.

Chao was the sister of McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who has served as secretary of both the U.S. Labor and Transportation departments. Their father and mother founded the Foremost Group.

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The letter Thursday to Paxton from the Blanco County Sheriff’s office went on to ask the attorney general for his opinion on whether the records and other material should be kept from the public for now.

Once the probe of Chao’s death is complete, “all reports will be released to all requesters,” it said.

A spokesman for Foremost Group declined to comment on the letter. CNBC has requested comment from spokesmen for Breyer and Elaine Chao.

McConnell announced Wednesday that he would step down as the Republican leader in the Senate later this year.

“This has been a particularly difficult time for my family,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We tragically lost Elaine’s younger sister Angela, just a few weeks ago.”

“When you lose a loved one, particularly at a young age, there’s a certain introspection that accompanies the grieving process,” said McConnell.

Angela Chao was a double Harvard graduate who became CEO of Foremost in 2018. She previously served on the board of the Bank of China and as a director of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation.

Her husband Breyer is part owner of the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics, and previously served on the boards of Facebook, Walmart, Marvel Entertainment, News Corp. and Dell.

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