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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: U.S. | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Mega-developer H. Whittemore Remains Under Indictment for FEC Violations
In new documents, government lawyers challenged embattled developer Harvey Whittemore’s claims that the federal charges against him for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., should be thrown out.
Guess if you're a mega-developer like Harvey Whittemore you would want to have BOTH Democrats and Republicans in your pocket when you need a friendly ear!
Mr. Whittemore and his former friend and business partner Mr. Thomas Seeno needed all the friendly political ears they could get with their planned 100,000 homes and seven golf courses at Coyote Springs. This development project is at least 40 miles north of Las Vegas on the U.S. 93 and doesn't have any water to speak of. Any wonder why the SNWA proposed pipeline would run parallel to the U.S. 93 and Mr. Whittemore was one of the initial funders of the plan decades ago?
The land there at the intersection of U.S. 93 and NV 268 (to Moapa) was bought cheap from Boeing and Whittemore/Seeno knew that they would make a fortune from home sales if only they had the water from elsewhere. Their efforts at political lobbying ensured that there would be friends on both sides of the aisle, from Democrat Senator Harry Reid to Republican Congressman Dean Heller.
When the FEC and FBI does their job and indicts white collar criminals like Harvey Whittemore it is a good day indeed. Then we may not have the type of corrupt real estate scams like the Owens Valley Water Grab repeating itself in Nevada. Maybe this indictment will even save ELF activists some trouble by preventing the SNWA pipeline proposal from becoming reality.
"Government: Whittemore claims 'meritless'
Developer wants federal charges to be dismissed"
Written by; Martha Bellisle
"Whittemore filed motions in November claiming evidence in the case was obtained without a warrant, but the lawyers said Whittemore’s former business partners discovered the allegedly incriminating evidence while cleaning out his office and voluntarily turned it over to the FBI, believing a crime had occurred.
The lawyers also called “meritless” Whittemore’s claim that three of the four counts against him should be dismissed because the government can’t prove he knowingly violated campaign finance laws.
The lawyers said Whittemore’s claims should be denied without a hearing.
A federal grand jury issued a four-count indictment against Whittemore on June 6, 2012. A longtime Nevada lobbyist, power broker and political fundraiser, Whittemore was charged with making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another, causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission and lying to an FBI agent.
Whittemore pleaded not guilty and challenged the charges and evidence. Lawyers with the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s office and the Public Integrity Section of the U.S. Department of Justice filed responses to his challenges Dec. 31 in U.S. District Court in Reno.
They said the charges “arose from a scheme orchestrated by the defendant to circumvent federal limits on individual campaign contributions to candidates for elected federal office” in 2007.
“After promising a candidate for office in February 2007 that he would raise a total of $150,000 in contributions to the candidate’s campaign, Whittemore sought to make good on his promise by using employees of his real estate development company, his family members and many of their spouses as ‘straw’ or ‘conduit’ donors,” the lawyers said.
On a single day, Whittemore had one of his employees transmit about $138,000 to Reid, “a vast majority of which (Whittemore) had unlawfully funded,” the lawyers said.
Reid’s campaign reported the contribution to the Federal Election Commission on April 15, 2007, but as the true source of the funds was not known, the report contained false information, the lawyers said. When FBI agents asked Whittemore about the contributions, he “lied repeatedly regarding the conduit contribution scheme,” the lawyers said.
Therefore he was charged with two counts of illegal contributions and two counts of lying, the documents said.
They filed a 22-page document explaining how they obtained the evidence from the owners of the Wingfield Nevada Group — Whittemore’s former partners — and arguing the process was legal.
The FBI became aware of the documents a year after Whittemore was forced out of Wingfield by his partners Thomas and Albert Seeno Jr. the lawyers said. Whittemore said that he was “physically barred” by the Seenos from his private executive offices, according to the lawyers.
Whittemore and the Seenos are currently fighting each other in civil court.
Workers at the Red Hawk office in Sparks boxed up documents from Whittemore’s office, and in early 2011, a paralegal for Wingfield began reviewing the material to find out how Whittermore had spent Wingfield money, the lawyers said.
“During her review of the contents of the boxes, she discovered a folder that contained information about sizable campaign contributions made to Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign by (Wingfield) employees,” the lawyers said.
The paralegal also found a letter from Whittemore’s assistant to Reid and a letter from Reid to Whittemore thanking him for his support, the lawyers said. After the review, the paralegal sent the documents to the Seenos’ corporate counsel, the lawyers said.
After the Seenos learned that the information “constituted possible evidence of violations of federal campaign finance laws” the boxes were shipped to a Seeno lawyer in Las Vegas, who initiated a meeting with an FBI agent, the lawyers said.
Seeno lawyer Richard Wright explained to FBI special agent April French that the material was discovered during an internal business audit.
“Unprompted, Mr. Wright showed the agents two binders of documents,” the lawyers said, including copies of checks that Whittemore signed made out to various employees. Wright also gave the agent copies of two spreadsheets prepared by Wingfield listing campaign contributions by Wingfield employees to candidates and payments from Whittemore near the time of the contributions.
Based on the material provided by Wingfield, the government initiated a federal grand jury investigation, which ended in the four-count indictment.
Whittemore’s replies to the lawyer’s responses are due by Jan. 6, according the federal court website, Pacer. His trial is set for Feb. 26 in in Reno."
Whittemore lawsuits raise curtain on political deals
By David McGrath Schwartz
Friday, Feb. 17, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Former lobbyist Harvey Whittemore’s financial troubles, detailed in lawsuits and clouded by an FBI investigation, have pulled back the curtain on some dealings among Nevada’s power elite.
Wingfield Nevada Holding Co., Whittemore’s company, paid R&R Partners, the state’s most powerful lobbying firm, $70,000 a month for more than five years, the Las Vegas Sun has learned.
Whittemore also ordered the company in 2004 to loan $250,000 to Pete Ernaut, a principal at R&R and a political adviser to former U.S. Sen. John Ensign, Gov. Brian Sandoval and other prominent Republicans.
Whittemore forgave the loan, for which there was no documentation, three years later, according to a lawsuit filed by his business partners.
Neither R&R nor Ernaut are referenced by name in the lawsuit. But sources with knowledge of the case confirmed their identities to the Sun.
R&R Partners CEO Billy Vassiliadis said the company’s work for the Coyote Springs development included lobbying, advertising and public relations. Ernaut said the portrayal of the loan in the lawsuit is "not accurate.”
It shouldn’t be surprising to find well-placed figures involved in Whittemore’s business dealings. He was until recently a prodigious political fundraiser.
On one day in 2007, Whittemore and people associated with him contributed $124,200 to Sen. Harry Reid, according to Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston.
Whittemore was also one of Nevada’s preeminent legislative lobbyists. The complaint said that between January 2004 and June 2010, he took $600,000 in cash from Wingfield for meals and entertainment. “Wingfield employees always kept approximately between $5,000 to $10,000 in cash in $100 denominations in a safe in the office,” according to the complaint.
Whittemore was a daily presence at the Legislature until about 2003, when he shifted his focused to a grander project: Coyote Springs.
Coyote Springs would be a massive housing development — 43,000 acres, 159,000 homes — 50 miles outside Las Vegas, on the border of Clark and Lincoln counties.
To develop it, Whittemore formed a partnership, first with Thomas Seenos in 2004 and then his brother Albert D. Seeno Jr.
The Seenos are partners in the Peppermill Resort Casino in Reno and housing developers in Northern California and Northern Nevada.
The project was just beginning to gather momentum as the recession hit. Today, evidence of the grand plans includes a Jack Nicklaus golf course and some signage.
At some point, the business relationship between Whittemore and the Seenos turned contentious. And on Jan. 27, the Seenos' attorneys filed a lawsuit, alleging that Whittemore used their companies to fund his standing in the Nevada political community.
A few days later, Whittemore and his wife, Annette, filed a countersuit, alleging the Seenos had ties to organized crime and had threatened the Whittemores. They alleged Albert Seeno, Jr., said “he would personally bring down every member of the political ‘machine’ in Nevada, including references to U.S. senators.” He also said, according to the lawsuit, that “he would bring down any business or friend associated with Mr. Whittemore.”
After the lawsuits were filed, the FBI interviewed Nevadans about campaign contributions tied to Whittemore and subpoenaed documents, sources told the Sun.
Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, and Rep. Shelley Berkley have donated contributions from Whittemore to charity.
“Understandably, based on the reckless accusations made in the civil lawsuit ... law enforcement is requesting information from knowledgeable parties,” Elizabeth Trosper, the spokeswoman for Whittemore’s attorney, told the Reno-Gazette Journal this week.
Trosper told the Las Vegas Sun that Whittemore and his attorneys would have no further comment at this time.
Billy Vassiliadis, CEO of R&R Partners, said his firm was on retainer for the Coyote Springs project but would not discuss how much the firm was paid.
The $70,000 figure would dwarf what the state’s largest industries pay lobbying firms during legislative sessions, which sources said is at the most $25,000 a month.
The complaint said that between February 2005 and July 2010, Wingfield and its associates paid almost $4 million to R&R. Some of the work was for the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease, which is housed at the University of Nevada, Reno, according to the complaint.
Vassiliadis said the work his firm performed went beyond lobbying and included “the full spectrum. Public relations strategies, research, government affairs — the whole shooting match.”
Kent Robison, attorney for the parties suing Whittemore, said what the company did for that money will be examined as the case progresses. “All of our allegations in the complaint will be subject to the discovery process and thoroughly investigated,” he said.
Robison would not comment on the $250,000 loan to Ernaut. But the complaint alleges Whittemore used the company to benefit “personal friends and business contacts. Whittemore made loans of hundreds of thousands of dollars to his personal friends from Wingfield accounts,” it states.
It also alleges that Whittemore didn’t seek approval or consent from the Seenos for the loans, some of which were never documented.
Ernaut said because the matter was going to be litigated, he would not go into details.
“This is a situation involving close friends and clients,” he said. “Given the accusations flying around, given the multiple lawsuits, it would be irresponsible to comment at this time.
“My private business matters are just that: private. I take my personal and profession reputations very seriously. If there’s any effort to drag me or my family through the mud, it will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”