Ex-business partners accuse Whittemore of embezzlement in lawsuit

Former business partners of developer and high-profile lobbyist Harvey Whittemore accuse him of embezzling and misappropriating more than $40 million dollars.

In a 42-page lawsuit filed Friday in Clark County District Court, The Wingfield Nevada Group Holding Co., which oversees the languishing Coyote Springs community and other companies, accuses Whittemore of using tens of millions of dollars of company money to support an extravagant lifestyle, including millions in private jet flights, home improvement projects and entertainment costs.

Attempts to reach Whittemore on Friday were unsuccessful.

The holding group is now controlled by Thomas Seeno and Albert Seeno, two brothers who partnered with Whittemore in his master-planned communities and who have ownership stakes in the Peppermill hotel-casino in Reno.

Each brother took control of one-third of the holding company -- Thomas Seeno in 2004 and Albert Seeno in 2007 -- with Whittemore retaining control of the remaining share.

According to the lawsuit, Albert Seeno paid Whittemore $44 million for his share of the holding group in 2007. The Seenos had warned Whittemore not to spend all the money as he was required to help pay off the holding group's debt.

However, 15 months later in 2008, Whittemore said he "was broke" and did not have the money to keep his ownership share financially viable, according to the lawsuit.

Whittemore had "significant liquid assets in 2008 that he used to continue his lavish and upscale lifestyle including exotic vacations and substantial jewelry purchases," the lawsuit said.

Whittemore also bought nine homes in the names of his children using the money from Albert Seeno's acquisition, the lawsuit said, and during 2009 and 2010, Thomas Seeno personally loaned Whittemore $1.4 million so the lobbyist could maintain his lifestyle.

The Seenos took full control of the holding group. According to the Nevada secretary of state's website, the Seenos control the three companies suing Whittemore, including Tuffy Ranch Properties and Foothills at Wingfield.

By May 2010, the Seenos discovered several financial discrepancies, the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, "The Seenos began noticing discrepancies in Wingfield's financials, which led them to confront Whittemore. Confronted with evidence of his misdeeds, Whittemore confessed and disclosed a multitude of acts that revealed years of theft, conversion, asset misappropriation, and breach of fiduciary duties to Wingfield."

Whittemore gave a statement showing he used the holding group's money in at least 20 different transactions to support his personal matters, political donations and relationships, and lavish lifestyle, according to the lawsuit.

Some of the expenditures included spending $600,000 in cash for meals and entertainment between 2004 and 2010, spending $186,000 in stereo and sound equipment for his residences, loaning more than $100,000 of the company's money to his friends and never paying the company back, and incurring $1 million in charges at a golf course, according to the lawsuit.

Whittemore and wife Annette, who also is named as a defendant, are accused of spending more than $2.5 million for flights in a private jet between 2004 and 2010.

The lawsuit alleges "the full extent of Whittemore's misdeeds is not yet fully known and new acts of misconduct are still being discovered."

The Seenos think Whittemore's misappropriation and embezzlement totals "tens of millions of dollars."

Whittemore is a longtime gaming lobbyist and lawyer, who formerly worked for the firm Lionel, Sawyer and Collins. Whittemore, a longtime friend of Sen. Harry Reid, D.-Nev., began developing master-planned communities in Northern and Southern Nevada.

Whittemore's Southern Nevada master-planned community Coyote Springs stalled starting in 2008 because of the housing crash and economic recession.

About 160,000 homes were planned for Coyote Springs, which is about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, straddling Clark and Lincoln counties on U.S. Highway 93.

The Jack Nicklaus-signature golf course at Coyote Springs is open for public play.

Whittemore bought 40,000 acres for Coyote Springs for $15 million in 1996. The previous owner was California-based defense contractor Aerojet, which had acquired the land from the federal government in 1988 for use as a rocket-testing site.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.