RENO – Two more of Harvey Whittemore’s former employees testified Monday they each voluntarily contributed $4,600 to Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign in 2007 at the suggestion of the wealthy ex-developer and lobbyist but didn’t fear for their jobs if they didn’t do so.
Both said they generally supported Reid’s re-election but both also acknowledged they wouldn’t have contributed as much money to Reid if not for Whittemore’s encouragement.
One acknowledged he would have felt uncomfortable keeping a $10,000 bonus check Whittemore wrote him — half for him and half for his wife — if they hadn’t contributed to the Nevada Democrat.
“It probably would have been a little awkward to take the check and then say no,” said Michael Hillerby, a lobbyist who was chief of staff to Republican Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn in 1991 before joining Whittemore’s Nevada Wingfield Group.
Whittemore is accused of carrying out a scheme to mask his own contributions by effectively laundering them through his family and employees. He has pleaded not guilty to all four counts: making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another, causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission, and making a false statement to the FBI. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each.
Prosecutors argue the money Whittemore gave to 29 employees who wrote checks to Reid came with strings attached and that the workers were highly dependent on Whittemore financially.
Like earlier witnesses, Hillerby said he didn’t remember exactly what Whittemore told him when he gave Hillerby a total of $10,000 on March 27, 2007, and suggested he and his wife each write $4,600 checks to Friends of Harry Reid, which they did.
Hillerby recalled Whittemore saying something to the effect of “‘You’re doing a good job, or ‘I have something for you’ ... a gift or something.”
“He said he would appreciate it but it was up to me. It was voluntary.”
Hillerby said he told his wife, “I’d been given a bonus and I wanted to do it.”
Asked by Whittemore’s lawyers during cross examination if he could have said ‘no,” Hillerby said, “Yes, I think so.”
“I don’t remember thinking about not doing it after Harvey asked,” he said, adding that he considered the money to be his once Whittemore turned it over.
“The source was the check from Mr. Whittemore but it was our money as soon as it was in our checking account, I suppose,” he said.
Hillerby and Carlie Kinne, a niece of Whittemore who worked for his real estate counsel as a lawyer, are among the witnesses the prosecution is using to try to prove Whittemore used them to effectively launder his own contributions.
Kinne, whose mother is the sister of Whittemore’s wife, Annette, said she didn’t recall the specific circumstances but remembered Whittemore generally encouraging her to give money to Reid. In addition to her $5,000 bonus, her fiance – now husband – Pete Kinne – also received a $5,000 check and agreed to give $4,600 to Reid even though he didn’t necessarily support Reid’s re-election.
“I don’t think it was a request. Encouragement is the word I used,” she testified.
Kinne said she also contributed $4,600 to ex-Nevada Republican Rep. Jon Porter at the encouragement of Whittemore. But she said she wasn’t as excited about Porter as a candidate as she was about Reid and probably would not otherwise have given to his congressional campaign committee.
The trial is expected to continue at least through the end of the week.