Grand jury subpoenas campaign contribution documents of Whittemore employees, family


Federal grand jury subpoenas served on Harvey Whittemore's employees and family members seek documents related to campaign contributions they made, as well as copies of checks to and from the politically connected lobbyist, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has learned.

The requested records date to January 2007, and those subpoenaed have been instructed to bring them to a federal grand jury convening Feb. 29 in Reno.

The name of First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, the No. 2 man in the Nevada U.S. attorney's office, appears on the subpoenas as one of the prosecutors involved in the investigation. Myhre is based in Las Vegas.

The Review-Journal first reported last week that about two dozen FBI agents had served subpoenas on Whittemore business associates and employees in some 30 locations in Northern and Southern Nevada.

FBI agents are investigating whether Whittemore funneled tens of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions through his employees and family members to Nevada federal candidates as far back as 2007, sources told the newspaper.

Allegations surfaced in the investigation that employees of Whittemore's former company, Wingfield Nevada Group Holding Co., and its subsidiaries contributed to the campaigns and were reimbursed by Whittemore with company money the same day or the next day.

Contributions made on one date -- March 31, 2007 -- to the re-election campaign of Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, have attracted the interest of FBI agents, sources said.

On that day, Reid's campaign received at least $115,000 from about two dozen Whittemore employees and their family members, most of whom each contributed the maximum allowed $4,600, according to federal campaign reports. The employees also included Whittemore family members.

Some of the contributors were among those subpoenaed by FBI agents last week in a sweeping statewide investigation into Whittemore's campaign spending, sources said.

The Review-Journal has contacted several people who contributed money to Reid's campaign on March 31, 2007, but they declined to comment and refused to confirm they were subpoenaed.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said the senator was giving to charity $27,600 in campaign contributions he has received from Whittemore and his family since 2008.

Jay Gertsema, campaign manager for former Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., also said her campaign will "dispose of the Whittemore contributions." Titus is running for Nevada's District 1 House seat.

Last week, a Reid spokeswoman said the Senate majority leader already had donated to charity contributions from Whittemore and his wife and was reviewing other contributions associated with Whittemore. Reid's office would not say how much money had been given to charity.

A spokesman for Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said last week that Berkley was "disposing" of contributions she received from Whittemore and his family.

Las Vegas attorney Dominic Gentile, who is representing Whittemore in the criminal investigation, did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.

In 2007, Whittemore, a close friend of Reid's, was in the midst of orchestrating the development of Coyote Springs, his master-planned community in Southern Nevada.

Coyote Springs was to feature 160,000 homes on 43,000 acres and a Jack Nicklaus Signature-designed golf course about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, straddling Clark and Lincoln counties on U.S. Highway 93.

The development had to overcome several governmental hurdles because of county water issues and federal land issues.

In 2004, Reid and other members of Nevada's congressional delegation successfully advocated for a lands bill that included provisions such as moving a utility corridor off of Whittemore's land.

Reid's son Leif, an attorney, represented Whittemore on the Coyote Springs project.

Development of the community stalled in 2008 because of the housing crash and economic recession.

Over the years, campaign finance reports show, Whittemore and those tied to him through Wingfield Nevada Group have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic and Republican candidates seeking federal office.

Berkley has received at least $39,200, and Heller has gotten at least $38,100.

Federal campaign finance reports show that Whittemore, his family and Wingfield Nevada group employees also have given thousands to former Nevada congressional candidates, including some $35,000 to Titus and at least $19,000 to Jill Derby, another Democrat.

Two Republicans, former Rep. Jon Porter and former Sen. John Ensign, received at least $30,600 and $29,450 respectively.

The FBI investigation focuses on "conduit contributions," sources said.

The FBI views conduit contributions as a way to skirt federal campaign finance laws that put ceilings on how much individuals can contribute to candidates.

In such cases, the individual asks a family member, friend or employee to contribute to a candidate's campaign and then reimburses that person with either personal or corporate money.

The Federal Election Commission allows for an individual to contribute $2,500 per election to a candidate; $30,800 annually to a national party committee; $10,000 annually to a state, district and local party committee; and $5,000 to any other political committee per year.

In 2007, the limit for an individual contribution was $2,300. An individual could give that amount once for the primary election and once for the general election for a total of $4,600.

Under federal law, concealing the true source of a campaign contribution above the limit is a felony.

Stephens Media Washington reporter Peter Urban contributed to this report. Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Francis McCabe can be reached at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

 

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