RENO — A former top executive of a development company once managed by Harvey Whittemore reluctantly testified Thursday that he contributed to the re-election campaign of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after getting a $10,000 gift from Whittemore.
Brad Mamer, former chief executive officer of Wingfield Nevada Group, testified that he and his wife each wrote a check for the maximum $4,600 donation to the Reid campaign on March 27, 2007, the same day Whittemore handed him the gift.
He was one of several current and former Wingfield Nevada Group executives still close to Whittemore who had trouble recalling for prosecutors specific details about how they were given money by Whittemore to contribute to Reid’s campaign.
At the time, Whittemore was orchestrating for Wingfield Nevada the development of Coyote Springs, a master-planned community in Southern Nevada, and needed help overcoming several governmental hurdles.
Mamer, who was based in Las Vegas, told the jury in Whittemore’s illegal campaign contribution trial that Whittemore had asked him to consider contributing to Reid’s campaign, but he didn’t feel “coerced” or pressured into using the gift to do it.
His testimony directly contradicted what he earlier told a federal grand jury investigating allegations Whittemore used family members and employees to unlawfully funnel more than $130,000 to “Friends of Harry Reid.”
Before the grand jury, Mamer, now a Las Vegas real estate consultant, said he felt “compelled” to donate to the senator’s campaign after getting the gift.
But he told the jury Thursday what he meant by compelled was doing it out of a “sense of loyalty” to Whittemore, whom he still considers his friend and mentor.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre, who had trouble pulling the testimony he expected out of Mamer, had to remind the witness that he was given immunity from prosecution to testify truthfully during the trial.
Under cross-examination from Whittemore’s lead defense attorney, Dominic Gentile, Mamer said he wasn’t lying.
One former Wingfield Nevada executive, Terry Reynolds, had no trouble linking Whittemore to his contributions to Reid’s campaign.
Reynolds, vice present of entitlements for Wingfield Nevada in 2007, testified that he recalled getting a $10,000 “bonus” from Whittemore’s personal account on March 27, 2007. Whittemore, he said, then asked him to donate to the senator’s campaign. The same day, Reynolds and his wife each wrote a check for $4,600.
“I knew the company was supporting Sen. Reid,” he said. “We were doing a lot of projects in Nevada, and I wanted to make sure Reid supported our projects.”
But other company executives had trouble remembering how they wound up donating to the Reid campaign after getting “gifts” from Whittemore.
James Harris, chief financial officer of Wingfield Nevada’s northern division, said he got instructions to make contributions, but couldn’t recall who gave them.
When questioned by Justice Department lawyer Eric Olshan, he acknowledged that he and his wife each wrote checks for $4,600 on the same day he got $10,000 from Whittemore.
Harris insisted under cross-examination, however, that he was not “coerced” into giving the money and did not feel his job was in jeopardy if he didn’t contribute to the Reid campaign.
James England, Wingfield Nevada’s southern division chief financial officer, also had trouble recalling what led him to contribute $4,600 to the campaign after he got a $5,000 check signed by Whittemore on March 27, 2007.
England, who was Whittemore’s longtime accountant, testified he couldn’t recall who gave him the $5,000 check and didn’t know who asked him to write the check to the campaign.
Joseph Dangler, former director of real estate for Wingfield Nevada, said he had no idea why he got $10,000 from Whittemore until Olshan pointed out that he earlier told the grand jury he “assumed” it was a reimbursement for the $9,200 he and his wife donated to Reid’s campaign.
Whittemore, 59, faces four felony charges, including making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another and lying to the FBI and the Federal Election Commission.
On Wednesday, Myhre contended in an opening statement that Whittemore chose to break the law rather than break a promise to raise campaign money for Reid, a powerful member of Congress. The prosecutor described how Whittemore, once an influential legislative lobbyist, promised to raise $150,000 for the Nevada Democrat’s re-election when the two men met for lunch at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas on Feb. 19, 2007.
But four days before the March 31, 2007, campaign contribution deadline, Whittemore had done little to raise the $150,000. So he devised a scheme to unlawfully use 29 family members and employees as conduits to steer more than $130,000 of the money to the Reid campaign, Myhre said.
Prosecutors contend Whittemore duped Reid’s campaign committee into believing the contributions came from his family members and friends. Reid is not expected to testify at the trial.
In his opening statement, Gentile told the jury that to convict Whittemore, they would have to believe he used his family to commit a crime. “That’s not Harvey Whittemore. That would never happen,” Gentile said.
The trial, taking place in the courtroom of Senior U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks, has recessed until Monday.
Contact reporter Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Follow@JGermanRJ.