Lobbyist-developer Whittemore accused of embezzlement

At least two agencies are investigating embezzlement allegations leveled against developer and high-profile lobbyist Harvey Whittemore.

The agencies, the Reno Police Department and the State Bar of Nevada, are reviewing a lawsuit filed by Whittemore’s former business partners accusing him of embezzling and misappropriating more than
$40 million.

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 a lavish lifestyle, including millions in private jet flights, home improvement projects and entertainment costs.

Detectives with the financial crimes unit of the Reno Police Department are reviewing the lawsuit to determine whether there are any possible criminal acts that occurred within the department’s jurisdiction, spokeswoman Michele Anderson said.

The State Bar of Nevada is “investigating and gathering information” about the case, Assistant Bar Counsel Phil Pattee said.

Whittemore’s wife, Annette, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The Whittemores have told other media that the allegations are false and that they will take “all steps necessary to preserve” their reputation.

The Wingfield Nevada Group is controlled by Thomas Seeno and Albert Seeno, two brothers who partnered with Whittemore in his master-planned communities in Northern and Southern Nevada and who have ownership stakes in the Peppermill Resort Spa Casino in Washoe County.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the state Gaming Control Board, Mark Lipparelli, would not confirm or deny whether that agency is investigating the allegations.

But Lipparelli added, “As an agency, we are always looking at the various activities of our licensees.”

The Metropolitan Police Department has not reviewed the lawsuit because it has not been contacted by the victims in the case, said Assistant Sheriff Ray Flynn, who oversees the department’s investigative units.

Flynn added that if another agency contacts them, Las Vegas investigators would review the case.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general’s office said it is not reviewing the lawsuit because it wouldn’t fall within its jurisdiction.

According to the lawsuit, Albert Seeno paid Whittemore $44 million for his share of the holding group in 2007; Thomas Seeno had bought one-third of the shares in 2004. The Seenos had warned Whittemore not to spend all the money as he was required to help pay off the holding group’s debt.

But 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.

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

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, spending $200,000 on his daughter’s wedding, incurring
$1 million in charges at a golf course, and a $900,000 unauthorized salary, according to the lawsuit.

The Whittemores are accused of spending more than $2 million for private jet flights between 2004 and 2010.

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., developed master-planned communities in Northern and Southern Nevada, including Wingfield Springs in Sparks and Coyote Springs, which is about 60 miles northeast of Las Vegas, straddling Clark and Lincoln counties on U.S. Highway 93.

About 160,000 homes were planned for Coyote Springs, which stalled in 2008 because of the housing crash and economic recession.

Whittemore, 55, was once considered the most powerful legislative lobbyist in Nevada and one of the top gaming attorneys in the United States.

He represented the Nevada Resort Association, an organization of the state’s top casinos, individual casinos and 100 businesses. He had worked as managing partner for Lionel, Sawyer and Collins’ Reno office for many years. Whittemore now operates a small law office in Reno.

Once called the 64th legislator, Whittemore, at the request of legislative leaders, wrote much of the 1991 bill that led to the state’s first business tax.

Review-Journal writer Ed Vogel contributed to this report. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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