Nevada power broker Whittemore now a pariah

CARSON CITY — Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, people would stare when the big burly guy who resembled home run slugger Mark McGwire walked into the Legislative Building, took his place by the lobbyist table and displayed a broad grin.

Harvey Whittemore seldom ventured into legislative hearing rooms. He didn’t need to stoop that low. Whittemore, now 55, was the supreme legislative lobbyist.

He represented the gaming, tobacco and liquor industries and was managing partner of the Reno office of Lionel Sawyer & Collins, the state’s premier law firm. He could get legislators to pass the legislation his clients wanted and then help the same legislators finance their next political campaigns.

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

But like McGwire, whose grandeur faded once it became known he used steroids, Whittemore today is a pariah. A grand jury is looking into allegations that he violated federal campaign contribution law while channeling money to some high-profile officials, including Harry Reid, the U.S. Senate majority leader from Nevada.

Whittemore has not been found guilty of anything, and the campaign finance violations he may have committed could lead only to civil fines assessed by the Federal Election Commission.

But people who were his friends no longer want to be mentioned in the same sentence with him. Almost all of a dozen former legislators and lobbyists called by the Las Vegas Review-Journal refused even to talk about him on the record.

That happens when the FBI raids your businesses as it has done with Whittemore, and business partners hurl multimillion-dollar lawsuits at each other.


Born on Aug. 17, 1956, in Carson City, Whittemore grew up in places like Sparks, Yerington, Las Vegas and Tempe, Ariz.

His father was a school counselor. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, and then from Arizona State University Law School.

He met his wife, Annette, the daughter of a rural Nevada doctor, at UNR.

They have gained acclaim for their good works on behalf of their five children. They have heavily supported Western Nevada College in Carson City, where their son, D.J., coaches the baseball team, one that frequently is ranked as a national power.

They also have funded the Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno, a research institute that looks into the causes of chronic fatigue syndrome, which has afflicted their now-adult daughter, Andrea, since age 11.

One Whittemore friend said he had another trait. He always was giving money to friends and fellow lobbyists. If he heard a sad story, then he would be generous with his help.


As a 26-year-old lawyer in 1983, Whittemore became a lobbyist at the request of his boss, former Gov. Grant Sawyer.

"Grant asked me to try," Whittemore said in a profile . "He gave me a couple of assignments. I never felt I had a natural affinity."

His move into lobbying also was helped by his friendship with longtime Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, who knew his family and took him under his wing.

"I knew his dad," Dini said. "Harvey lived in Yerington when he was 4. When he started as a lobbyist, we worked together. I remember we had a hard time with one bill and Harvey came up with an amendment. He wrote it on a napkin at Jack’s Bar. It is really tragic he is in this mess."

When large glass barriers were placed between legislators and the public seating gallery in the Legislative Building in 1997, they were dubbed "Harvey’s walls" by the press because of his tendency to lean over and talk with lawmakers during floor voting sessions. Most legislators, however, defended Whittemore and said the 7-foot barrier was meant to keep down the crowd noise.

"He could keep in mind what 20 or 30 legislators wanted and find a way for them to get their bills passed," recalled Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin, a former legislator. "He could do it better than calculus. He had a photographic mind."

For example, within a couple of days in the 1999 session, Whittemore lobbied the Senate Taxation Committee to kill Sen. Joe Neal’s bill to impose a 2 percentage point increase in the gaming tax, persuaded the Senate to back a bill that gave then-Mirage Resorts Chairman Steve Wynn tax breaks on his $300 million art collection, and killed a bill to allow Clark County to impose stricter anti-smoking regulations.

The power exerted by Whittemore that session caused Neal to speak of how a "shadow government" of the gaming industry and lobbyists controlled what happened in Carson City.

"If he is associated with something, then I’m suspicious," Neal said at the time. "I look for the Harvey Whittemore loophole. A lot of people don’t know if he is a lobbyist or a legislator."

Whittemore could walk directly into the private offices of legislative leaders of both parties. Then during the evenings he would make the points of his clients over dinner and drinks at the pricey Adele’s restaurant, where lawmakers often gathered. At the end of the sessions, he would carry messages from one house of the Legislature to the other. Legislators trusted him to carry instructions on proposed deals needed before they could adjourn.

Reporters did question him about why he exerted so much power over legislators. Whittemore’s response was he just wanted to help them.

"Lobbyists aren’t evil," said Whittemore in a past interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Some of the people who say I am the bogeyman do that because it is politically expedient. At the end of the day, let people decide whether the legislation we supported was for the good of the citizens."

But Whittemore didn’t win all his battles. In 1999 he ran afoul of Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, when he sought to use his juice to end legal obstacles that prevented him and a friend, Las Vegas liquor distributor Larry Ruvo, from building a private pier on property they owned at Lake Tahoe. Neighbors protested construction of the pier.

The state Senate passed the bill unanimously, but Buckley refused to hear it in her Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee.

"Piergate," Whittemore admitted later, was a mistake.

"I made a cardinal error," he said. "As a lawyer, I probably had a fool for a client. The blame falls on me."


Although he continued to register as a lobbyist, Whittemore seldom was present in the Legislative Building after the 2005 session.

He had another dream to bring to reality. He acquired land at Coyote Springs, 60 miles north of Las Vegas, and planned to create a 160,000-home golfing community in the high desert.

As the economy boomed, and Las Vegas Valley was running out of inexpensive land for new homes to be built, Whittemore looked like a genius. Soon Coyote Springs would be bigger than Reno, some predicted.

During a break in a Nevada Division of Water Resources’ hearing on Coyote Springs several years ago, Whittemore was asked what he would be doing when he grew old.

He said he could see himself as an 80-year-old man sitting under the hot sun in a cart on one of Coyote Springs’ golf courses.

He would not be golfing, just looking out contentedly over the burgeoning city that he created.

But the great recession rolled into Nevada in 2007. Whittemore sought help from partners, and development at Coyote Springs halted.

In January, partners Thomas Seeno, Albert Seeno Jr. and Albert Seeno III filed a $40 million lawsuit that accused Whittemore of embezzling and mis­appropriating $40 million from Wingfield Nevada, the primary Coyote Springs company. They accused him of using funds for private jets, entertainment and a lavish lifestyle.

Days later, Whittemore filed a $60 million countersuit against the Seenos, alleging they defrauded him. He also said his life has been threatened.

Then in February, the FBI raided Wingfield Nevada and businesses associated with Whittemore. Sources said they were looking into whether Whittemore’s company illegally reimbursed employees who made contributions to candidates favored by Whittemore.

Reid, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., quickly donated to charities more than $100,000 in contributions made to them by Whittemore and his associates.

A Federal Election Commission spokeswoman said Thursday that the allegation Whittemore faces would be a civil in­fraction that results in fines, not a criminal penalty and jail time. In the 2008 election campaign only, the commission received 2,000 complaints of the same type of violation across the nation.


Whittemore left Lionel Sawyer & Collins during the Coyote Springs years. Today he operates a tiny one-lawyer office in Reno.

He might have been bucked to the ground, but those who know him say he will brush himself off and ride again someday.

"Give him a few years and he will be a millionaire again," Coffin said. "It is the economy that did him in. He borrowed to the hilt. It was a gamble. He made the mistake of so many Americans but at a much grander scale."

One longtime friend, who requested anonymity, said he has seen Whittemore recently and thinks he is holding up well.

"I told him to keep his chin up," the friend said. "He wasn’t the only one who thought the hot economy would last forever. He isn’t the first accused of violating campaign contribution laws."

But the friend lamented, "Now that he is in need, people are bailing on him."

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.

2 in custody after chase
Two people were in custody after a chase involving Nevada Highway Patrol and Nye County Sheriff"s office deputies ended in southwest Las Vegas. Las Vegas police blocked off Rainbow Boulevard north of Tropicana Avenue around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Law enforcement personnel prepared to tow a black sedan as part of their investigation. It's not certain what precipitated the chase or where and when it started. Check back for updates.
Police Officer's Vehicle Was Taken During Shooting
Video from body worn camera footage released by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Wednesday shows an officer realizing his police vehicle has been taken during the chaos of the Route 91 shooting. It was later recovered at Sunrise hospital with the keys in the ignition and nothing removed. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
See Kitty Hawk’s flying car cruise over Lake Las Vegas
Kitty Hawk takes their flying car for a ride in the company’s hidden test facility in Lake Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Watch Las Vegas police wild pursuit through busy Las Vegas streets
An intense chase near Downtown Las Vegas ends after gunfire is exchanged as the suspect flees on busy streets and ends up near an elementary school. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Man shot strolling through park
A man was hospitalized early Tuesday morning after being shot while walking in a central Las Vegas park. Las Vegas police say the man and a woman were in Molasky Park just after midnight when the man was shot. The pair ran to a nearby supermarket where a security guard called for help. The man was hospitalized and as of 3 a.m. was in stable condition. Police have yet to identify the shooter and no suspects are in custody.
Police investigating shooting at east valley apartment complex
No one was injured late Monday night after someone fired shots at a vehicle at an east valley apartment complex. Police responded just before midnight to the Hamptons Apartments, 3070 S. Nellis Blvd. Someone fired shots at a vehicle that was leaving the complex, and struck the vehicle. Another bullet struck a nearby apartment building. The shooter or shooters remain at-large.
Hundreds Attend Slides, Rides and Rock and Roll in North Las Vegas
Hundreds attended the inaugural slides, rides and rock and roll event in North Las Vegas Saturday. The event featured a car show, water slide park and live music. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It's All Rainbows At The Center's New Cafe
The Gay and Lesbian Center of Southern Nevada (The Center) introduced its new coffeeshop, Little Rainbow Cafe, in June. Rainbows are everywhere, even in the lattes and toast, and employees wear t-shirts with the quote "Be a rainbow in someone's cloud." Owner Ben Sabouri said the concept is "built around the idea of, you know, be kind and treat everybody the same." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get a Rainbow Latte at the The Center's Little Rainbow Cafe
The Center, a community center for the LGBTQ community of Southern Nevada, has a new cafe. Little Rainbow Cafe serves up a pride-inspired signature "Rainbow Latte." (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed trying to cross Sahara
A pedestrian was killed Friday trying to cross Sahara Avenue near Maryland Parkway about 5 a.m. A sedan struck the pedestrian while the person was outside the crosswalk between Maryland Parkway and Pardee Place, according to Las Vegas police. Police also said the driver of the sedan remained at the site of the crash. The pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene. This is the 75th fatal crash that Las Vegas police have investigated in 2018.
Man shot multiple times
Las Vegas police are investigating after a man was shot multiple times early Friday morning. The shooting was called in about 3:20 a.m. at the Harbor Island Apartments, 370 E. Harmon Ave., near Koval Lane. The man was hospitalized and is expected to survive, but police are still searching for the shooter.
Former Military Police Corps Officer Celebrates 100th Birthday
Summerlin resident Gene Stephens, who served as a military policeman in WWII and escorted then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and President Roosevelt during the war, turned 100 on July 13, 2018. He credits his longevity to living a normal life, exercising regularly and eating three square meals a day. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Motorcyclist suffers serious injuries
A motorcycle rider was seriously injured Tuesday night after a crash on Charleston Boulevard. The crash was reported just before 10 p.m. near Durango Drive, according to Las Vegas police. The motorcyclist was hospitalized with unknown injuries but is expected to survive. Las Vegas police are investigating the cause of the accident.
CCSD Superintendent Jesus Jara Has Lunch With Students
New Clark County School District superintendent Jesus Jara continued his listening tour by having lunch with students at Red Rock Elementary School as part of the district's summer lunch program. In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, children under the age of 18 can find a free lunch at 104 different locations across the valley through the summer months. Jara highlighted the free program and the importance of eating healthy during his visit. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Timeline Leading Up to Scott Dozier's Execution
Scott Dozier is set to be executed by lethal injection the night of July 11 at Ely State Prison. Dozier was convicted of the April 2002 killing of 22-year-old Jeremiah Miller and was given the death penalty in Oct. 2007. In 2016 Dozier asked in a letter to District Judge Jennifer Togliatti requesting that he “be put to death.” A three-drug cocktail of midazolam, a sedative; the painkiller fentanyl; and cisatracurium, a paralytic, is expected to end his life. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Program Helps Mothers Battling Addiction
Jennifer Stanert has battled drug addiction on and off for the last 21 years. It caused her to lose custody of one of her children, Alec, after she gave birth while high. A new program at Dignity Health St. Rose Dominican Hospitals aims to connect mothers like Stanert with community resources and provide case management services while still pregnant to get connected to lactation and parenting classes, group peer support and education on neonatal abstinence syndrome. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Felon caught with guns in Mandalay Bay room 3 years before Las Vegas shooting
A felon was caught with guns in a Mandalay Bay hotel room three years before the October 1st mass shooting. Six weapons were found inside Kye Aaron Dunbar’s 24th floor room in November 2014. Four were semi-automatic. One was a scoped rifle pointing toward the Strip, according to court documents. Dunbar was sentenced to 40 months in federal prison for unlawful possession. The case just came to light in a lawsuit accusing Mandalay Bay of negligence in connection with the Oct. 1st shooting.
Illegal fireworks in the Las Vegas area garner complaints
Clark County received nearly 25,000 complaints over the Independence Day holiday on a new illegal fireworks site. Reports from the site led to at least 10 illegal fireworks busts across the valley overnight. As of Thursday morning, the county is still compiling the total number of citations issued.
House fire displaces 2 people
Two people were displaced after a house fire early Thursday morning. The fire, at 963 Temple Drive in east Las Vegas, was reported just after midnight, according to a battalion chief from the Clark County Fire Department. Crews from the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas fire departments also were called in to help. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
"Red White and Boom" July 4 Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Full video of the Fourth of July "Red White and Boom" fireworks show at the Stratosphere as seen from the 8th floor Elation Pool. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite
July 4th fireworks at the Eureka Casino Resort in Mesquite. (7-04-18) (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Crowds Enjoy Fireworks at the Stratosphere
Revelers enjoyed watching fireworks displays from the Stratosphere's 8th floor Elation pool on July 4. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pedestrian killed in Henderson
A pedestrian trying to cross St. Rose Parkway at Bermuda was hit by a vehicle on Tuesday night and later died. The crash was reported around 11:30 p.m. Las Vegas police responded initially, but handed over the investigation to Henderson police once it was determined the accident happened in their jurisdiction. Las Vegas police did respond to a report of a pedestrian being hit by a vehicle on the Strip. The person, who was hit by a BMW near Fashion Show mall, suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.
USPS owes $3.5 million for using Vegas Statue of Liberty on stamp
The United States Postal Service has been ordered to pay $3.5 million to a sculptor after using the Las Vegas replica of the Statue of Liberty in a stamp. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
What to expect at Station Casinos' Fourth of July celebration
Station Casinos' is hosting its annual 4th of July celebration with Fireworks by Grucci. Fireworks scheduled to go off on Wednesday, July 4 around 9 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch Resort, Red Rock Resort, Fiesta Rancho and Texas Station. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Officer Brent Horlacher shoots at Jessie Murillo
Las Vegas police video of an officer-involved shooting on June 29, 2018. Officer Brent Horlacher, 28, fired a single shot at suspect Jessie Murillo. Murillo was not injured. The radio audio is of the officer who fired the gun and the body camera video is from a different officer. Radio audio excerpts are added to the video and are not the precise times the audio was spoken.
Pawn Stars' Richard Harrison honored at memorial service
A memorial service was conducted for Richard "Old Man" Harrison at Palm Mortuary in Las Vegas on Sunday, July 1, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
UNLV professor cautions dangers of distracted walking
An alarming number of adults do not cross the street safely according to a study conducted by professor Tim Bungum of the School of Community Health Sciences at the UNLV. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas-Review Journal) @brokejournalist
Car left in remote desert 21 years is recovered for late owner's children
Showboat casino blackjack dealer Mark Blackburn died outside of White Hills, Ariz. 21 years ago. His 1980 Datsun B310 wagon remained in the remote desert until a network of volunteers recovered the car for his children. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Resort on Mount Charleston Sold for $4.8 million
North Carolina couple and hoteliers Deanna and Colin Crossman have purchased the Resort on Mount Charleston for $4.8 million. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Local Spotlight
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like