In the 1990s, Danny Tarkanian’s name began appearing as a registered agent or partner for Nevada real estate investment companies filing paperwork with the secretary of state’s office.
In some cases, Tarkanian was a silent partner with no day-to-day control of the company. In others, the law school graduate acted as the legal agent, receiving paperwork for the business. That could range from the annual renewal of the company registration to when legal action is filed.
Tarkanian also ran his own real estate investment firm, listing himself as president, secretary, treasurer and director of JAMD Inc. He was listed as the agent for the Tarkanian Family Limited Partnership, too. The general partners were his parents: famed former University of Nevada, Las Vegas basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian.
During that decade of go-go real estate speculation, Tarkanian and the companies he was associated with didn’t always pay property taxes on time, becoming delinquent for one to five years and forcing Clark County authorities to hold at least a dozen parcels until the bills were paid.
In the end, Tarkanian and his real estate partners paid more than $23,000 in back taxes, interest, penalties and fees from 1992 through 2001, according to Clark County records.
Now that he’s running for Congress, Tarkanian is having to answer for such past financial foibles as well as his apparent new troubles in properly reporting some campaign contributions. He’s coming under the greatest scrutiny as the leading GOP candidate in a crowded field of nine Republicans in the primary race for Nevada’s newest 4th Congressional District.
"Maybe I missed some property tax payments," Tarkanian said. "I have no recollection of that since it was so long ago. And I was a passive partner" in some of the companies. "I would expect the Democrats to track me extremely closely and try to find whatever dirt they can to use against me."
CREDIBILITY AT STAKE
A Democratic operative pointed the Las Vegas Review-Journal to Tarkanian’s past property tax problems, suggesting it fits a pattern of poor financial practices by the businessman.
It’s also a legitimate campaign issue, said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno who noted Tarkanian preaches low taxes and enjoys tea party support.
"If you’re running for public office and you’ve missed tax payments – particularly if you then decry tax policies in any way – you just don’t have a lot of credibility," Herzik said. "Missing tax payments or being late is not an uncommon practice. … But it can be embarrassing when you run for public office."
Bentar Limited Partnership is an example of Tarkanian being an investment partner and resident agent for a real estate company he formed with close friend Amador "Chi Chi" Bengochea .
Neither Tarkanian nor Bengochea could recall being late on property tax payments in the early 1990s, although records show Bentar in 1993 paid $6,216.78 in delinquent property taxes, interest, penalties and fees on five of seven parcels Clark County held until the bills were paid.
Four of the parcels were two years late, and one parcel was three years late on property taxes, records show.
Bengochea, a Las Vegas real estate developer who went to college with Tarkanian at UNLV, said he can’t remember business dealings that far back. But he said Tarkanian wouldn’t have known about or been involved in any tax problems because he was a passive partner and investor.
Also, Bengochea said it’s quite common in the real estate business for closings to take months with property taxes going unpaid until a deal is done and the overdue bill is finally paid.
"All the property taxes were taken care of at the time of the sale," Bengochea said. "There were lots and lots of delayed closings. That was a tough (economic) time at that moment after the Iraq War. Danny would not have known. That would have been my issue to take care of those things."
One parcel Bentar owned on Danyelle Court, according to county and public real estate records, is a good example of how property can change hands, leaving taxes unpaid for years.
The Danyelle Court parcel was resold for $70,000 to Jerry and Lois Tarkanian . The couple then filed a "quit claim" to deed the land over to their son on Dec. 28, 1993. Two years later, Danny Tarkanian sold the parcel for $90,000 on Nov. 28, 1995, to a property management company.
By then, the county was holding the property until overdue taxes were paid.
Three days after selling the parcel, Tarkanian on Dec., 1, 1995, paid $4,510.20 in five years worth of back taxes, interest, penalties and fees to legally reclaim the property from the county.
Tarkanian said neither he nor Bengochea recalls those Danyelle Court transactions.
CANDIDATE ‘BOTHERED’ BY PENALITIES
The Tarkanian Family Limited Partnership, which lists his parents as general partners, also was late paying 1999-2000 property taxes on a parcel that was 40 percent owned by the partnership and 40 percent by Danny Tarkanian, according to Clark County records.
Tarkanian said he doesn’t recall owning the property, whose overdue taxes were paid in September 2000 by the First American Title Co. of Nevada with a $673.44 check.
In another case, Tarkanian was a 10 percent passive investor with former Las Vegas City Councilman Al Levy in Levtar Partnership, which had a total of 10 partners, according to Tarkanian.
Levtar was delinquent in paying 1992-1993 property taxes on one parcel, according to the Clark County recorder’s office. The county held the parcel until July 1993, when $1,051.13 in overdue taxes, interest, penalties and fees were paid. Levy died in 1997.
Tarkanian wholly owned JAMD Inc., so he was directly responsible for paying taxes on property the company owned. Records show that in September 2000 he paid $3,242.96 in late taxes, interest, penalties and fees on four parcels that were delinquent for the year 1999-2000.
A year later in September 2001, Tarkanian paid another $7,377.20 in back bills for one parcel that was two years delinquent, including for taxes, interest, penalties and fees.
Tarkanian said his records show JAMD Inc. had purchased the five parcels in March 1999, "so the late payment may have resulted from the close proximity to the purchase of the property."
He also said he may have missed some property tax payments because he had moved to Fresno, Calif., by then. In 1995, Tarkanian became assistant coach to his father at Fresno State. The Tarkanians moved back to Las Vegas about a decade ago after the older coach retired.
Tarkanian noted that he’s current on all his property taxes now, including on his home.
"Look, it bothers me if I have to pay any type of penalty," Tarkanian said when asked whether he’s current on his bills. "I certainly try to pay everything on time."
CAMPAIGN FINANCE COMPLAINT
As a U.S. House candidate, Tarkanian now is trying to avoid any penalty from the Federal Election Commission. The Nevada Democratic Party earlier this month filed a complaint alleging he had accepted some illegal contributions, including $500 from a corporation.
Tarkanian’s campaign said Friday it returned the contribution from Haig’s Quality Printing after reviewing his FEC filing with an attorney and accountant familiar with federal rules.
Democrats said Tarkanian also had not reported at least $66,000 in personal loans he had made to his campaign in 2010 when he ran for the U.S. Senate, losing the GOP primary to Sharron Angle.
He planned to file an amended FEC report, his campaign said.
Tarkanian also has another potential financial headache looming. It involves a $14.5 million loan his family’s Vegas Diamond Properties took out from a La Jolla Bank in 2007 for a real estate deal that went sour. A lawsuit is pending as the bank seeks its money and Tarkanian claims fraud.
Tarkanian lists it as a disputed liability on a financial disclosure form he filed with the House.
On the form filed April 5, Tarkanian and his wife, Amy, reported assets ranging between $296,000 and $890,000, held mostly in individual retirement accounts. And the couple reported liabilities of between $6.1 million and $30.25 million on mortgages taken out on three properties.
If Tarkanian wins the upcoming June 12 GOP primary, he will face Nevada Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Horsford, too, has past bill-paying problems dating mostly to his college days and his 20s after he racked up bills following a car accident and was sued for payment. He also has been criticized for attending a junket in the Bahamas with an online poker company that wants to do business in Nevada.
Herzik, the political analyst, said if the race comes down to Tarkanian against Horsford, the contest is sure to be a rough-and-tumble affair because both men have records open to attack.
"Horsford doesn’t necessarily have the cleanest record," Herzik said, adding the race may be one of the nastiest in Nevada in 2012. "It’ll be like watching a car crash."
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.This quit claim deed hands a parcel of Clark County land to Danny Tarkanian from his parents, Jerry and Lois Tarkanian
Danny Tarkanian paid this $4,510.20 bill for five years of back property taxes, interest, penalties and fees on one parcel
Page three of this escrow document shows Danny Tarkanian as a 40 percent owner in a parcel of land with delinquent property taxes