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Democrat leader reaped $1.1 million from sale of land he didn't own
|Updated 10/11/2006 7:03 PM ET||E-mail | Print ||
By John Solomon And Kathleen Hennessey, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale even though he hadn't personally owned the property for three years, property deeds show.
In the process, Reid did not disclose to Congress an earlier sale in which he transferred his land to a company created by a friend and took a financial stake in that company, according to records and interviews.
The Nevada Democrat's deal was engineered by Jay Brown, a longtime friend and former casino lawyer whose name surfaced in a major political bribery trial this summer and in other prior organized crime investigations. He's never been charged with wrongdoing — except for a 1981 federal securities complaint that was settled out of court.
Land deeds obtained by The Associated Press during a review of Reid's business dealings show:
•The deal began in 1998 when Reid bought undeveloped residential property on Las Vegas' booming outskirts for about $400,000. Reid bought one lot outright, and a second parcel jointly with Brown. One of the sellers was a developer who was benefiting from a government land swap that Reid supported. The seller never talked to Reid.
•In 2001, Reid sold the land for the same price to a limited liability corporation created by Brown. The senator didn't disclose the sale on his annual public ethics report or tell Congress he had any stake in Brown's company. He continued to report to Congress that he personally owned the land.
•After getting local officials to rezone the property for a shopping center, Brown's company sold the land in 2004 to other developers and Reid took $1.1 million of the proceeds, nearly tripling the senator's investment. Reid reported it to Congress as a personal land sale.
The complex dealings allowed Reid to transfer ownership, legal liability and some tax consequences to Brown's company without public knowledge, but still collect a seven-figure payoff nearly three years later.
Reid hung up the phone when questioned about the deal during an AP interview last week.
The senator's aides said no money changed hands in 2001 and that Reid instead got an ownership stake in Brown's company equal to the value of his land. Reid continued to pay taxes on the land and didn't disclose the deal because he considered it a "technical transfer," they said.
They also said they have no documents proving Reid's stake in the company because it was an informal understanding between friends.
The 1998 purchase "was a normal business transaction at market prices," Reid spokesman Jim Manley said. "There were several legal steps associated with the investment during those years that did not alter Senator Reid's actual ownership interest in the land."
Senate ethics rules require lawmakers to disclose on their annual ethics report all transactions involving investment properties — regardless of profit or loss — and to report any ownership stake in companies.
Kent Cooper, who oversaw government disclosure reports for federal candidates for two decades in the Federal Election Commission, said Reid's failure to report the 2001 sale and his ties to Brown's company violated Senate rules.
"This is very, very clear," Cooper said. "Whether you make a profit or a loss you've got to put that transaction down so the public, voters, can see exactly what kind of money is moving to or from a member of Congress."
"It is especially disconcerting when you have a member of the leadership, of either party, not putting in the effort to make sure this is a complete and accurate report," said Cooper. "That says something to other members. It says something to the Ethics Committee."
Other parts of the deal — such as the informal handling of property taxes — raise questions about possible gifts or income reportable to Congress and the IRS, ethics experts said.
Stanley Brand, former Democratic chief counsel of the House, said Reid should have disclosed the 2001 sale and that his omission fits a larger culture in Congress where lawmakers aren't following or enforcing their own rules.
"It's like everything else we've seen in last two years. If it is not enforced, people think it's not enforced and they get lax and sloppy," Brand said.
Concealed from Congress
Reid and his wife, Landra, personally signed the deeds selling their full interest in the property to Brown's company, Patrick Lane LLC, for the same $400,000 they paid in 1998, records show.
Despite the sale, Reid continued to report on his public ethics reports that he personally owned the land until it was sold again in 2004. His disclosure forms to Congress do not mention an interest in Patrick Lane or the company's role in the 2004 sale.
AP first learned of the transaction from a former Reid aide who expressed concern the deal hadn't been properly reported.
Reid isn't listed anywhere on Patrick Lane's corporate filings with Nevada, even though the land he sold accounted for three-quarters of the company's assets. Brown is listed as the company's manager. Reid's office said Nevada law didn't require Reid to be mentioned in the filings.
"We have been friends for over 35 years. We didn't need a written agreement between us," Brown said.
The informalities didn't stop there.
Taxes handled loosely
Brown sometimes paid a share of the local property taxes on the lot Reid owned outright between 1998 and 2001, while Reid sometimes paid more than his share of taxes on the second parcel they co-owned.
And the two men continued to pay the property taxes from their personal checking accounts even after the land was sold to Patrick Lane in 2001, records show.
Brown said Reid first approached him in 1997 about land purchases and the two men considered the two lots a single investment.
"During the years of ownership, there may have been occasions that he advanced the property taxes, or that I advanced the property taxes," Brown said. "The bottom line is that between ourselves we always settled up and each of us paid our respective percentages."
Ultimately, Reid paid about 74% of the property taxes, slightly less than his actual 75.1% ownership stake, according to canceled checks kept at the local assessor's office. One year, the property tax payments were delinquent and resulted in a small penalty, the records show.
Ethics experts said such informality raises questions about whether any of Brown's tax payments amounted to a benefit for Reid. "It might be a gift," Cooper said.
Brand said the IRS might view the handling of the land taxes as undisclosed income to Reid but it was unlikely to prompt an investigation. "If someone is paying a liability you owe, there may be some income imputed. But at that level, it's pretty small dollars," he said.
Nevada land deeds show Reid and his wife first bought the property in January 1998 in a proposed subdivision created partly with federal lands transferred by the Interior Department to private developers.
Reid's two lots were never owned by the government, but the piece of land joining Reid's property to the street corner — a key to the shopping center deal — came from the government in 1994.
One of the sellers was Fred Lessman, a vice president of land acquisition at Perma-Bilt Homes.
Around the time of the 1998 sale, Lessman and his company were completing a complicated federal land transfer that also involved an Arizona-based developer named Del Webb Corp.
In the deal, Del Webb and Perma-Bilt purchased environmentally sensitive lands in the Lake Tahoe area, transferred them to the government and then got in exchange several pieces of valuable Las Vegas land.
Lessman was personally involved, writing a March 1997 letter to Interior lobbying for the deal. "This exchange has been through many trials and tribulations ... we do not need to create any more stumbling blocks," Lessman wrote.
For years, Reid also had been encouraging Interior to make land swaps on behalf of Del Webb, where one of his former aides worked.
In 1994, Reid wrote a letter with other Nevada lawmakers on behalf of Del Webb, and then met personally with a top federal land official in Nevada. That official claimed in media reports he felt pressured by the senator. Reid denied any pressure.
The next year, Reid collected $18,000 in political donations from Del Webb's political action committee and employees. Del Webb's efforts to get federal land dragged on.
In December 1996, Reid wrote a second letter on behalf of Del Webb, urging Interior to answer the company's concerns. The deal came together in summer and fall 1997, with Perma-Bilt joining in.
In January 1998 — just days before he bought his land — Reid applauded the Lake Tahoe land transfers, saying they would create the "gateway to paradise."
None of Reid's letters mentioned Perma-Bilt. Reid's office said the senator never met Lessman nor discussed the Lake Tahoe land transfer or his personal land purchase. A real estate attorney handled the 1998 sale at arms-length, aides said.
"This land investment was completely unrelated to federal land swaps that took place in the mid-1990's," Manley said.
Lessman said he never talked to Reid or asked for his help before the 1998 land sale, and only met the senator years later at a public event. "Any suggestion that the land sale between Senator Reid and myself is somehow tied in with the Perma-Bilt exchange is completely absurd," Lessman said.
Clark County intended for the property Reid owned to be used solely for new housing, records show. Just days before Reid sold the parcels to Brown's company, Brown sought permission in May 2001 to rezone the properties so a shopping center could be built.
Career zoning officials objected, saying the request was "inconsistent" with Clark County's master development plan. The town board in Spring Valley, where Reid's property was located, also voted 4-1 to reject the rezoning.
Brown persisted. The Clark County zoning board followed by the Clark County Commission voted to overrule the recommendation and approve commercial zoning. Such votes were common at the time.
Before the approval in September 2001, Brown's consultant told commissioners that Reid was involved. "Mr. Brown's partner is Harry Reid, so I think we have people in this community who you can trust to go forward and put a quality project before you," the consultant testified.
With the rezoning granted, Patrick Lane pursued the shopping center deal. On Jan. 20, 2004, the company sold the property to developers for $1.6 million. Today, a multimillion dollar retail complex sits on the land.
On Jan. 21, 2004, Reid received more than $1.1 million of the sale proceeds. Reid disclosed the money the following year on his Senate ethics report as a personal sale of land, not mentioning Patrick Lane.
Business partner's past
Brown has been a behind-the-scenes power broker in Nevada for years, donating to Democrats, Republicans and charities. He represented a major casino in legal cases and dabbled in Nevada's booming real estate market.
Brown befriended Reid four decades ago, even before Reid served as chairman of the Nevada gaming commission and decided cases involving Brown's clients.
Brown's name has surfaced in federal investigations involving organized crime, casinos and political bribery since the 1980s.
This past summer, federal prosecutors introduced testimony at the bribery trial of former Clark County Commission chairman Dario Herrara that Brown had taken money from a Las Vegas strip club owner to influence the commission. Herrara was convicted of taking kickbacks. Brown was never called as a witness.
Brown declined to discuss past cases where his name surfaced, including Herrara. "The federal government investigated this whole matter thoroughly, and there was never any implication of impropriety on my part," he said.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.Posted 10/11/2006 2:37 PM ET
Muslim Mob Takes Christian Man, Hangs Him By His Feet And Severely Tortures HimA mob of 150 Muslims attacked a Christian man’s home in Pakistan, seized him and then severely tortured him by hanging him by his feat and savagely beating him with sticks. The Christian man’s name is Amanat Masih, and the attackers charged at him after he was falsely accused of ripping pages from the Koran. Not only did they torture him but they stole his savings of 50,000 Pakistani Rupees, which his family was saving for their daughter’s marriage. As one report recounts:
Amanat lived in the village of Nabipur Virkan, where he and his three sons worked as laborers. He was received the contempt and the hatred of the Muslims because he, as Mordecai spurned bending the knee to Haman, refused to express submission to a Muslim mafia that was very powerful in the village. The mafia used the greatest of weapons any criminal can use, the power of the mob. They inflamed the insanity of the people, declaring that Amanat tore pages from the Koran, and that is when the violence of the heathen commenced. In our interview with Amanat, he himself recounted the torture that was inflicted upon him by the mob:The attackers clutched Amanat Masih and tortured him severely. They were shouting on Amanat Masih that he has torn out papers from the Quran to burn them.
In January of this year, the AP reported that Amanat was eventually arrested and forced to remain in prison for three years. Just as “Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison” (Matthew 14:3), so did the Muslim tyrants throw this Christian into prison, not for the sake of a woman, but for the whore religion called Islam, which kings of the earth have fornicated with, and who sits on high place of the earth’s praise drinking the blood of the saints. When this man laid in prison, all for the sake of the Gospel, which the earth forsakes and to which the angels of Heaven give their praise, Christ stood in that prison cell. This man was forsaken, Christ was forsaken, and even the Messiah identifies Himself with all the saints in prison, saying, “I was in prison, and ye came unto me.” (Matthew 25:36) And the only people who came to his aid was Rescue Christians, as Amanat himself bears witness:…it was a public holiday and I was at home and few people came to my house with sticks in their hands… and I went with them and there they started beating me with sticks and hung me upside down.
Rescue Christians conducted an interview of Amanat, in which you can watch his testimony as to how he was persecuted and eventually saved by Rescued Christians: The AP, just this year, even took a photo of Amanat,When I came out of jail, luckily I met Rescue Christians. They helped me a lot. They provided my family a place to live, food to eat, they fulfilled all our needs. I won the case but still I was living a life of a prisoner and was hidden. Rescue Christians helped me come to Bangkok. I was not safe in my country because in Pakistan if once a person is accused of blasphemy he is always in danger and I’m safe and they provided me everything here.
This photo confirms that it is the same person we rescued, which further shows that our rescue mission is real, and our victims are real. This flies right into the face of all those who deny our rescue work, and further substantiates the reality of our mission.
There are countless Amanat Masihs, numberless Christians crying out in the midst of a careless wilderness, begging for help, with no one listening to their pleas.
By Ray McGovern
Is “regime change” in Ukraine the bridge too far for the neoconservative “regime changers” of Official Washington and their sophomoric “responsibility-to-protect” (R2P) allies in the Obama administration? Have they dangerously over-reached by pushing the putsch that removed duly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has given an unmistakable “yes” to those questions – in deeds, not words. His message is clear: “Back off our near-frontier!”
Moscow announced on Saturday that Russia’s parliament has approved Putin’s request for permission to use Russia’s armed forces “on the territory of the Ukraine pending the normalization of the socio-political situation in that country.”
Putin described this move as necessary to protect ethnic Russians and military personnel stationed in Crimea in southern Ukraine, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet and other key military installations are located. But there is no indication that the Russian parliament has restricted the use of Russian armed forces to the Crimea.
Unless Obama is completely bereft of advisers who know something about Russia, it should have been a “known-known” (pardon the Rumsfeldian mal mot) that the Russians would react this way to a putsch removing Yanukovich. It would have been a no-brainer that Russia would use military force, if necessary, to counter attempts to use economic enticement and subversive incitement to slide Ukraine into the orbit of the West and eventually NATO.
This was all the more predictable in the case of Ukraine, where Putin – although the bête noire in corporate Western media – holds very high strategic cards geographically, militarily, economically and politically.
Unlike ‘Prague Spring’ 1968
Moscow’s advantage was not nearly as clear during the short-lived “Prague Spring” of 1968 when knee-jerk, non-thinking euphoria reigned in Washington and West European capitals. The cognoscenti were, by and large, smugly convinced that reformer Alexander Dubcek could break Czechoslovakia away from the U.S.S.R.’s embrace and still keep the Russian bear at bay.
My CIA analyst portfolio at the time included Soviet policy toward Eastern Europe, and I was amazed to see analysts of Eastern Europe caught up in the euphoria that typically ended with, “And the Soviets can’t do a damned thing about it!”
That summer a new posting found me advising Radio Free Europe Director Ralph Walter who, virtually alone among his similarly euphoric colleagues, shared my view that Russian tanks would inevitably roll onto Prague’s Wenceslaus Square, which they did in late August.
Past is not always prologue. But it is easy for me to imagine the Russian Army cartographic agency busily preparing maps of the best routes for tanks into Independence Square in Kiev, and that before too many months have gone by, Russian tank commanders may be given orders to invade, if those stoking the fires of violent dissent in the western parts of Ukraine keep pushing too far.
That said, Putin has many other cards to play and time to play them. These include sitting back and doing nothing, cutting off Russia’s subsidies to Ukraine, making it ever more difficult for Yanukovich’s successors to cope with the harsh realities. And Moscow has ways to remind the rest of Europe of its dependence on Russian oil and gas.
There is one huge difference between Prague in 1968 and Kiev 2014. The “Prague Spring” revolution led by Dubcek enjoyed such widespread spontaneous popular support that it was difficult for Russian leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Aleksey Kosygin to argue plausibly that it was spurred by subversion from the West.
Not so 45-plus years later. In early February, as violent protests raged in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev and the White House professed neutrality, U.S. State Department officials were, in the words of NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies Stephen Cohen, “plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”
We know that thanks to neocon prima donna Victoria Nuland, now Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who seemed intent on giving new dimension to the “cookie-pushing” role of U.S. diplomats. Recall the photo showing Nuland in a metaphor of over-reach, as she reached deep into a large plastic bag to give each anti-government demonstrator on the square a cookie before the putsch.
More important, recall her amateurish, boorish use of an open telephone to plot regime change in Ukraine with a fellow neocon, U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt. Crass U.S. interference in Ukrainian affairs can be seen (actually, better, heard) in an intercepted conversation posted on YouTube on Feb. 4.
Yikes! It’s Yats!
Nuland was recorded as saying: “Yats is the guy. He’s got the economic experience, the governing experience. He’s the guy you know. … Yats will need all the help he can get to stave off collapse in the ex-Soviet state. He has warned there is an urgent need for unpopular cutting of subsidies and social payments before Ukraine can improve.”
And guess what. The stopgap government formed after the coup designated Nuland’s guy Yats, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, prime minister! What luck! Yats is 39 and has served as head of the central bank, foreign minister and economic minister. And, as designated pinch-hitter-prime-minister, he has already talked about the overriding need for “responsible government,” one willing to commit “political suicide,” as he put it, by taking unpopular social measures.
U.S. meddling has been so obvious that at President Barack Obama’s hastily scheduled Friday press conference on Ukraine, Yats’s name seemed to get stuck in Obama’s throat. Toward the end of his scripted remarks, which he read verbatim, the President said: “Vice President Biden just spoke with Prime Minister [pause] – the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.”
Obama doesn’t usually stumble like that – especially when reading a text, and is normally quite good at pronouncing foreign names. Perhaps he worried that one of the White House stenographic corps might shout out, “You mean our man, Yats?” Obama departed right after reading his prepared remarks, leaving no opportunity for such an outburst.
Western media was abuzz with the big question: Will the Russians apply military force? The answer came quickly, though President Obama chose the subjunctive mood in addressing the question on Friday.
Throwing Down a Hanky
There was a surreal quality to President Obama’s remarks, several hours after Russian (or pro-Russian) troops took control of key airports and other key installations in the Crimea, which is part of Ukraine, and home to a large Russian naval base and other key Russian military installations.
Obama referred merely to “reports of military movements taken by the Russian Federation inside of Ukraine” and warned piously that “any violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity would be deeply destabilizing.”
That Obama chose the subjunctive mood – when the indicative was, well, indicated – will not be lost on the Russians. Here was Obama, in his typically lawyerly way, trying to square the circle, giving a sop to his administration’s neocon holdovers and R2P courtiers, with a Milquetoasty expression of support for the new-Nuland-approved government (citing Biden’s assurances to old whatshisname/yatshisname).
While Obama stuck to the subjunctive tense, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk appealed to Russia to recall its forces and “stop provoking civil and military resistance in Ukraine.”
Obama’s comments seemed almost designed to sound condescending – paternalistic, even – to the Russians. Already into his second paragraph of his scripted remarks, the President took a line larded with words likely to be regarded as a gratuitous insult by Moscow, post-putsch.
“We’ve made clear that they [Russian officials] can be part of an international community’s effort to support the stability of a united Ukraine going forward, which is not only in the interest of the people of Ukraine and the international community, but also in Russia’s interest.”
By now, Russian President Vladimir Putin is accustomed to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, et al. telling the Kremlin where its interests lie, and I am sure he is appropriately grateful. Putin is likely to read more significance into these words of Obama:
“The United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine … and we will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies.”
Fissures in Atlantic Alliance
There are bound to be fissures in the international community and in the Western alliance on whether further provocation in Ukraine is advisable. Many countries have much to lose if Moscow uses its considerable economic leverage over natural gas supplies, for example.
And, aspiring diplomat though she may be, Victoria Nuland presumably has not endeared herself to the EC by her expressed “Fuck the EC” attitude.
Aside from the most servile allies of the U.S. there may be a growing caucus of Europeans who would like to return the compliment to Nuland. After all does anyone other than the most extreme neocon ideologue think that instigating a civil war on the border of nuclear-armed Russia is a good idea? Or that it makes sense to dump another economic basket case, which Ukraine surely is, on the EU’s doorstep while it’s still struggling to get its own economic house in order?
Europe has other reasons to feel annoyed about the overreach of U.S. power and arrogance. The NSA spying revelations – that continue, just like the eavesdropping itself does – seem to have done some permanent damage to transatlantic relationships.
In any case, Obama presumably knows by now that he pleased no one on Friday by reading that flaccid statement on Ukraine. And, more generally, the sooner he realizes that – without doing dumb and costly things – he can placate neither the neocons nor the R2P folks (naively well meaning though the latter may be), the better for everyone.
In sum, the Nulands of this world have bit off far more than they can chew; they need to be reined in before they cause even more dangerous harm. Broader issues than Ukraine are at stake. Like it or not, the United States can benefit from a cooperative relationship with Putin’s Russia – the kind of relationship that caused Putin to see merit last summer in pulling Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire on Syria, for example, and in helping address thorny issues with Iran.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His academic degrees are in Russian and he was an analyst of Russian foreign policy for the first decade of his 27-year career with the CIA. He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
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