Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid hung up the phone when questioned by the Associated Press about a $1.1 million windfall on land he had not owned for three years, the wire service is reporting.
Reid collected on the Las Vegas land sale in a deal engineered by a longtime friend and former casino lawyer, Jay Brown, whose name has surfaced in organized crime investigations, the AP said.
According to records and interviews obtained by the AP, the senator 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 the company.
Defending the senator, his aides argued the deal was not disclosed because it was considered a “technical transfer.”
No money changed hands, they insisted, and Reid’s ownership stake in Brown’s company was equal to the value of his land. The senator, they contended, also continued to pay taxes on the land.
The aides also explained there were no documents to prove Reid’s stake in the company, because it was an informal agreement between friends.
The AP said Reid bought the undeveloped residential property on the outskirts of Las Vegas for about $400,000 and sold it in 2001 for the same price to Brown’s limited liability corporation.
Reid did not disclose the sale on his annual public ethics report or tell Congress he had any stake in Brown’s company, the AP notes, but continued to report to Congress that he personally owned the land.
Brown then convinced local officials to rezone the property for a shopping center before his company sold the land in 2004 to other developers.
Reid nearly tripled his investment, taking $1.1 million of the proceeds. He then reported it to Congress as a personal land sale.
The AP said Reid hung up the phone when questioned about the deal during an interview last week.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley told the wire service the 1998 purchase “was a normal business transaction at market prices.”
“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,” he said.
But Senate ethics rules require lawmakers to disclose on their annual ethics report all transactions involving investment properties, regardless of profit or loss, the wire service points out, and to report any ownership stake in companies.
A former Federal Election Commission official affirmed Reid’s failure to report the sale and his ties to Brown’s company violated Senate rules.
“This is very, very clear,” said Kent Cooper, who oversaw government disclosure reports for federal candidates for two decades. “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.”
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