Reid Land Deal Under Scrutiny
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Harry M. Reid of Nevada, the Senate's top Democrat, said yesterday that he was in discussions with the chamber's ethics committee to determine whether he should amend his financial disclosure forms to include details of a real estate transaction that allowed him to collect $1.1 million.
The Associated Press reported that Reid gained a windfall from that sale of land in 2004 even though he had not personally owned the property for the previous three years. Reid also did not divulge the 2001 transfer of the land to a company he co-owned with a friend, a transaction that would normally call for a mention in Senate financial disclosure documents, the AP said.
Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, defended the sale as a "normal business transaction at market prices." He added that the land went through "several legal steps associated with the investment . . . that did not alter Senator Reid's actual ownership interest in the land." If, however, the ethics committee determines that the land's transfer to a company requires additional disclosure, Manley said that Reid would be "happy to provide" it.
Reid and his wife purchased the land in Clark County, on the outskirts of Las Vegas, in 1998 for $400,000. The acquisition was done in tandem with an adjacent property that was bought by Reid's friend of 35 years, Jay Brown, a former casino lawyer whose name has surfaced over the years in organized-crime investigations, according to the AP. Brown has never been charged with criminal wrongdoing, the AP added.
In 2001, Reid transferred his property into a partnership company that he co-owned with Brown. The transaction was done, according to a statement by Manley, to make it easier for the Reid family and the Brown family to try to rezone the undeveloped land so a shopping center could be built on it.
Manley said that Reid continued to report in his Senate disclosure forms that the land belonged to him rather than to Patrick Lane LLC, the company to which he had transferred it. The reason, he said, was that the senator dealt with the property as if it were still his.
Nonetheless, disclosure experts said that the Senate's rules do not permit such a lapse. "Signing over a deed is a basic legal step and is the kind of thing that needs to be disclosed," said Kent Cooper, the former disclosure chief of the Federal Election Commission and co-founder of PoliticalMoneyLine.com.
The local zoning board, overruling a staff recommendation, granted the land's reclassification and Reid's share of the company was sold for $1.1 million to shopping-center developers in 2004, leaving him with a theoretical profit of $700,000.
Reid reported the transaction as a personal land sale in his Senate disclosure forms. According to the AP, Reid is not listed as a co-owner of Patrick Lane in corporate filings in Nevada. Manley said that Reid and Brown handled the partnership informally -- as a deal between friends. In addition, he said, Reid's name did not have to be included on the corporate listing.
A call to the Senate ethics committee was not returned yesterday. Its staff rarely comments publicly on ongoing matters involving senators.