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Rep. Shuler's land swap deal eyed by ethics committee

By Scott Higham and Alice Crites
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 30, 2009 1:27 PM

House ethics investigators are reviewing an allegation of "preferential treatment" in a land deal involving http://www.whorunsgov.com/Profiles/Heath_Shuler (D-N.C.), a former Washington Redskins quarterback, according to a July committee document obtained by The Washington Post.

The inquiry has focused on an allegation involving a program once run by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the document says.

In June, the TVA's inspector general released the results of an investigation that found that the "wealthy, the influential, or both" benefited from the land swap, but that no rules were broken. Three months later, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that a TVA employee had lied about his knowledge of Shuler's involvement in the deal.

It is unclear why ethics investigators are reviewing the matter or what is the status of their review. The July document obtained by The Post said the panel was "Preparing Recommendations."

Before he was elected to Congress in 2006, Shuler invested in a real estate development called the Cove at Blackberry Ridge near Knoxville. The investment is worth from $5 million to $25 million, according to his financial disclosure reports. In August 2008, the News-Sentinel reported that the TVA gave the Cove waterfront rights to build a boat dock in exchange for other land the real estate venture owned. The swap was made while Shuler sat on a House transportation subcommittee that oversaw the operations of the TVA, an entity chartered by Congress to manage the Tennessee Valley and its resources.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the TVA released redacted pages of a companion inspector general's report that said the inspector general had determined that the "employee denied knowing Congressman Shuler held an ownership in Blackberry despite evidence [that the employee] was fully aware of his ownership status."

The TVA declined to identify the employee or provide any more details about the employee's knowledge of what took place in negotiations over the waterfront parcel, stating that the information was being withheld to "protect personal privacy, witness statements and the deliberative process," the News-Sentinel reported.

The inspector general's office forwarded its report to the ethics committee in Washington.

Shuler, a star quarterback at the University of Tennessee who joined the Redskins as the No. 3 overall draft pick in 1994, has denied any wrongdoing. He told Gannett News Service last month that he had "no idea" what the inspector general was talking about and that he had no contact with the TVA on the Blackberry Ridge deal until after it was approved.

A call to Schuler seeking comment was not returned.

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