RENO, Nev. (AP) — Lawyers defending Harvey Whittemore say money the former millionaire developer, lawyer and high-powered lobbyist gave to employees were gifts of appreciation, not reimbursement for their donations to Sen. Harry Reid.
Jury selection begins Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Reno for Whittemore, who is accused of illegally funneling nearly $150,000 to Reid's re-election campaign in 2007.
Whittemore's lead lawyers, Gordon Silver and Dominic Gentile of Las Vegas, and Justin Bustos of Reno, said in court papers filed last week that Whittemore had been politically active since he was a teenager and had more than 30 years of experience as a lawyer and lobbyist when federal agents started looking into the contributions.
The partial owner of the Wingfield Nevada Group had campaigned for and raised money for many candidates over the years and had encouraged his children and other families, as well as management-level employees at Wingfield, "to be actively engaged in supporting candidates for elective office both financially and in other ways," the lawyers wrote.
Whittemore maintains his children and their spouses made their contributions legally with their own money in their own names.
"As to the remaining contributions, he asserts that he made unconditional gifts of money to each of the contributors because of his appreciation for their past efforts in his and his family's behalf," his lawyers wrote.
A federal grand jury indicted Whittemore last year on four counts: making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another, causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission, and making a false statement to the FBI.
If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. He has pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Prosecutors allege Whittemore promised Reid in February 2007 that he would raise $150,000 in contributions for the Nevada Democrat's campaign.
"Whittemore sought to make good on that promise by using employees of his real estate development company — Wingfield Nevada Group — as well as his family members and many of their spouses as 'straw' or 'conduit' donors," Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said in recently filed court documents.
"In doing so, the defendant, who was aware of the strict limits on individual contributions, used money from his personal bank account to advance or reimburse the funds used by each conduit so that they could make contributions to the candidate," Myhre said.
"On a single day, Whittemore caused one of his workers to transmit about $138,000 to Reid's campaign," Myhre said. Most of the money was "unlawfully funded," he said.
Whittemore's lawyers said it was never his intent to violate any campaign finance laws. All of the recipients of his gifts knew when they received them they were gifts and that Whittemore and his wife have a history of giving money to community efforts, they said.
The recipients knew they were made by him personally, not by Wingfield Nevada Group, "and although he supported Harry Reid's re-election and told them so, they were not required by him to use those gifts to contribute to Harry Reid's campaign but did so of their own free will," they said. "It was their money when they made the contributions in their own names."
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com