RENO, Nev. (AP) — A jury began deliberations on Tuesday in the case of a former Nevada developer and political powerbroker who was called a greedy "ultimate insider" by prosecutors accusing him of illegally funneling nearly $150,000 in campaign money to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid
Harvey Whittemore, 59, a former lobbyist and head of a billion-dollar real estate company, faces four felony counts tied to claims that he gave money to family members and employees to make contributions he had promised to Reid without revealing himself as the source.
"He kept his promise and he broke the law to do it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Olshan said during final arguments before the case went to the jury.
"This wasn't just any old promise. This was a promise to Harry Reid, the most powerful man in the U.S. Congress," Olshan said. "When he made these contributions, he was the ultimate insider. He was making millions of dollars and getting personal thank-you notes from the most prominent politicians in the country."
Whittemore's lawyers said he broke no laws by giving $5,000 checks as gifts to family members and as gifts or bonuses to 29 employees and their spouses, who then wrote checks for the maximum allowable $4,300 to the campaign group Friends of Harry Reid.
The lawyers said Whittemore, former chief of the Wingfield Nevada Group, suggested the employees and family members contribute to Reid, but made it clear that was voluntary.
"None said they were coerced," Dominic Gentile, Whittemore's lead defense counsel, said in his closing argument. "All knew him as a man of integrity. All said they trusted him."
Whittemore has pleaded not guilty to 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 could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks gave the jury of six men and six women 36 specific instructions before the two sides made closing arguments.
Gentile said Whittemore's motive was to help re-elect Reid and other Congress members who helped secure federal funding for a university medical research center that Whittemore and his wife Annette helped found to seek cures for diseases, including one their daughter has.
"Does it make sense he would throw Annette Whittemore and his other children and his father and his employees under the bus? The man is either smart or he's not. He's either honest, or he's not."