They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker
The case began with a lawsuit by Harvey Whittemore's former business partners, Thomas Seeno, his brother Albert Seeno Jr. and his son Albert Seeno III, who accused Whittemore of misappropriating and embezzling over $40 million from Wingfield Nevada Group Holding Company LLC, a limited liability company in Nevada.
Whittemore is a lawyer and former lobbyist with political ties all over the state, and he and his wife have contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Democrats and Republicans alike, including Sen. Harry Reid (D), Rep. Shelley Berkley (D), Sen. Dean Heller (R) and former Sen. John Ensign (R).
The Reno Gazette-Journal reports that on Friday Sen. Reid and Rep. Berkley announced that they will be giving away the contributions in the wake of Whittemore's legal troubles.
"Senator Reid has already donated the contributions made by Mr. Whittemore and his spouse to charity," said a Reid spokesman. "His office will continue to review other contributions associated with Mr. Whittemore, and treat them appropriately."
A spokesman for Berkley said her campaign would be "disposing" of the funds.
According to the suit, in 2004, Whittemore sold the Seenos interest in several companies that were under the Wingfield umbrella, and the Seenos claim that they began to notice financial discrepancies in the books beginning in May, 2010. Though they attempted to investigate, the suit claims, they "were thwarted by, among other things, incomplete or inaccurate accounting and business records and by a lack of cooperation by Whittemore." When confronted soon after, the Seenos say, "Whittemore admitted and confessed to engaging in over 20 different financial transactions designed to deplete Wingfield of its assets for the sole purposes of enhancing and promoting Whittemore's financial condition and to further his standing in the political community of Nevada."
Whittemore allegedly used corporate money for, among other things, furnishing and refurbishing his many home and box seats for the Minor League baseball team the Reno Aces. The suit also claims that Whittemore only paid $10,000 to hold a $200,000 wedding for his daughter at a restaurant owned by the company, which included five-star food and wine tastings, and "tuxedo uniforms for Red Hawk wait-staff, special china dinnerware named after his daughter," and other things.
Whittemore denied the allegations and countersued the Seenos, seeking $1.8 billion in damages, alleging that they had ties to organized crime and the motorcycle gang the Hell's Angels, had engaged in "racketeering and extortion," and had repeatedly threatened Whittemore and his family after the deal went south.
According to the suit, Albert Seeno, Jr. threatened to go to the FBI, said "he would personally bring down every member of the political 'machine' in Nevada including references to U.S. Senators," and "that he would bring down any business or friend associated with Mr. Whittemore; and that at Mr. Whittemore's funeral there would not be one person in attendance."
Whittemore also claims that in February, 2011, Albert Seeno, III instructed an employee to tell Whittemore that if the Seenos didn't get their money Albert Seeno III "was going to personally fly to Reno and 'break Harvey's fucking legs.'"
According to Whittemore, the Seenos also "directed their employees to the Whittemores' homes to intimidate them and force them to give up assets, including jewelry, art and automobiles under the continued threat of bodily injury. These unlawful acts took place in excess of 5 times between September, 2010 and January, 2011."
Kent Robison, an attorney for the Seeno's, called the suit "beyond fiction," and "the act of a desperate man doing desperate things," according to the San Jose Mercury News.
Too add to the drama, FBI agents reportedly began issuing around 30 subpoenas this week for a grand jury, following a criminal investigation into whether Whittemore illegally funneled campaign contributions into political races in the state, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week.
Though the FBI would not publicly confirm or deny the existence of the investigation, Review-Journal sources claim that the Feds are looking at whether Whittemore made "conduit contributions" -- which involves using friends, family or employees to make political contributions, then reimbursing them with company money, so as to avoid limits on how much cash one person can give to a campaign.
"Understandably, based on the reckless accusations made in the civil lawsuit filed two weeks ago, law enforcement is requesting information from knowledgeable parties," said Elizabeth Trosper, a spokesperson for the Gordon Silver law firm, which is representing Whittemore.