Harvey Whittemore, the man who conceived the idea of the planned development community at Coyote Springs, was sentenced to more than two years in prison Sept. 30 for funneling more than $130,000 in illegal campaign funds to the Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election campaign in 2007.
In Reno, U.S. District Court Judge Larry Hicks also ordered Whittemore to pay $100,000 in fines for his three felony convictions and serve 100 hours community service upon his release from a yet-to-be named prison that houses white-collar criminals.
Whittemore freely admitted before Judge Hicks he was “arrogant and naive,” “but not greedy.”
The 61-year old former Nevada lobbyist and wealthy developer is to surrender on his own to federal authorities by Jan. 31, 2014.
However, some reports claim there are petitions being circulated to have the conviction appealed or delayed.
Other published reports have labeled Whittemore as a “corrupt Nevada political power broker and legislative bully, an unrepentant crook with a well-conceived and well-executed scheme intended to skirt federal election laws.”
Prosecutors said Whittemore gave money to family members and employees in 2007 to make contributions he had promised to Reid while concealing himself as the true source in order to skirt campaign finance laws.
Sen. Reid has said he was unaware of any potential problems with the money his campaign office received from Whittemore people.
Prosecutors alleged Whittemore hatched the scheme days before the March 31, 2007, campaign contribution deadline without Reid’s knowledge in a desperate attempt to fulfill his promise to the Democrat leader.
In a sometimes tearful, nearly half-hour address to the court at his sentencing, Whittemore said he didn’t know he was breaking any finance laws. “Looking back, it was arrogant and naïve to believe my conduct was lawful, but I cannot change that now. As a lawyer, I gave myself bad advice.”
Prosecutors asked Whittemore be given a sentence at least four years, but defense lawyers argued he should be spared prison time based in part, on his history of extraordinary charitable giving.
“I am not greedy,” Whittemore said in his statement. “I did not do this for greed. I did not do this for power. I did not do it for any reason other than a friend asked me to raise money…I did it in a way that was wrong.”
U.S. Assistant District Attorney Steven Myhre said, “He knew what he was doing was wrong, but did it anyway.”
Whittemore is widely regarded as the most effective lobbyist in Nevada history, a man who gets what he wants, and did in a number cases and projects over the years involving the leaders in the state’s gaming industry, as well as national Big Tobacco interests.
In 1996, Whittemore’s company, Wingfield Nevada Group, bought 42,000 acres in Coyote Springs, mostly in Lincoln County, but some in Clark County. In 2004, he partnered with California-based Thomas Seeno, who bought half the Wingfield Nevada Group company.
The vision was to build up to 150,000 homes, seven separate towns, along with 10 golf courses and a casino or two, even though the valley is 60 miles from Las Vegas and is home to endangered species and sensitive lands and has scarce water resources.
Groundwork at Coyote Springs began in 2005, but stalled in 2008 because of the housing crash and economic recession, with only the main offices and some support buildings, plus the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course being completed. Pardee Homes did complete a number of housing sites, and roads, but no homes have been built there yet.
In mid-2010, Whittemore turned over management rights of the Wingfield Nevada Group to business partner Albert Seeno, Jr. and his family.
In February 2012, Whittemore was involved in a civil litigation suit-countersuit with the Seeno’s, claiming he was falsely accused of fraud and embezzlement involving more than $40 million to support a lavish lifestyle, including spending millions on private jet flights, home improvement projects and entertainment. The suit was settled out of court in Feb. 2013, but terms were not disclosed.
Whittemore has his supporters, columnist John L. Smith wrote recently in the Las Vegas Review Journal. Mostly family members who have given notes of encouragement and support, “but not by all the many politicians he courted and the super-rich swells whose dirty work he carried out with such arrogant zeal.”