Friday, August 11, 2006

Miller's Land Deals Ethically Questionable (OC Register 08112006) A $7.5 Million loan from a contributer and role in closing airport at issue!!!

I knew that there was something fishy in the closure of the Rialto Airport, and somehow I knew the sink would surface soon enough, well it is starting to surface and here it is. It isn't quite the player that I thought that it was, so I must say that the City Leaders wanted to get out of the financial burden of paying for the Airport any further. So they did some Back Door Dealing with him is the way that I see it here in the paper. Ed Scott sure seems to shed the light that it was not Illegal, but it looks like it is the Rich Feeding the Rich to get Richer, I hope that Joe Baca Gets to the Bottom of the Airport there are a great deal of people that live in the Rialto area that love to fly, and would do anything to keep the Airport.


PS: I don't fly, so I don't know if it is better to keep or level the airport, but I can say that if the Deal to close the Airport is dirty that is not right Either!!!...If there is anything Ethically wrong here, then people should be punished, is all I am saying!!

Miller's land deals ethically questionable

A $7.5 million loan from a contributor and role in closing airport at issue.

The Orange County Register

After a long hiatus, Rep. Gary Miller returned to the real estate game in 2003 – and among the land deals, he's finding political controversy.

Key issues are a $7.5 million loan from a major contributor who's also a business partner, and a bill the Republican carried that helped close the Rialto airport – which was then purchased by that contributor, the Lewis Group of Companies.

In a phone interview from his district office in Brea, Miller denied any wrongdoing. Miller is heavily favored for re-election this November in his three-county district, where Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 5-3 margin.

He called the loan "a normal transaction that happens in real estate" because of the difficulty in obtaining bank financing for land that does not have building entitlements. As such, the loan – used to buy land from the Lewis Group in 2005 – should fall outside the provisions of House ethics rules, he said.

Yet those rules state that loans to House members from sources besides financial institutions must be approved by the House ethics committee. A committee staffer said the staff director would not be back in the office till Monday and therefore could not comment.

Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at USC, says the appearance is troubling.

"That raises a significant political red flag," she said. "Why did he ignore that requirement? In politics, perception can be more important than reality. It might have been a mistake, but it's perceived as a cover-up."

Rialto city leaders have been struggling financially with the underused municipal facility for years. In 2004, the city inked an exclusive deal with the Lewis Group, giving the developer first shot at buying it if it were closed.

"We were the ones that chose Lewis, not Gary," said Rialto Councilman Ed Scott.

Unable to get the Federal Aviation Administration's approval to close the facility, Scott said city officials enlisted help from their congressman, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto. Miller said Baca then approached him, because Miller sat on the House transportation committee.

Miller established language in a bill to close the airport – it was later rewritten by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands – and it was approved last August. The Lewis Group now owns the property.

The Lewis Group, besides lending Miller $7.5 million, has given his campaign more than $18,000 since the 2004 election cycle. Did the developer influence the closure?

"The two were not related at all," Miller said.

The three promissory notes from the Lewis Group developers totaled $7.5 million. Miller said most of the money – $6 million – was used to buy land in nearby Fontana from the developer in 2005, which Miller sold to that city this year.

He said he did the deal to reinvest capital gains from an earlier land sale and avoid paying a tax penalty. While he received $50,000 over his purchase price, he said that his profit was $13,000 – the rest going for closing costs. The deal from the outset was that he'd sell the land to Fontana for a minimal profit, he said.

But a nonpartisan campaign watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., notes that without a review of the loan's terms, questions remain.

"The ethical test for a loan to a politician is: Could you or I get a similar deal, or are the terms sweeter because the lender expects more than just interest payments in return? In this case, we don't know whether Congressman Miller's loans stand up to that test," said Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Miller said he virtually stopped his lucrative development business in 1990 to focus on politics. But he never lost the interest in development and says that as "I watched myself get poorer," he decided to jump back in.

Poor, of course, is relative. He is the wealthiest member of the county's congressional delegation, and Roll Call listed him as the 12th-richest member of Congress, pegging his wealth at $19 million.

He plans to continue land development – with one change.

"I'm not doing any more partnerships," he said. "It's not worth the press."

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

No comments: