Monday, April 02, 2007

Miller, Developer Too Cozy? (SB Sun 021507) Congressman's Proposals for 2005 bill would have aided Lewis Corp.

Miller, developer too cozy?
Congressman's proposals for 2005 bill would have aided Lewis Corp.
Fred Ortega and Gary Scott, Staff Writers
Article Launched: 02/15/2007 12:00:00 AM PST

In the first months of 2005, Rep. Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar, recommended three provisions be added to a major transportation bill moving through the House of Representatives.
The three provisions had one common thread: They all would have benefited projects proposed by one of the Southland's biggest real estate developers, Lewis Operating Corp.

In those same early months, Miller took $8,100 in campaign contributions from top executives at Lewis Operating Corp. for his upcoming re-election bid. Miller ran unopposed.

The year before, Miller bought land from Lewis as a way to shelter millions of dollars in profits from an earlier Monrovia land deal.

The FBI has contacted officials in Monrovia and Fontana over Miller's land sales in those cities.

Miller maintains he has acted above board and within legal and ethical boundaries in both his business and political dealings. In an interview earlier this month, Miller said he should have avoided "joint ventures" with any company he had taken contributions from because it is "not worth being questioned."

Randall Lewis, executive vice president of Lewis Operating Corp., said in an e-mailed statement that his company's relationship with

Miller is both proper and ethical.
"Lewis Group is committed to acting according to the highest ethical standards," he said. "Our company is proud of its long record of community involvement, which includes both charitable and political contributions. For three generations, Lewis Group has set the standard for our industry and will continue to do so for many generations to come."

In February 2005, Miller requested $1.7million in federal funds for street improvements next to a former state reform school in Whittier, less than a year after the City Council there selected Lewis Operating Corp. as part of a team to redevelop the facility. That same year, the congressman secured $1.28million for upgrades next to a planned housing and retail development he co-owned with Lewis Operating Corp. in Diamond Bar.

Miller sold his Diamond Bar properties in August 2005 for between $1million and $5.5million, according to federal financial disclosure statements. Also in 2005, Miller promoted legislation that led to the closure of Rialto Municipal Airport, which the Lewis company is also slated to redevelop.

Miller inserted language for all three projects in the $286billion federal omnibus transportation bill then making its way through Congress.

Miller, whose 42nd District includes Whittier, Rowland Heights, Diamond Bar, La Habra, La Habra Heights, Chino and Chino Hills, served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee at the time.

The Lewis Operating Corp. plan to develop the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility in Whittier eventually fell through, and the airport-closure bill was rewritten by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands.

"It is understandable for a congressman to try to steer federal funds to his district," said Ned Wigglesworth, a policy advocate with California Common Cause, which first raised concerns about Miller's earmarks for the Diamond Bar improvements in 2005. "But when those actions financially benefit the congressman's business partner and campaign donor, it raises questions about the integrity of the decisions made in the appropriations process."

A year before Miller worked on the Whittier and Rialto bills, he purchased several properties from Lewis Operating Corp. in Fontana. The deals allowed Miller to shield millions in potential capital gains taxes from a land sale he made in 2002 in Monrovia.

Miller said he went to Lewis company officials and asked if the company had any property he could buy. The company offered several parcels it had planned to sell to the city of Fontana. Miller bought them in 2004 and later sold them to the city himself for a small profit.

The Lewis company was Miller's third largest contributor in the 2004 congressional election, donating $10,000 to his campaign. The top contributor was Lytle Development, at $13,998, followed by the National Association of Mortgage Brokers at $10,400. Miller faced only token opposition.

Miller has denied any wrongdoing in the sale of his Monrovia and Fontana properties, and he said his work on legislation involving the Rialto airport and the Diamond Bar street improvements was initiated at the request of those cities.

Miller spokesman Scott Toussaint denied the congressman ever requested federal money for Whittier Boulevard improvements. City Manager Stephen Helvey sent a letter to Miller in March 2004 that asked the congressman to help secure $1.5million in federal funds for Whittier Boulevard improvements.

A group of developers that included the Lewis company was selected to develop the Nelles property two months later.

Helvey and former Miller spokesman Kevin McKee said in March 2005 that the congressman had included a request for $1.7million for the improvements in the federal transportation bill. The money was to go to improve traffic flow and buy blighted property along the western portion of the boulevard, near Nelles, Helvey said.

The relationship between the Lewis group and Miller does not appear to have played a role in the city's decision to have the company and its partners develop the reform school property, according to Whittier council members.

While Whittier officials insist no nexus existed between Miller and the Nelles development deal, Rialto officials have acknowledged that politics played a key role in the Rialto airport deal.

Hillwood Development Corp. - founded by H. Ross Perot Jr. - teamed with Lewis Operating Corp. to develop the Rialto airport land. They were selected in part for their connections in government, said Rialto City Administrator Henry Garcia.

Garcia said the city needed to find developers that could help get the airport closed, since the Federal Aviation Administration had already turned down Rialto's request to shut it down.

Miller said he met with Lewis company and Rialto officials before working on legislation that would eventually allow the closure of the airport.

He said his involvement was solely at the request of Rialto officials, even though Rialto is not in his district.

"In 1985 I did the biggest development project constructed until then in Rialto, and the city was very good to work with," Miller said. "So when they called me to help them out, I did. I never asked anyone to do anything for Lewis."

Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman, said it is practically unheard of for an airport to be closed down through legislation.

Miller's brushes with conflict-of-interest allegations date to his days as a Diamond Bar City Council member.

In 1992, the state Fair Political Practices Commission fined then-Covina Councilman Christopher Lancaster $1,750 for voting on a resolution that would have allowed Covina to annex 52 acres of unincorporated land. Miller, who held an option to buy the property, had paid Lancaster $8,000 to work on his failed campaign for the state Senate less than a year earlier.

Lancaster, now an advertising executive based at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, said he approached Miller with the resolution to annex the property. Covina never annexed the property, and Miller never exercised his option on the land.

Staff Writer Jason Pesick contributed to this story.

BS Ranch Perspective:

Miller has his hands in too much development, and his name is not really mentioned on to much in Rialto, yet for him to have got the City of Rialto out from under the Federal Government and not get anything in return is like a Fly landing on Dog Poop and not getting any benefit of the Smell!!

Even when the deal was struck back two years ago, Council Member Ed Scott said that Miller had the right to Develop the Airport Land using Miller's Development Company. That was the answer to the question to when the Development of the Airport Property was going to go up for Bid! Scott said that it wasn't, it simply was going to be Developed by Miller's, and Lewis''s Development Companies to repay so to speak for the great work that they did for the City of Rialto in getting them out from under the Financial burden that they were under with the Federal Government!

Miller in this Deal also should be Investigated as part of the other deal that he is being Investigated for now! He is dirty dirty dirty. I can see the dirt on his face nose and ears!!

BS Ranch

PS: MONEY TRUMPS ALL PROBLEMS, if Miller is breaking the law, yet the pockets are being lined with money, and they City is being paid back with money, like they plan or estimated to be, then there will be nothing done about the whole thing even if someone broke the law!! MONEY trumps ALL PROBLEMS. That is why the Immigration problem is such a dilemma. because even though the border is a problem with our Security, it is this, and the President of the United States even said this. Money Trumps Peace!!


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