Burke: Whittemore should receive presidential pardon for trusting Reid


‘Tis the season, the season for presidential pardons.

Sometime between the start of 2017 and leaving office in January President Barack Obama will grant presidential pardons. Some deserved, some not so much. One person President Obama should pardon, but won’t, is longtime Nevada resident Harvey Whittemore.

Harvey was a Nevada success story, born in the state capital of Carson City; he attended the University of Nevada, and received his law degree from Arizona’s Sandra Day O’Connell School of Law. Whittemore’s first experience with politics was the 1978 Nevada gubernatorial race in which he established contacts in the Nevada political scene. He was hired by the law firm Lionel Sawyer &Collins as a lobbyist, where he advanced to a senior partnership.

Harvey was influential in Nevada politics. He was also very involved in the Northern Nevada community and could often be found at local charity fundraisers. Harvey, along with his wife Annette, were well known Wolfpack Boosters and would attend every home football game with family and friends.

But Harvey made a few mistakes along the way, in particular, one mistake that would prove to be fatal to his career. Whittemore counted on U.S. Sen. Harry Reid to be a trustworthy friend. Harvey was a deal maker and power broker but was looking to add to his business interests. As his influence grew and his business interests expanded he turned his attention to real estate development. He undertook the development of Coyote Springs, a massive project north of Las Vegas near the intersection of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 93.

The development was slated to include 160,000 homes, twelve golf courses and several hotel-casinos. Its total cost to develop has been estimated at around $30 billion. Whittemore had obtained land in the Coyote Springs Valley from a private owner but was unable to acquire all of the land or build on what he owned because of regulatory obstacles. He used his influence to obtain the necessary permits but still had a couple of major obstacles with the EPA.

Harvey turned to his longtime friend for help, Reid, who was able to use his political clout to remove the obstacles for Coyote Springs so development could move forward.

Then in 2012 something went terribly wrong. A grand jury convened in late February 2012 to investigate alleged illegal campaign contributions by Whittemore to Harry Reid’s re-election campaign in 2007. Whittemore, his wife, and his company had contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Reid’s election campaigns, and to Reid’s leadership fund, which was used to aid Reid’s allies and is said to have helped Reid attain his leadership position.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Whittemore had promised money to Reid, and in order to conceal his involvement wrote checks to family members and 29 of his employees or their family members, who then contributed the maximum allowable amount to Reid.

It was in retrospect, a classic “cash for favor” deal between Whittemore and Reid. Something that has been done too many times in politics but essentially was how business was done in Washington. But when someone in the Justice Department decided to make Whittemore an example of wrongdoing, Reid was nowhere to be found.

Reid showed his true character to his longtime friend by distancing himself from Harvey and claiming he had no idea that Whittemore had made the contributions. Really?

Harvey had made a major mistake but what he did with Reid had been done countless times by politicians, lobbyists, and special interest groups in Washington. It was how politics was done at that time and Whittemore had played by the rules as they had been laid out to him. Harvey paid the price for trusting his “friend” Harry by serving 21 months in federal prison for illegal contributions to Reid.

Did anything happen to Reid? No.

Harvey Whittemore should be pardoned for trusting Harry Reid. President Obama won’t because Reid was his crony in the Senate but perhaps President Donald Trump will.

President Trump has no use for Senator Reid and would probably enjoy righting this wrong.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident.