Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Story So Far

Some of you may be wondering why a group of progressive bloggers would bother to scrutinize a Republican Congressman in one of the reddest districts in California. The reason, simply, is that Gary Miller has betrayed the trust of his constituents and used his office as a means to personally benefit himself and his business. We feel that no voter should be left behind, and that the people of the 42nd district deserve to have a Representative who has a a greater belief in public service than simply being a cash cow.

So I'm going to reprint, with slight edits, a bunch of stories I've written at my site about Miller since he first caught my attention late last year.

ACT I: The Monrovia Deal

Throughout 2006, the LA Times documented the sordid dealings of Rep. Gary Miller. Miller, a developer, bought property in Monrovia which he claimed the city took from him through eminent domain (which they didn't, he just said that so he could shield the $10 million sale from capital gains taxes), paid himself $25,000 in rent from his campaign funds to run a re-election office on the site, even though he was running unopposed, and tried to appoint a Monrovia city councilman to the National Park Service Advisory Board as a kind of bribe to get the city to buy that property.

This led to yet another member of our distinguished House GOP delegation here in California becoming the subject of an FBI investigation:

Following reports and complaints of fishy land deals, the Feds have been investigating Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA), making him the 20th member of the 109th Congress to fall under federal scrutiny.

Miller, a real estate developer by trade, came to the attention of the FBI when a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group complained last summer that the congressman hadn't paid taxes on two land deals he was involved in, The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reports.

In February 2007 Miller dismissed but did not deny that he was under FBI investigation.

Miller said repeatedly that he has always followed legal and ethical guidelines in his real estate deals. He accused both a partisan media and local Democratic officials of impugning his character without regard to fact.

"My reputation is being destroyed," said Miller, 58. "If there is some benefit to me in being a congressman in any of these transactions, please show it to me."

OK, that would be the fact that you sold 165 acres of property in Monrovia and never paid taxes on it. And apparently, there's video of you asking the Monrovia City Council in 2000 to buy the land, when you claimed that the City Council forced you to sell it. In fact, here it is:

That good enough for ya?

ACT II: More Trouble in Rancho Cucamonga

Well, judging from this story from last Christmas Eve in the LA Times, the Monrovia deal was just a warmup compared to his later ones.

You should really go read it in full to appreciate what kind of a slimeball Rep. Miller is, but I'll summarize the highlights (or lowlights). It's almost comical in terms of its cruelty and greediness.

In addition to the Monrovia property, Miller bought some farmland in the foothills around Rancho Cucamonga. It used to be a place where locals would go to chop down Christmas trees for their families. Miller locked up the gate to the farm, and made plans to turn the whole area into a development of 110 McMansions (all 4,000 to 7,000 square feet), which would entail KNOCKING DOWN AN ENTIRE SECTION OF THE HILLSIDE and building a plateau on which to build. You can't even build that many homes in this area, but Miller is trying to get Rancho Cucamonga's municipal government to change the rules for him. This is wildfire country, and any family who would buy a home in this place would be in an incredible amount of danger.

The plan calls for homes ranging in size from 4,000 to 7,000 square feet and in price from $1.6 million to $4 million. With a change in rules, Miller would be able to increase the number of homes allowed by about two-thirds.

"He's talking about cutting off the top of the hillside, covering up a waterfall and moving 1.7 million cubic yards of dirt," said Sandra Maggard, who has a view of the waterfall from her house. "The rules don't allow it, so he's going to get the city to change the rules. Who can fight someone as big as he is?"

She and other opponents of the project have three main concerns.

First, they argue that altering the hillside to that extent will mar its natural beauty and drive out deer, bighorn sheep and other wildlife. They worry that blocking a waterfall and making other changes to the contours of the land will destabilize the hillside and lead to a mudslide. And they fear that the one access road to the property could become jammed if a mudslide or fire occurred, despite assurances by Miller that the plan would include a second emergency access road.

So he's proposing what amounts to a death trap, and tearing down a local landmark (the tree farm) to do it. Some preservationists are trying to get environmental groups to pool some money together to buy Miller out. But here's the thing; there is suspicion that Miller is proposing the worst possible kind of development ON PURPOSE so he can get just such a payout. And there's precedent from Miller for this kind of maneuver.

Residents who live nearby say that Miller is trying to force the city to buy his land by raising the specter of a development that would make the hillside unsafe and unsightly.

"You don't have to be an environmentalist to be angry about this project," said Frank Schiavone, a freelance grant writer for public lands projects. "He has no intention of building on this land. He's deliberately made this project so distasteful that people are bound to push the city to buy it from him. That's what Monrovia did."

Miller's game plan, Schiavone and other critics said, is similar to one he successfully used four years ago in Monrovia, about 25 miles west on the 210 Freeway, where a plan for hillside development met with fierce local opposition. Ultimately, Monrovia citizens voted to tax themselves to buy the property from Miller and preserve it as open space.

How sick is that? Blackmailing municipalities into buying him out of property by threatening to build eyesores and deathtraps on it? And then, falsely claiming that the property was sold through eminent domain so he can build an enormous tax shelter for his windfall?

But you don't have an appreciation for what a shitbag this guy is until you read about how he acquired this property in Rancho Cucamonga in the first place, preying on a family's grief and outright lying about his intentions:

Miller bought the land from Joe and Charlotte Carrari, siblings who had inherited the land from their parents. The Carraris were asking for $3 million.

The Carraris declined to comment, saying that they had signed a confidentiality agreement with Miller.

Charlotte Carrari's daughter, Maria Fernandez, said that Miller told her mother and uncle that he would build a $1-million bridge spanning a drainage ditch on the property and name it after their brother, Barnard Carrari, who had just died, if they would lower their price by $1 million. Still grieving, Fernandez said, they agreed and sold him the land for about $2 million.

Five months later, Miller reported on his congressional financial disclosure statement that the land was worth at least $5 million.

Miller initially told the Carraris he was only going to make modest adjustments to the land and build about 30 homes, Fernandez said. When the family saw his plans for 110 homes — and no bridge named after Barnard Carrari — they were distraught, she said.

"That farm was a family tradition where people went up there and made a day of it," Fernandez said. "And when he broke his word and didn't do all the things he said he would, it just broke our hearts."

There are MORE disgusting revelations in the story, but really, you should take a look for yourself. This guy is not just an example of the culture of corruption in Washington, he's freakin' Mr. Potter.

ACT III: Miller Fights Back

Miller's lawyers have been busy trying to intimidate local governments:

On Thursday, Miller's attorneys served the city of Monrovia with a letter requesting staff "retract or correct any misstatements made to the media or any governmental agencies" with regard to his 2002 sale of 165 acres of hillside land to the city for nearly $11.8 million.

The letter goes on to say that "if misstatements by the city, its officials or staff members persist, then the consequences could result in damages for which the city could be held acountable."

In other words, "I'm a congressman and you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."

The Monrovia planning commissioner had this to say.

Glen Owens, a Monrovia planning commissioner, said Tuesday an FBI agent questioned him about the chain of events that led up to Miller's land sale to the city.

Owens served on a advisory committee with Miller in the 1990s that was formed to come up with a plan for hillside development. He said he believes Miller did not intend to build on his property at the time of the sale.

"He soon realized that he could probably make more money by selling the land than by developing it," said Owens.

He added, "Gary just knows how to work the system and he is not afraid to push the envelope and that is what he's done. But I don't think he has broken any laws. He's just used bad judgment."

OK, so it's bad judgment to improperly file a form that saves you from paying taxes on a $10 million sale? No, it's bad judgment to claim that a city government was trying to force you to sell the land when it was in fact the opposite way around.

(Incidentally, Gary Miller was selected by his peers to be the top Republican on the subcommittee tasked with investigating banks. Just thought I'd bring that to your attention.)

And there's even some quid pro quo in this deal:

Miller used the proceeds from the Monrovia sale to buy property in Fontana from Lewis Operating Corp., a development company he had done business with before and that had contributed significantly to Miller's congressional campaigns.

In 2006, Lewis gave $8,500 to Miller, who ran for re-election unopposed. In 2004, the company gave him $10,000, making it the third largest contributor to his campaign.

Here's the unintentional irony award:

Miller said he ran for Congress in 1998 because he did not like "what government did to the private sector," particularly with the way it regulates development. Miller, who previously served in the state Assembly and on the Diamond Bar City Council, is a successful real estate developer and businessman.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Miller is the 12th wealthiest member of the House, with a net worth of between $12 million and $51.7 million.

In mid-February, Miller was part of an unusual session in the Republican caucus, where he had to defend his actions to the entire group. It was more evidence that the GOP considers Gary Miller's situation a real problem:

Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.) passionately pleaded his innocence before GOP colleagues at a closed-door conference meeting Tuesday, nearly a week after several media outlets reported that the FBI is looking into his land deals.

Miller told colleagues that the press and Democrats had launched a smear campaign against him, singling out The Hill and the Los Angeles Times as perpetrators, as well as a former Democratic mayor of the Southern California city of Monrovia, Lara Larramendi Blakely, who now works for Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.), according to GOP sources.

This is standard Republican scandal deflection, blaming the press and the Democrats for one's own sins. That Miller had to employ this tactic to his fellow colleagues is significant. While they won't say it publicly, clearly the Republican leadership understands that corruption scandals had a major impact on costing them their majority. You're not going to see the leadership line up behind corrupt members.

Meanwhile, Miller was getting only tepid support from Minority Leader John Boehner at this meeting, and with the evidence stacking up against him, he's in danger of graduating to the first step of getting booted out of Congress: losing his committee assignments:

Boehner, however, has not indicated whether he will keep Miller in the top GOP spot on the Finance Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel.

“I really don’t think Boehner was suggesting that the books have been closed on any of the cases members are concerned about,” the source close to Boehner continued. “If anything, he was underscoring the leadership’s commitment to staying on top of these matters.”

That's not exactly a vote of confidence.

But the all-time classic maneuver by Miller was this AP piece, quite possibly the lamest story I've ever read (h/t TPM Muckraker). Start the sappy music... now:

Rep. Gary Miller (news, bio, voting record) grew up poor. Even though he's now worth more than $13 million, he says he's still worried about his family's financial security.

So, while federal authorities investigate some of his real estate transactions, he says he'll keep on making deals.

Thirteen million doesn't go far in this go-go world of ours, you see. I mean, just think, his great-grandchildren might have to GO TO WORK!

There's more, if you can stand it...

Miller, a fifth-term Republican representing conservative inland Southern California, said in an interview that he had put his real estate investment activities on hold upon entering politics, only to find that "I was worth less money every year."

"Some people are arguing I shouldn't have the opportunity to make an investment that every other American citizen has an opportunity to make," he said. "I've got kids, I've got grandkids, and it'd be nice, when I get ready to go, when they're older, if I can help them."

Yes, it'd be nice if they could burn $100 bills to light their cigarettes the way I do. It'd be nice if THEY could have an ice sculpture in the shape of a swan for their 14th birthday. It'd be nice if THEY would need a hand-cart for shopping at Barney's instead of just a small bag. I mean, think of my CHILDREN! They've never known how to not be rich!

Miller makes $165,200 a year sitting in Congress, by the way, so he's not exactly destitute even if he had to sell off his developer business tomorrow. That, and the $13 million in the bank.

Here's one of my other favorite lines from the article, where this guy's defender goes, "Hey, it's not like he broke the law, he just stretched it a bit. Until it broke."

To Miller's defenders, the whole controversy amounts to a bum rap.

"Any good businessman's going to push the envelope from time to time," said Frank Williams, executive officer of the Baldy View Chapter of the Building Industry Association in California. "That's part of dealmaking. It's not illegal."

Shorter Frank Williams: Breaking the law is not illegal.

And then there's the coup de grace:

Miller got into politics, he said, because he wanted to do something about government regulation on businesses...

Yeah, eliminate it.

ACT IV: Miller Becomes a Target

With his formidable resources, clearly Miller is not going to go down without a fight. And it appears that the local GOP will stick with him unless and until he is indicted. But the DCCC, the campaign committee for the House, has Miller on their radar screen:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- looking to cement the Dems' majority in the House -- is eyeing a bunch of GOP-held House districts where the incumbents look ready to retire or run for other offices, today's Roll Call reports. The Dems' expectation is that retirements -- or dissatisfaction with being in the minority -- could cause a wave of GOP defections that will leave behind districts that could then be ripe for a Dem pickup, the paper says.

Among the more than two dozen GOPers Dems are watching:

* Rep. Gary Miller (R-Calif.), who "reportedly is under FBI investigation, which has Democrats dreaming about his Inland Empire-based 42nd district, even though it gave Bush 62 percent of the vote in 2004."

Howie Klein reports that the D-Trip is not like it was when Rahm Emanuel was running the show:

The DCCC under Van Hollen is already looking much more Democratic and much more aggressive. Where Emanuel used discredited Inside-the-Beltway hack consultants to focus on a tiny number of races-- many of which turned out to be astronomically expensive races that Republicans won-- the new DCCC is casting a broader-- and smarter-- net. According to today's Roll Call Van Hollen is looking closely at over 2 dozen Republican-held seats that might be open seats by November '08-- open either due to retirements or indictments. "Given the GOP’s new minority status in the House, Democratic strategists think some veteran Republicans will head into retirement while some younger Members will opt to run for other offices. Democrats also believe that ethics scrapes could force a handful of GOP incumbents from office." [...]

Today was Brandon Hall's first day at the DCCC as Western Regional Director. This guy is smart and a real fighter. I called to congratulate him and all he wanted to do was talk about taking on Ken Calvert and Jerry Lewis, Dave Dreier, Buck McKeon, John Doolittle, Elton Galleghy and Gary Miller. What a dynamo! If Van Hollen hires a whole staff of people like Brandon Hall the DCCC will wind up as useful and productive as the grassroots has always dreamed it would be!

The D-Trip's top-notch Web production and video team used a Freedom of Information Act to obtain the video Miller begging the Monrovia City Council to buy his property. Here that is again.

I can tell you the good news - there IS a movement afoot to have a challenger in this district, unlike in 2006. Miller is not only being watched by the FBI, but by the progressive community, and he will be hard-pressed to escape either.

1 comment:

Andrew Davey said...

Thanks, Dave, for the great summary of where Dirty Gary's at right now. I don't think I could have said it all better. : )