Harvey Whittemore and his wife, Annette, arrive at federal court in Reno for the start of his trial, Tuesday May 14, 2013. U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks began questioning potential jurors for what is expected to be a two-week trial for Whittemore on charges he illegally funneled nearly $150,000 to Sen. Harry Reid’s campaign in 2007. (AP Photo/The Gazette-Journal, Marilyn Newton)
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Potential witnesses in the trial of a former Nevada developer and high-powered lobbyist accused of making illegal campaign contributions to Sen. Harry Reid include Reno Mayor Bob Cashell, former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Rose and a former Republican challenger for the Democratic majority leader’s seat.
U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks began questioning potential jurors Tuesday for what is expected to be a two-week trial for Harvey Whittemore on charges he illegally funneled nearly $150,000 to Reid’s campaign in 2007.
The judge asked the jury prospects if they could impartially weigh the testimony of a number of potential witnesses, including former Nevada GOP chairwoman Sue Lowden, who lost the 2010 Senate primary to Sharron Angle, the tea party-backed Republican whom Harry Reid eventually defeated.
Nevada Mining Association President Tim Crowley, Republican state Assemblyman Ira Hansen of Sparks, and former Democratic state Sen. Bernice Mathews of Sparks also are on the list, along with a number of lobbyists and political consultants.
Reid, who amended his campaign spending reports to the Federal Election Committee as a result of the case but has been accused of no wrongdoing, was not on the list of potential witnesses the judge read in court Tuesday.
But it was not immediately clear if that list included all those who could be called to testify. Aides to Reid did not immediately respond to questions about whether the senator had been subpoenaed or intends to testify at the trial.
A federal grand jury indicted Whittemore last year on four counts: making excessive campaign contributions, making contributions in the name of another, causing a false statement to be made to the Federal Election Commission, and making a false statement to the FBI. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Some of the potential witnesses the judge listed Tuesday were employees at the Wingfield Nevada Group, where Whittemore had a stake in the ownership at the time the contributions were made. He’s accused of using some of those workers, along with family and friends, to contribute to Reid’s campaign with money prosecutors said Whittemore gave them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said Whittemore made a promise to Reid in 2006 to raise $150,000 for him.
“Whittemore sought to make good on that promise by using employees of his real estate development company — Wingfield Nevada Group — as well as his family members and many of their spouses as ‘straw’ or ‘conduit’ donors,” Myhre said in court documents.
“In doing so, the defendant, who was aware of the strict limits on individual contributions, used money from his personal bank account to advance or reimburse the funds used by each conduit so that they could make contributions to the candidate,” Myhre said.
Responding to questions from the judge, none of the potential jurors said they had strong feelings about Reid that would prevent them from being impartial.
Eight who acknowledged they had seen or heard media reports of the case were questioned further in private by the judge and lawyers for both sides, and two were dismissed from the panel, including one who initially said he didn’t think the news reports would sway his decision on whether Whittemore was guilty.
Jury selection was expected to continue Wednesday morning. As of late Tuesday, those still in the pool included a nurse, a casino card dealer, a warehouse worker, a nutritionist, an art teacher, a software engineering manager at a slot machine maker, a retired emergency services manager at a Fallon Hospital, and one man who said he “was a cowboy for a living” before moving from Idaho to Battle Mountain in the 1980s to work at a mine.
Whittemore maintains the money he gave to employees were gifts of appreciation, not reimbursement for their donations to Reid.
His lawyers said in court papers that the recipients knew the gifts were from him personally, not Wingfield Nevada Group, “and although he supported Harry Reid’s re-election and told them so, they were not required by him to use those gifts to contribute to Harry Reid’s campaign, but did so of their own free will,” they said. “It was their money when they made the contributions in their own names.”