Monday, November 27, 2006

CREW Sends Letter To DOJ Urging Investigation Into Speaker Hastert's Land Deal


WASHINGTON - November 27 - Earlier today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill. pictured left) violated the law by inserting an earmark into the 2005 Highway Bill that earned him a 500 percent profit on a lucrative land deal.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, in August 2002, Hastert purchased 179 acres of land, inaccessible by road, in Kendall County, Ill. for $925,000 or $5,200 per acre. Then, in February 2004, Hastert formed a real estate trust with two other land buyers and purchased 69 acres of land adjacent to the original parcel at a cost of $1,033,000 or $15,000 per acre. The trust's 69 acres was then joined with 69 acres of Hastert's land.

The land purchased by the trust was more valuable than Hastert's property because it was accessible by road.

In the summer of 2005, the Federal Highway Bill was enacted containing a $207 million earmark inserted by Hastert for construction of the Prairie Parkway. While the earmark was sufficient only to build about one-third of the entire 36 mile parkway, the language of the legislation mandated that construction take place on the portion of the parkway nearest to Hastert's property.

As reported in The New Republic, four months after the bill was signed into law, the trust's 138 acres was sold to a developer for $4,989,000 or $36,152 an acre. The partners apportioned the proceeds of the sale according to the acreage each had contributed. Thus, Hastert was credited with 62 percent ownership on the supposition that his $5,200 per acre land was equal in value to the partnership's $15,000 per acre land with the result that he received $3,118,000 of the proceeds. While Hastert's partners each made a 144 percent profit on their investment, Hastert's profit was 500 percent of his original investment.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, stated, "Speaker Hastert's use of the earmarking process to increase his own property value is an egregious abuse of his legislative authority. The Department of Justice should immediately investigate this sweetheart deal."

Sloan continued, "Congressional leaders have promised that the first order of business in January will be to enact ethics legislation. Any reform package must include a provision prohibiting members from inserting earmarks for their own personal financial benefit."

The request for investigation and supporting documents are available at CREW's Web site.

Hastert was included in the watch list of CREW's September 2006 report, "Beyond DeLay: The 20 most corrupt members of Congress (and five to watch)."

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