As we read the increasingly convoluted and disturbing stories about embattled Reno developer/lobbyist Harvey Whittemore, few local readers are aware of Whittemore's rather extensive ties to Carson City.
Whittemore is named after his maternal grandfather, the Rev. John L. Harvey, a Carson City pioneer who was the prominent pastor of the local Presbyterian Church for many years. About five years ago, Whittemore led the campaign to build John L. Harvey Field, a state-of-the-art baseball facility at Western Nevada College, where his son D.J. coaches WNC's baseball team. Harvey's father, Robert Whittemore, taught at Carson High School alongside my late friend, legendary English teacher Grace Bordewich.
News stories have detailed Whittemore's nasty battle with Bay Area home builders Albert and Tom Seeno, who were his partners in the sprawling Wingfield Springs development northeast of Reno and the Coyote Springs development in Southern Nevada. The huge projects stalled, however, resulting in charges and counter-charges between Whittemore and the Seeno brothers, who also own a piece of the Peppermill Hotel-Casino in Reno.
In January, the Seenos sued Whittemore, claiming that he had embezzled millions of dollars from the Wingfield Nevada Group Holding Co. Whittemore retaliated by filing a $180 million federal lawsuit against the Seenos, accusing them of racketeering, extortion, fraud and making death threats against him and his family. Whittemore also alleged that the Seeno brothers have mob connections that are under investigation by the FBI and the IRS.
At the same time, Whittemore is being investigated by the Feds for possible illegal campaign contributions to Nevada's congressional delegation and other politicians. According to news reports, federal investigators are focusing on $117,300 worth of donations made to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., by Whittemore and his associates on March 31, 2007.
"That's an unusually high amount of money coming from 23 people who list addresses ... from Las Vegas to Reno," said a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics.
Reid immediately distanced himself from Whittemore by announcing that he would donate the Whittemore windfall to charity. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and two Las Vegas Democrats, Rep. Shelly Berkeley and former Rep. Dina Titus, quickly followed suit.
"We believe it's the right thing to do," said a spokesman for Heller, who received $27,600 from Whittemore. Good decision, Dean.
For many years Whittemore was Mr. Big among lobbyists at the Nevada Legislature. Martha Bellisle of the Reno Gazette-Journal recently wrote that "he schmoozed, bullied and sweet-talked his way through the Legislature representing old-guard casino owners, tobacco companies and other top-dollar clients" on behalf of Las Vegas-based Lionel, Sawyer & Collins, Nevada's most influential and powerful law firm. But today, because of his costly clash with the Seeno brothers, Whittemore is operating out of a one-man law office in downtown Reno.
The Harvey Whittemore story is a tale of ambition, hubris and overreaching, but no one knows how it will end. Meanwhile, we can count on a proliferation of wild charges and sordid stories about multi-million dollar conspiracies and political influence peddling.
• Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, has followed Nevada politics for nearly 50 years.