Conservative watchdog wants Senate Ethics to look into Manchin investments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A nonpartisan ethics watchdog organization founded by conservatives is asking the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Senator Joe Manchin over an investment group involved with defaulting hotels in northern West Virginia.

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust sent a letter today to the Ethics Committee. FACT files complaints against both Democrats and Republicans, often over campaign finance issues.

“We write today to request that the Senate Select Committee on Ethics investigate Senator Joe Manchin for not complying with the financial disclosure requirements related to his interest in AA Properties, a non-public asset, and its underlying assets for the years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016,” wrote Kendra Arnold
executive director of the Foundation for Accountability & Civic Trust.

MORE: Read the letter to the Senate Ethics Committee.

Attached to the letter were several stories by West Virginia MetroNews and The Charleston Gazette-Mail looking into the investments at hotels in Morgantown, Clarksburg and Elkins.

Each of the hotels has been through both bankruptcy and lawsuits. The state of West Virginia is making a legal effort to gain hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes that were collected by the hotels but not passed on to the state.

Monongalia and Harrison county governments also have been trying to collect thousands of dollars in taxes that were collected but not paid.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin

Manchin and his longtime aide, Larry Puccio, were listed among the borrowers in the original $15,470,000 loan for Hilton Garden Inn Morgantown at Sun Crest Town Center that is now going bad.

The two also were listed as original investors in the case of default over a $19,630,000 loan on hotels in Clarksburg and Elkins.

Both hotel investments share developer William Abruzzino as a top officer. In both cases, Abruzzino signed a multi-million dollar loan document.

And in both cases, Manchin and Puccio were listed as investors through their partnership in AA Properties.

AA is listed in the original, 2012 loan document as a 12-percent investor in Mountain West. Manchin and Puccio are listed as 50-50 investors in AA.

“Since his election in 2010, Senator Manchin has listed AA Properties as a non-public asset on his
Personal Financial Disclosure, while at the same time willfully refusing to disclose required details
about the underlying assets and debts of AA Properties,” FACT wrote.

“Instead, Senator Manchin has profited from AA Properties while repeatedly failing to tell his constituents about the nature and origin of those profits.”

A document in the bankruptcy filing for Mountain Blue Hotel Group, the organization with the Morgantown hotel, had an updated list of investors that did not include Puccio or Manchin. No such document was filed in the case of the Clarksburg and Elkins hotels.

No one has ever clarified when Manchin and Puccio got out of the hotel investment or under what circumstances.

Larry Puccio

Puccio has said the two did nothing wrong and that their private investments are nobody else’s business but their own.

Manchin has said he is unaware of the details of the investment, saying it is part of his blind trust.

“Nobody has alleged that AA did anything wrong,” Steve Ruby, a lawyer for Manchin, has said about the hotel investment. “They were only named for technical reasons having to do with federal jurisdiction, and even that was erroneous.”

FACT contends a mere listing of AA on Manchin’s Senate ethics disclosure is inadequate. The organization also contends it doesn’t matter specifically whether AA has invested in the hotels, but that he should better describe what the investment group does own.

“Whether AA Properties has an interest in the assets reported in the media or not, Senate rules require Senator Manchin to provide a description of AA Properties’ underlying assets. Failure to file this required information for at least six years is a serious violation,” FACT wrote.

Manchin’s Senate financial disclosures say he had $50,001 to $100,000 invested in AA in 2016, with earnings of $11,200.18.

Previous reports show the AA partnership earned Manchin $11,000 in 2015, $11,454.52 for 2014, $15,000 for 2013 and $12,966 in 2012.

FACT contends the public needs to know more.

“A full and detailed public disclosure that complies with the specific disclosure requirements is necessary for voters to evaluate a Senator’s conduct with full knowledge of his financial interests,”  the organization wrote.

“A Senator who fails to provide a full and proper disclosure, or refuses to do so, denies West Virginia voters the information they deserve and need to evaluate the Senator’s conduct.”

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