The North Carolina Real Estate Commission has closed its investigation of Rep. Robert Pittenger and his former real estate firm, a move that comes about two weeks after the U.S. Justice Department ended its own probe of the Charlotte Republican.
Meanwhile, the status of a House Ethics Committee investigation that Pittenger himself requested remains unclear.
Pittenger confirmed in August 2015 that federal investigators began looking at Pittenger Land Investments in the spring of that year. But Jill Westmoreland Rose, the U.S. Attorney in Charlotte, said May 3 her office had ended its investigation without bringing any charges.
The Observer has reported that authorities were examining whether the Charlotte Republican improperly transferred money to his 2012 campaign from his real estate company. Pittenger maintained he had done nothing wrong.
The N.C. Real Estate Commission began its investigation of Pittenger in October 2015 based on a consumer complaint, Janet Thoren, the commission’s general counsel, has previously told the Observer.
In a letter dated Monday, Thoren told Pittenger the commission’s regulatory staff “has decided to take no further action in this matter, and we are closing our file.” Thoren said Thursday she had no further comment.
As for the House Ethics Committee investigation, Pittenger requested the probe in November 2015 in an effort to confirm he was in compliance with House rules. The panel, however, immediately tabled the investigation at the request of the Justice Department.
Asked about the status of the ethics committee investigation this week, Tom Rust, staff director for the committee, and the Justice Department would not comment. Pittenger’s attorney, Ken Bell, also would not comment.
The House Ethics Committee, according to a report in January, had planned to investigate whether Pittenger violated the House code of conduct or any other standard “with respect to allegations that he received compensation for his involvement with a fiduciary business,” referring to PLI.
House rules prevent its members from practicing fiduciary professions that involve managing others’ assets, such as law and real estate, because of potential conflicts of interest. Members of Congress are supposed to be focused on their constituents – not private clients.
To avoid potential conflicts, Pittenger transferred ownership of PLI to his wife, Suzanne, after he was elected in 2012. He has said he has a letter from the ethics committee approving the transfer but has refused to make it public.
Last year, the Pittenger family ended its ties to PLI when it handed management over to South Street Partners, a Charlotte-based real estate investment firm, as part of a settlement with investors. In documents related to the settlement, attorneys for investors raised concerns about undocumented expenses, undisclosed loans and markups applied to land purchases. Suzanne Pittenger has said she believed PLI has “always acted in the best interest” of the company’s investors.