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Feds close 2-year probe of Rep. Pittenger’s former company; no charges filed

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger talks as he holds a town hall on WBT radio last month.
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger talks as he holds a town hall on WBT radio last month. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Federal authorities have closed their nearly two-year investigation into U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger’s former real estate business, U.S. attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said Wednesday evening.

Pittenger confirmed in August 2015 that federal investigators began looking at Pittenger Land Investments in the spring of that year. But he said he was confident that he and the company he once owned had done nothing wrong. The Observer has reported that authorities were examining whether Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican elected to a third term in November, improperly transferred money to his 2012 campaign from his real estate company.

Rose would not elaborate Wednesday beyond saying the investigation was closed and no charges would be filed.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Pittenger said: “Suzanne and I are grateful to learn that the two year investigation by the U.S. Attorney is closed. We have lived lives of integrity and are grateful to have this behind us. We respect the professionalism of the government in this thorough investigation. I want to thank those who stood beside me during this time, and look forward to continuing to represent the good people of the 9th Congressional District.”

As part of the investigation, FBI and IRS agents interviewed investors, congressional staffers and other people familiar with Pittenger's role at the company, sources have told the Observer. Multiple witnesses appeared in January before a federal grand jury at the federal courthouse in Charlotte to answer questions related to the company, two sources said. Officials from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Charlotte and the Justice Department in Washington were on hand for the session.

Pittenger started his real estate company in 1985. Over the years, Pittenger Land Investments gathered investors to buy raw land with the objective of later selling the properties to developers at a higher price. The individual property investments were held in limited liability companies, or LLCs.

After he was elected to Congress in 2012, Pittenger transferred ownership to his wife, Suzanne, to meet House ethics rules.

Last year, the Pittenger family ended its ties to the company 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.

Pittenger won a third term in November, winning 58 percent of the vote against Democrat Christian Cano. In the campaign, he highlighted his membership on the House Financial Services Committee and his leadership of a congressional task force formed to investigate terrorism financing.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS

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