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U.S. Rep. Pittenger’s disclosure sheds light on finances

Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during a town hall meeting in Mooresville on Aug. 11.
Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during a town hall meeting in Mooresville on Aug. 11. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger’s annual financial disclosure filed Thursday shows millions of dollars worth of land and salary from Pittenger Land Investments held by his wife, who took over the company after Pittenger won election to Congress.

Pittenger disclosed earlier this week that the FBI has investigated the Charlotte-based company he founded, which dropped plans to sell all of its land after the FBI probe became public. Pittenger said he has no financial interest or direct role anymore in his namesake company, which is run by his wife, Suzanne Pittenger.

Pittenger has said he doesn’t know what the FBI is investigating, and that he is confident the business has done no wrong.

The financial disclosure, required from each member of Congress, shows the dozens of various limited liability corporations Pittenger Land Investments uses as vehicles for its investments. The company pools money from investors to buy tracts of vacant land, which it later tries to sell to developers.

The values of the land holding companies are listed as wide ranges, as the form requires, not exact values. The holdings could be worth from several million to more than $10 million dollars. They’re listed as being owned by Pittenger’s spouse, Suzanne Pittenger.

“(Pittenger) has no financial interest in those whatsoever,” said spokesman Jamie Bowers.

Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, also listed his spouse’s income from Pittenger Land Investments as over $1 million. The exact amount isn’t specified. In 2012, his last year heading the company, Pittenger disclosed a salary and bonus from the company of almost $3.7 million.

The 2014 financial disclosure also shows a $1 million to $5 million liability owed by Pittenger to the land company, in the form of a note payable. Bowers said that was a result of his divesting his stake in the company in 2012.

“That promissory note is part of that transaction, part of his divestiture of his business and selling it to his wife,” said Bowers.

Pittenger founded the land investment company that bears his name after moving to Charlotte in 1985. Tampa-based Landeavor, a development company, had been in talks to buy all of Pittenger Land Investments’ holdings for the past few months.

The company has struggled to sell properties it has acquired over the years because the land does not have zoning and other approvals that make the parcels ready for development, according to documents and emails obtained by the Observer, as well as interviews.

But investors in Pittenger Land Investments raised questions about the terms of the sale, which they viewed as unfavorable, and the speed with which they were asked to approve the deal. On Tuesday, Suzanne Pittenger told investors in a memo obtained by Observer that the company was suspending its talks with Landeavor because of “significant concerns and confusion” from investors.

In a statement to the Observer, Landeavor said it had moved to break off talks with Pittenger Land Investments.

“Landeavor is not involved nor the target of any investigation. Landeavor is simply a potential buyer of real estate holdings controlled by Pittenger Land Investment,” a company representative wrote. “Now, in light of news reports of an investigation involving PLI, we believe it is best to suspend negotiations with them at this time.”

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo

Rep. Robert Pittenger’s top aide, campaign veteran, departs

The chief of staff to Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger resigned last month, a spokesman confirmed this week.

Jamie Bowers, Pittenger’s spokesman, confirmed Thursday that Brad Jones, who helped Pittenger with his 2012 transition to Congress and then became his top aide, resigned last month in order to “spend more time with his family.” Bowers emphasized Jones’ departure had nothing to do with the FBI inquiry.

Bowers said he asked Jones twice – when Jones announced he was leaving on July 20 and again this week after reports emerged about the investigation -- whether he was leaving because of the federal inquiry.

“He said ‘absolutely not. I’m leaving because I want to spend more time with my family and now is a good time to make the transition,’” Bowers recalled.

Jones did not return calls or emails requesting comment about his resignation. He remained for two weeks to help with the transition, according to Bowers.

Pittenger promoted his deputy chief of staff, Stephen Billy, to take over the office. Billy, 29, grew up in the Charlotte region. He graduated from Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord. His first job was working at the amusement park Carowinds. He attended Rutgers University, where he was president of the young Republicans club. He got his law degree at Widener University School of Law in Delaware.

He has been with Pittenger since the lawmaker took office in 2013. Billy started as a legislative assistant. Franco Ordoñez

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