Rep. Robert Pittenger reiterated Monday that he won’t release a letter from the House Ethics Committee that he said approves of the sale of his real estate company to his wife before taking a seat in Congress.
Pittenger confirmed earlier this month that the FBI is investigating Pittenger Land Investments. The Charlotte Republican has said he is confident that he and the company have done nothing wrong.
These types of letters are traditionally a “commitment” between the ethics committee and the member of Congress, Pittenger said in response to a question at a town hall meeting in south Charlotte.
Pittenger added that such letters contain “personal matters” and advised the questioner “to reserve judgment to a bipartisan ethics committee ... who make those decisions.”
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Pittenger started PLI in 1985. House of Representatives rules, though, prohibit members of Congress from engaging in fiduciary professions that involve managing others’ assets, including law and real estate, because of likely conflicts of interest. Pittenger sold the business to his wife, Suzanne Pittenger, before taking federal office in 2013.
Although the committee’s advisory work is usually confidential, no rule prevents members of Congress from releasing such letters. Other lawmakers have done so in the past when questions were raised about their connections.
The Observer reported on Sunday that a Pittenger-related matter came before a federal grand jury impaneled in March. Federal grand juries typically sit for 18 months as an investigative body that can decide on indictments. The focus of the investigation is not clear. Charlotte’s Acting U.S. Attorney, Jill Westmoreland Rose, declined to comment; the FBI neither confirms nor denies investigations.
“I have lived a life of integrity,” Pittenger said at the town hall meeting, referring to the FBI investigation. “I’ve done the right thing. There were questions that were asked, and we gladly provided all information that they wanted. We will continue to do that. I feel very confident in that outcome.”
PLI gathers investors to buy raw tracts of land, with the goal of later selling the properties to developers for a profit. Some investors have told the Observer that they have been unhappy with the slow pace of land sales in recent years, as investors continue to pay annual bills for taxes and administrative fees. The company this year stopped making new investments and has hired a real estate firm to help sell existing properties.
The Observer also reported Sunday that some investors were surprised to find that Pittenger’s company bought properties at a lower price and then on the same day sold them to the investors at a higher price. Suzanne Pittenger told the Observer that these mark-ups were standard industry practice to offset fees and expenses, and that the assessments were properly disclosed.
Pittenger spent most of Monday’s meeting taking questions on foreign policy and congressional issues from constituents. He declined to take questions from a reporter after the meeting.