Politics & Government

Letter: Management change in works at Pittenger real estate firm

Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during Monday night's town hall meeting held in the Chapel of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte August 24.
Congressman Robert Pittenger speaks to the audience during Monday night's town hall meeting held in the Chapel of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte August 24. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Suzanne Pittenger, the wife of U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, is looking for a new manager to oversee the properties held by the family’s real estate business, according to a letter sent to investors this week.

Robert Pittenger founded Pittenger Land Investments three decades ago, but transferred the company to Suzanne Pittenger after he was elected to Congress in 2012 to meet House ethics rules.

Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, confirmed last month that the company is being investigated by the FBI, but has denied any wrongdoing. The Observer has also reported that some investors have been unhappy with the recent performance of the company.

Suzanne Pittenger has begun the process of finding “a new and well-qualified real estate developer” to succeed her as administrative manager, according to a letter signed by some of the company’s investors, including state Sen. Bob Rucho and former Gov. Jim Martin, both Republicans.

Since its start 30 years ago, PLI has gathered hundreds of investors to purchase raw tracts of land. The company’s goal is to make a profit for investors and the company by later selling the land to developers at a higher price. Investors in some deals say they have made money, but others say they are frustrated because the land hasn’t been sold after years of waiting.

PLI sent the letter signed by Rucho and Martin to its investors in an email this week. The group that signed the letter had met with Suzanne Pittenger about the company’s future plans, the letter says.

A new manager “would be appropriately motivated to maximize the values of all PLI properties for resale at the highest market price,” the letter says. Suzanne Pittenger did not respond to a request for comment.

Last week, a lawyer and a CPA in Greensboro representing trusts that invested in Pittenger properties raised questions about the accounting and recordkeeping at PLI. They also suggested a change in management might be needed and said they were working to set up a meeting for investors.

The letter signed by Rucho and Martin discouraged investors from having their own meetings, saying it could “provoke angry divisions among members and make it more difficult to hire an experienced, independent manager.”

Mike Wenig, a lawyer working with the trusts, said he had no comment on the letter.

PLI investor David Woltz, a St. Louis marketing consultant, said he backs a change in management, but said the new manager should be chosen by a board of directors composed of investors. He has started a blog for fellow investors at rawlandinvestor.wordpress.com/author/rawlandinvestor.

“A new management company is needed, and it needs to be overseen by a board of advisers (composed) of investors,” said Woltz, who has investments in about a dozen PLI properties.

Woltz, in a blog post Thursday, also said an investor board of directors should hire a law firm to look into the way PLI marked up the price of the land it sold to its investors. The Observer reported last month that some investors were surprised by these markups. Robert Pittenger has said they were standard practice and fully disclosed.

The Observer reported Sunday that the FBI and IRS were investigating whether Robert Pittenger improperly transferred money from Pittenger Land Investments for his 2012 campaign. Pittenger has said he worked with “knowledgeable attorneys and accountants” in all aspects of funding his campaign and that he has provided all information requested by authorities.

U.S. House leadership is aware of the federal investigation. During a press conference with reporters, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday that Pittenger told him of the FBI investigation “some time ago,” but that he did not know any additional details.

Franco Ordoñez contributed.

Rick Rothacker: 704-358-5170, @rickrothacker