The U.S. Justice Department closed its long-running investigation of Rep. Robert Pittenger’s former real estate business this month, but the fate of two other probes 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.
In November 2015, Pittenger asked the House Ethics Committee to conduct its own investigation 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 Tom Rust, staff director for the committee, and the Justice Department would not comment. Pittenger’s attorney, Ken Bell, also would not comment.
Meanwhile, the N.C. Real Estate Commission began an investigation of Pittenger in October 2015 based on a consumer complaint, Janet Thoren, the commission’s general counsel, has previously told the Observer. She could not be reached for comment this week.
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.
The 10-member Ethics Committee is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Republican Susan Brooks of Indiana is the chairwoman; Democrat Ted Deutsch of Florida is the ranking member.
The two-year Justice Department investigation spanned two presidential administrations, starting under Democratic President Barack Obama and coming to a conclusion less than four months after Republican President Donald Trump took office.
During the probe, FBI and IRS agents interviewed investors, congressional staffers and other people familiar with Pittenger’s role at PLI, sources have told the Observer. Multiple witnesses appeared before a federal grand jury in Charlotte this year, with representatives of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte participating in these interviews.
Pittenger, elected to a third term in a newly redrawn district in November, said this month he and his wife were grateful the investigation had been closed.
“We have lived lives of integrity and are grateful to have this behind us,” he said in a statement. “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. ”