Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ryun's Sweetheart Deal from DeLay Front Group

Paul Kiel of TPM Muckraker reports that Topeka Congressman Jim Ryun bought a Washington DC townhouse in 2000 at substantially under market value from a lobby closely connected with indicted Congressman Tom DeLay and corrupt GOP lobbyist Jack Abramaoff

D.C. property records show that the townhouse was sold to Ryun for $410,000 on December 15, 2000. According to the Post, the USFN (US Family Network) purchased the townhouse for $429,000; the deed was signed January 12, 1999.

“Property sold to a member of Congress at substantially under market value can, in some instances, be construed as a de facto gift. In this case, that would be from the Buckham-controlled and Abramoff-client-funded front group USFN to Rep. Ryun,” writes Kiel

Naomi Seligman of CREW told TPMmuckraker.com that Ryun's house deal should prompt a House Ethics Committee investigation. "Who else in America has lost money on a real estate transaction except [Cunningham contractor felon] Mitchell Wade?"

U.S. Family Network (USFN)has been described as a "slush fund" for funds from special interests to DeLay projects.

Founded as a non profit in 1996 by Edwin Buckham, the USFN claimed to be a conservative grassroots lobbying organization created to promote "economic growth and prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and the general well-being of the United States." But its donor list suggests otherwise. Nearly the entire organization was funded by a few corporate and special interests that had no incentive to promote the USFN's purported goals. Most were also clients of Jack Abramoff.

Update #1 from TPM Muckraker

Don Boucher, an appraiser who focuses on residential properties in the D.C. area, said that the property should have appreciated “about 15% or more during that time period, meaning that it would have sold around $500,000.

Another appraiser, who preferred to remain anonymous because he often works with members of Congress, said that the townhouse should have appreciated "by $100,000 at least." He said the low sale price "wouldn't make sense at all unless there was a fire and the place was gutted." He added, "It looks like they gave it away."

There's also a question of whether the house was ever actually formally put on the market as opposed to being sold to the Ryun's in a private sale.

Update # 2 from Thoughts from Kansas

Using data from the US Government, we find that, given what was happening in the DC housing market, a house bought for $429,000 in Q1 of 1999 would have appreciated to about $530,000 by Q4 of 2000. That matches the intuition of DC area assessors.

By that standard, the house could have been worth as much as $1.2 million by the end of 2005. The DC assessor's office tallied it as worth about $920,000 for 2007 tax purposes.

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