- The Washington Times - Monday, October 10, 2011

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s husband, a real estate developer and investment banker, stands to make millions of dollars in a previously undisclosed residential real estate project in California as a partner with the father of a woman Mrs. Pelosi helped become ambassador to Hungary, records show.

Paul F. Pelosi’s investment in Russell Ranch is worth at least $5 million and possibly as much as $25 million in a deal put together by his friend and longtime business associate, Angelo Tsakopoulos, patriarch of a multimillion-dollar real estate development firm, according to Mrs. Pelosi’s latest personal-disclosure statement.

Mr. Pelosi said in an email from his wife’s spokesman that initially he invested between $1 million and $5 million in the project a dozen years ago, although its value has shot up recently as the undeveloped land moves closer to being annexed by a nearby city. He said the Russell Ranch investment had increased in value less than 5 percent per year over the last dozen years.

Despite his involvement in the project dating back to the late 1990s, Mrs. Pelosi first listed the investment in May 2010 on her federal financial-disclosure forms covering the couple’s finances during 2009. The forms are required annually and are supposed to identify assets she and her husband have that are worth more than $1,000.

The first Russell Ranch listing came a month after The Washington Times raised questions about business dealings between Mr. Pelosi and Mr. Tsakopoulos and Mrs. Pelosi’s successful efforts to help his daughter, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, become ambassador. For 2009, Mrs. Pelosi reported that the Russell Ranch investment was worth between $1 million and $5 million. The next year, she listed the value as between $5 million and $25 million.

Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Mrs. Pelosi, said the California Democrat did not have to list the Russell Ranch investment because it was held in the name of another company her husband owns, Forty-Five Belden Corp., which is a Subchapter S corporation and taxes it owes are paid by the shareholders rather than the corporation.

While federal officials usually have to list the underlying assets of their privately held companies that hold investments, the House does not require such disclosures for Subchapter S corporations

Asked why she listed the project now if she was not required to do so, the spokesman said Mr. and Mrs. Pelosi “voluntarily decided to list it separately for clarity and transparency purposes.” Noting that the couple has been friends with Mr. Tsakopoulos and Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis “for more than 25 years,” he said there was no attempt to hide the asset - calling any such claim “ridiculous” and “false.”

But a government watchdog said that even if it was not legally required, Mrs. Pelosi should have voluntarily disclosed the Russell Ranch investment earlier, at least by the time she was helping Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis become an ambassador in November 2009. Mrs. Pelosi promised upon her election as House speaker in 2007 to lead “the most honest, most open, most ethical Congress in history.”

“She should take every effort to disclose anything that could pose a potential conflict of interest before she takes any formal action,” said Craig Holman, legislative representative for Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer-advocacy group.

Mr. Holman said helping the daughter of her husband’s business associate become an ambassador was “significant” and that the Russell Ranch asset should have been disclosed. He also described as a “loophole” the House rule that members did not have to disclose the underlying assets of Subchapter S corporations.

“I can’t imagine why a class of companies are exempt from disclosing their underlying assets,” he said.

Bill Allison, editorial director of the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group, agreed: “We have financial disclosure so that any citizen can tell if a member has a conflict of interest. When the rules allow a member to omit underlying assets, it undermines the effectiveness and flies in the face of the purpose - and definition - of disclosure.”

In the email quoting Mr. Pelosi, Mr. Elshami said the general partner at Russell Ranch, Mr. Tsakopoulos, determined that the value of Mr. Pelosi’s interest “was in excess of $5 million” and thats why it was reported in the $5 million to $25 million category. He said the value has been close to $5 million “for several years.”

The partnership was set up by Mr. Tsakopoulos, one of the largest land developers in Northern California. It bought Russell Ranch, property outside of Sacramento, Calif., for residential real estate development. It is part of 3,500 acres of land that are to be annexed by Folsom, Calif., a project Mr. Tsakopoulos has worked on for more than a decade.

Mr. Elshami said Mr. Pelosi, as a limited partner, did not play any role in the business activities of the development.

Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis declined to comment, according to a spokesman for the embassy. Mr. Tsakopoulos did not respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment

The Russell Ranch investment never appeared on Mrs. Pelosi’s disclosure statements until May 2010, after The Times reported that Mr. Pelosi had netted over the years between $1 million and $9 million from four real estate investments with Mr. Tsakopoulos and his company, AKT Development Corp. Those four investments did appear on his wife’s disclosure statements.

Mrs. Pelosi also did not mention the business ties when she sang the praises of Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis at her Senate confirmation hearing in November 2009, then as the House speaker. She said she was sure Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis would bring a “spirit of entrepreneurial, democratic ways to her service in Hungary.”

Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, president of AKT Development from 1997 to her 2009 appointment as ambassador, also had the support of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and California’s Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. She was sworn in by Mrs. Clinton in January 2010 with her father and Mrs. Pelosi by her side.

In a 2010 interview, Mr. Pelosi said there was “no connection” between his business dealings and his wife’s role in helping Mrs. Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis become ambassador. “There is no story here,” he said. “My business dealings have nothing to do with my wife’s political career.”

• Chuck Neubauer can be reached at cneubauer@washingtontimes.com.

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