Posts tagged: timber theft
The special House Ethics Committee to look into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, will meet on Dec. 13 at 11 a.m., its chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said today. “We’re going to have our first meeting to determine whether or not to go further, to look at the nature of the accusations,” Loertscher said. The panel also will consult with Brian Kane of the Idaho Attorney General’s office on legal questions and “whether or not it warrants further investigation,” Loertscher said.
He noted that two of the three charges raised in a complaint against Hart from Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, deal with topics also raised in an earlier complaint from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewistion. Those have to do with Hart’s fights against back state and federal income taxes and his repeated invoking of legislative privilege to win delays in his personal tax fights. The panel dismissed the charges in Rusche’s complaint, but voted unanimously to recommend that Hart be removed from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he pursues his personal income tax cases; Speaker Lawerence Denney followed that recommendation after Hart requested he do so.
While Rusche’s complaint suggested conflicts of interest between Hart’s votes on tax legislation and his tax fights, Anderson’s focuses on a possible violation of Hart’s oath of office. However, Loertscher said, “Two of these charges are the same thing we already resolved. That’s an easy one - you don’t get a second bite at the apple. I’m assuming the committee will take a look at that and say that’s all taken care of.” The third charge, regarding Hart’s theft of timber from state endowment land in 1996 to use in building his home, is new, Loertscher said. On that charge, he said, if the panel decides to proceed further, it’ll need to provide notice to Hart and a chance to respond, and conduct an investigation. “We’ll go from there,” Loertscher said.
Anderson said, “I’m glad that there’s finally been a date set for a hearing.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney says he’s appointed an ethics committee to look into a complaint filed by Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, about the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, including Hart’s 1996 theft of timber from school endowment land for use in building his home; his continuing problems with past-due state and federal income taxes; and his citing of legislative privilege to win delays in his tax cases. Denney said the panel will be the same as the one that investigated an earlier complaint against Hart from House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, with one exception; Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, has retired; his slot will be filled by Rep. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello. Denney said he doesn’t yet have a meeting date for the ethics panel. “I think it will probably be within a couple of weeks,” he said.
Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has clarified to the state Endowment Fund Investment Board that a check he recently sent for $2,450 to the state’s public school permanent endowment fund is just a donation - not a payment on an outstanding judgment Hart faces for illegally logging timber from school endowment land in 1996 to build his log home in Athol. In a letter dated Nov. 4 and received at the endowment fund office today, Hart’s attorney, Robert Romero, wrote, “Please accept the cashier’s check referenced in your letter as a voluntary donation from Mr. Phil Hart on behalf of the Idaho State Public School Permanent Endowment Fund.”
It makes a difference - payments for timber on state endowment lands go into an earnings reserve fund, from which direct payments to schools go out every year; donations to the permanent endowment are held in perpetuity; only their investment earnings are distributed. The response means Hart’s payment falls into the latter category.
Numerous Eye on Boise readers have been asking whether Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s voluntary donation to the state school endowment fund would be tax deductible, so I posed the question about such donations to Dan John, tax policy manager for the Idaho State Tax Commission. The answer: Yes.
“Under federal law, which we adopt, it would be deductible by an individual who itemizes their deductions as a charitable contribution,” John said. “There’s a specific code section under Internal Revenue Code that allows charitable contributions to the United States, states or possessions and their political subdivisions.” The section, Internal Revenue Code Section 170(c)(1), comes into play fairly often, John said, as it applies to such things as donations of parks to cities. “We have charitable contributions all the time,” he said.
Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, sent a check as promised to the state’s school endowment for $2,450, but called it a “voluntary donation” to the permanent fund, not a payment on a judgment over a 1996 timber theft; Hart used the stolen logs to build his Athol home. That’s left the state endowment’s managers scratching their heads as to how the check should be handled. Revenue from timber sales on state endowment lands goes into an earnings reserve fund, from which direct payments to schools go out every year. Donations to the permanent endowment are held in perpetuity; only their investment earnings are distributed.
“It is somewhat at odds with his public statements, where he said, ‘I’m sending this money in respect to, to clear up any amount due on unpaid timber,’” said Larry Johnson, manager of investments for the endowment. “So I sent a letter back to his attorney asking him to clarify whether he really meant it as a donation, or whether he meant it as a payment for timber. But I guess if we don’t hear from him, we’ll take the letter at face value and assume it’s a donation.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.
Today’s Coeur d’Alene Press reports that the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee will vote tonight on whether to remove their state committeeman for denouncing Rep. Phil Hart over his tax and legal troubles. “This vote is important, because it’s going to identify what the local party’s identity is. If they vote me out, it’s because a lot of people support what Phil Hart is about,” said Matt Roetter, a four-term committee member and two-term state committeeman. “This vote’s not really about me, it’s about Phil Hart.” Roetter said, “I won’t support a guy who has these issues surrounding him, because it’s not good for the Republican party. Character matters. Being honest matters.”
Others on the central committee said Hart is the party’s nominee and that’s that; he’s being challenged by another Republican, Howard Griffiths, in a write-in campaign. “I don’t care who it is. If the guy is elected through the primaries, that is the person we’re obligated to support,” said Vermont Trotter, precinct 60 committeeman. “It could be Bozo the Clown, for all I care. Not that Phil Hart is a bozo.” You can read the full story here, and here’s a link to yesterday’s Huckleberries post on the topic.
Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, announced today that he’s sending a check to the state for the 1996 “fair market value” of logs he stole from state school endowment land in 1996 to build his log home, and said, “I was mistaken to have done what I did.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
“My logging experience back in 1996 was an expensive lesson in the school of hard knocks,” Hart said in a statement. “I was mistaken to have done what I did and will never make that mistake again. And just this past week, I have learned more about this case that I did not understand at the time. In order to clear up any question as to whether or not this timber was paid for, today I sent a check for the timber’s fair market value to the Idaho State Public School Permanent Endowment Fund. And since today’s fair market value is only one half of what it was back in 1996, the amount of the check was based on the 1996 value.”
Hart didn’t say in his statement how much he was paying, but in 1996, the Idaho Department of Lands determined that the trees he cut illegally from state school endowment land near Spirit Lake were worth $2,443. Because the penalty for stealing state endowment-owned timber is “treble damages” or three times the value, it ordered Hart to pay $7,328. Instead, he fought the case in court, arguing that as a citizen, he had a right to cut and take the logs to build his own home. He lost three times, ending in the state Court of Appeals, and each time incurred judgments for additional amounts for the state’s attorney fees and court costs for his “frivolous” challenges.
In the end, the Idaho Department of Lands filed a lien against Hart in Kootenai County for $22,827 in the case; that lien still is outstanding, but because more than five years have passed since the judgment, it’s no longer enforceable. The state Attorney General, however, has called it a “moral obligation” that still should be paid. Hart did forfeit a $5,000 bond he put up when he appealed the case to the state Court of Appeals, but there’s no record of any other payments.
You can read Hart’s full news release here.
S-R columnist Shawn Vestal writes today that John McHone has a beef with Phil Hart. McHone thinks anyone who steals timber from public lands – as Hart did to build a log home in Athol – ought to pay the penalty. “I think the (good Mr. Hart) ought to get some kind of time out of it,” McHone said – though his original comment was much saltier. “They got a lot of federal joints around here. They put me in a federal penitentiary.”
Like Hart, McHone stole timber from public lands. Unlike Hart, he served a sentence for the crime: a year in the federal pen. He and a team of others were busted cutting firewood in the Nez Perce National Forest back in 2003. You can read Vestal’s column here at spokesman.com.
Here’s video of Phil Hart being interviewed by the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Department back in 1996 about the theft of timber from Idaho state school endowment land. In the video, obtained under the Idaho Public Records Law, Hart, now a three-term Idaho state representative, tells the sheriff’s department his reasoning for why he thought it was legal to cut down and take 8,000 board feet of timber from the state land to use in building his log home in Athol, an argument that subsequently was rejected three times in court.