How We Did It


Yesterday, Sunlight’s Bill Allison revealed what House Speaker Dennis Hastert didn’t (but should have). Hastert has used a secret trust to sell land to real estate developers, adding to the growth and sprawl he’s cited as justifying the Prairie Parkway for which he’s secured a $207 million earmark.

Hastert’s spokesmen are now claiming that his disclosure forms went above and beyond the requirements of lawmakers, and that he identified the location of the properties.

Here’s what Allison had to go through to find out where Hastert’s land was. See for yourself whether he "…include[d] a description sufficient to permit its identification (e.g., street address or plat and map location)," as the House Ethics Manual requires.

Allison began by searching publicly available and subscription-only database services, looking for a Feb. 17, 2004 purchase Hastert made of a "1/4 share of 69 acres (Plano, Ill.), and found…nothing under Hastert’s name. Next, he tried searching by the date of the transaction, for sales within a certain price range (four times the $250,001 to $500,000 Hastert specified for the value of his share of the land), and by other indirect methods…and still came up with nothing.

He contacted Hastert’s staff, and sent them a detailed email at their request explaining what information he was seeking. He explained that he had been unable to identify the land in question, and wrote in part,

Is there a formal partnership agreement with the other investors (in which case Speaker Hastert and his wife would actually own a 25 percent interest in the partnership, which in turn would own the 25 percent interest in the land), or are they jointly listed as owners of the property? If it is a partnership or other vehicle (corporation, real estate investment trust, etc.), what is the name of that vehicle?

The Speaker’s office was silent, but people in Kendall County were not. An unconfirmed rumor had it that Hastert was dealing in land through a trust, and the name was "Little Rock Trust #225." Allison began searching for the trust in county records, and found that it had indeed acquired 69 acres in Plano on Feb. 17, 2004. But there was no record of Hastert’s involvement in the sale.

Allison next looked at assessment records-Kendall County records property taxes paid, and notes the name on the check. Allison found this sequence of assessments on yet another 69 acre parcel of land:

2004    T. Jean Hastert (Speaker Hastert’s wife)
2005    Little Rock Trust #225
2006    RALC-Plano LLC

By cross-referencing parcel numbers, assessment information and other information, he was able to painstakingly piece together the trust’s dealings. The Kendall County Recorder’s Office proved to have the final piece of the puzzle: A Deed in Trust showing that the Hasterts had transferred a parcel of property to the Little Rock Trust #225. The document was signed by Hastert and his wife, and established their identity as beneficiaries of the trust.

Allison also ferreted out other land deals that the trust executed using Kendall County public records, including the sale, in Dec. 2005, of 138 acres located just a few miles from the path of the Prairie Parkway to a real estate developer for $4.9 million.

When Hastert released his 2005 personal financial disclosure form on June 14, 2006 (yesterday, that is), Allison matched up every single sale Hastert claimed to have made in his own name with those made by the trust. He wrote up the findings, scanned in the documents, and posted it to the site.

Did Hastert make a full disclosure? We think not.

PLEASE NOTE: Postings will be light on this blog for the next couple of weeks.