Inside Rep. Weller's Nicaragua land deal
Illinois lawmaker benefits from trade accord, fails to report extent of his ocean-view holdings
By Andrew Zajac, Oscar Avila and Jim Tankersley | Tribune staff reporters
September 7, 2007
SAN JUAN DEL SUR, Nicaragua - The rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean crashes onto white sand beaches below a lush hillside in southwest Nicaragua, a picture of tropical paradise by anyone's definition.
These days, paradise is for sale. Contact the seller, Rep. Jerry Weller (R-Ill.).
Weller, a southwest suburban congressman with a fondness for Latin America, has sunk a large share of his investment capital into a land development in Nicaragua. But he didn't declare the extent of his holdings on his required congressional disclosures, and he indicated dramatically different purchase prices for the land in American and Nicaraguan records.
In 2002 Weller made his first official congressional trip to Nicaragua. Before the year was over, he had bought his first lot and eventually began looking for land he could subdivide into parcels that would attract buyers looking for prime ocean-view property at a relatively low price. It is an unusual investment for a member of Congress, and Weller's foreign land holdings seem far more extensive than any other House member's.
His investment got a boost from the narrowly passed Central America Free Trade Agreement, which Weller pitched in 2005 as a tool to enable businesses in his hard-pressed district to sell tractors and food to Latin America. CAFTA also includes additional legal protection for American investors, including those who have purchased lots from Weller.
What he didn't say was that, while he publicly pushed CAFTA, Weller privately was pursuing his land development, some 2,000 miles away. The House approved the trade pact in July 2005 by only two votes, 217-215.
Besides not mentioning his Nicaraguan investments during the CAFTA debate on the House floor, Weller did not give anywhere close to a complete accounting of them in his required 2005 financial disclosure statement. House ethics rules require representatives to disclose all property they own except for their personal residences.
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Weller, like so many of our political class, doesn't seem to think that there's anything wrong with using their professional status to help pump up their financial bottom line. It it walks like a crook, smells like a crook, acts like a crook....why act as if the man is a chef?