On Sunday, the St. Petersburg Times ran a lengthy article detailing U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene’s ties to the aptly named La Mirage condo project in the California desert, where many of the units appear to have been sold to fraudulent buyers at the height of the housing bubble:
Four years ago, Greene was party to precisely the kind of deal that decimated the market.
Greene insists he did nothing wrong. Yet the way he handled the deal left an opening for massive fraud and put him uncomfortably close to a man now under federal indictment.
The story involves conflicting accounts of deals involving Greene, a man named James Delbert McConville who is facing federal indictment, and a group of “straw buyers” who bought condos at inflated prices with no intention of paying off their loans.
Greene contended that his company sold all 300 units to McConville, and that what happened after that was none of his business. But the Times uncovered deeds that show Greene’s company selling some of the units directly to some of the same dubious buyers as McConville (to understand the intricacies of the deals and the conflicting accounts of them it’s probably best to read the whole article).
Now, Politico reports that Greene is threatening the paper with a lawsuit, arguing that portions of its article and a subsequent editorial calling on Greene to answer questions about the La Mirage deals ignored evidence that cut the other way. Greene’s lawyers wrote a letter calling on the Times to run a retraction on Sunday, in a position as prominent as the original article.
The letter, posted by Politico, mentions documents, posted online by the Times, that appear to support Greene’s version of events — that McConville flipped the properties after buying them from Greene, even in cases where other documents indicate that Greene sold them directly.
“The link to these documents is hidden in a sidebar and there is no mention of the vindicating documents in the articles,” the letter argues.
The Times‘ lawyer, Alison Steele, told Politico that a reply to the letter could be coming today, and added, “The story’s based on public record. And the public record shows what it shows. And that’s what the Times reported.”
I’ve contacted the Greene campaign, his lawyer and the Times for a response, and I will post updates when I get them.
The paper isn’t backing down. Here’s what Times Editor and Vice President Neil Brown had to say in a statement:
The Times‘ coverage of Mr. Greene and his business transactions has been thorough and fair, and the reporting is well-documented in public records. Our story is accurate, balanced and we stand by it. Mr.Greene is welcome to submit a letter to the editor if he wishes to take further exception.
Still no reply from Greene’s camp. At a press conference captured on film by the Miami Herald, Greene said that if there is not a front-page retraction by Tuesday, he will sue the paper. “If my reputation is damaged, the St. Petersburg Times will be held accountable.”