Eyewitness News fact-checks Valadao ad about political rival Huerta
If you've turned on a TV, listened to the radio or surfed the Web in the last few weeks, it's likely you were bombarded with political ads.
Some of those ads tell the truth, but a lot of them take some liberties with the facts.
Eyewitness News did some fact-checking on one of the ads that's playing this week on television promoting David Valadao, the Republican incumbent in the race that'll decide who represents the people in California's 21st Congressional District.
The ad begins with the following statement: "Emilio Huerta took land intended for low-income families and sold it one day later for a million-dollar profit."
This transaction was one of many profiled by The Los Angeles Times in 2006 in a series about the United Farm Workers. The reporting, which alleged the UFW was benefiting its leaders more than its members, led to an investigation by the California attorney general.
The implication of the newspaper report was that the nonprofit sold property to Huerta -- its own lawyer -- at below market value for his benefit.
According to the attorney general's report, the National Farm Workers Service Center, which is an arm of the UFW, did sell a large plot of land in Fresno in 2004 to Emilio Huerta and several business partners. The land was originally intended for low-income housing, but the Service Center couldn't get the plans off the ground.
There was a significant financial hurdle to getting the land zoned for residential development. So, the Service Center decided to liquidate the land to raise money for it's radio arm, La Campesina. The educational programming carried over the airwaves was a part of the nonprofit's stated mission. You can listen to La Campesina today in Bakersfield on 92.5 FM.
In 2004, the federal government was auctioning FM frequencies and the Service Center was eager to increase its broadcast reach. To that end, it arranged a sale of its Fresno property to a group called Explorer General for $1.8 million. But, Explorer General couldn't close escrow fast enough to meet the deadline for the FM auction, so the Service Center offered the land to Huerta's group of investors with the condition that they meet Explorer General's bid.
Huerta's group, known as Landmark Residential, paid the Service Center $1.8 million and put in another $600,000 to get the land zoned, thereby making it more desirable to a developer.
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Then, according to the Huerta campaign, Landmark Residential had the good fortune of finding another buyer for the property almost immediately after the first transaction. Landmark flipped the property to Ennis Homes for $2.9 million, leaving Landmark with a net profit of about $500,000.
Huerta's cut of that money was about $100,000, according to his campaign.
After a review of the evidence, the attorney general made the following conclusion: "While the transaction is suspicious, we cannot conclude that the Service Center sold the property to Landmark for less than its fair market value, and, therefore, we find insufficient grounds to take enforcement actions on this issue."
Here's the ad's second claim: "Huerta sued a woman to get her land and water wells. She was harassed and even threatened with sticks and a buzz saw. To protect herself, she sought a restraining order against Huerta, because she feared for her safety."
A check of the records in Kern County Superior Court reveals that an Ava Haas did file for a restraining order against Huerta in 2007, but she failed to appear at the hearing and the case was dismissed two weeks after it was filed.