Monday, April 03, 2006

Ryun's house

It's worth rounding up some of the threads of the Jim Ryun house deal.

At issue is a house that a non-profit bought at the end of 1999 for $429,000. The group was founded by Ed Buckham, indicted felon Tom Delay's former chief of staff. Buckham's various businesses, including the non-profit, and his lobbying firm, funneled huge amounts of money from confessed criminal Jack Abramoff to Tom Delay. For what it's worth, he also was Delay's pastor, and gave Mr. Delay's wife a no-show job. And his firm lobbied on behalf of one of the men who bribed Duke Cunningham. If and when he gets squeezed by federal prosecutors, it could hurt not just Delay, but Congressmen Ryun and Doolittle, and probably others.

Doolittle is another Congressman whose wife got a no-show job from Buckham, and he has a finger in the Duke Cunningham bribery scandal and the Abramoff crime ring.

And Jim Ryun bought a house from Buckham. Buckham took a loss on the deal – he sold the house for $19,000 less than he paid for it in a market that should have increased the house's value by $100,000, to around $530,000. Even if we credit Ryun's claims that he knocked the agents' fees off of the price and saved some money because of damage found in the inspection, he still underpaid by $60,000.

What that means is that Ed Buckham seems to have given the Congressman a very nice gift. Ryun's account of the event, as described to the Journal World, seems to be that he heard through the grapevine that Buckham would be selling the house because of zoning problems. He chatted Buckham up, and they worked out a deal for Ryun to buy the house without it going on the market for competitive bidding. On the hot D.C. real estate market, all evidence indicates that the price would have shot well above $410,000.

Ryun's defense is that some house on the same block sold for $449,000 around the same time, therefore he paid the right price. A broader search reveals houses of comparable size which sold for over $600,000, so this line of defense hangs by a rather narrow thread. I've been unable to locate a house in the area that sold on a similar two year interval, the only relevant comparison.

We're interested in how the market changed, since we know what the house sold for on the open market in 1999. We want to know whether the second sale was different from our expectation. The DC-wide market increased in value dramatically during that period according to both government data on sales and the assessment of a professional appraiser who handles the neighborhood in question.

What we have then, is a defense that on one hand demands that we ignore heaps of evidence about what happened to housing prices in DC at the time in question, and on the other hand leads us directly into the morass of criminal behavior that is drowning Congressional Republicans.

Ryun's actions haven't been linked directly to any of the shenanigans Abramoff and Delay pulled through Buckham. It's conceivable that the good deal was simply a reward for Ryun's record of lockstep voting with Delay. The sale of the house also coincides with a big bump in Buckham's lobbying fees, and the house deal could be interpreted in various unsavory ways. Buckham took home a million dollars from his non-profit, and he may have wanted to spread that wealth around. When you're spending $150,000 on a skybox for Jack Abramoff, what's a little real estate loss?

Ryun's office has yet to reply to requests for comment.