The whole smelly Hannity story has a distinctly Southern stench to it. The shell companies were formed in Georgia, via a wealth-management firm in the Atlanta suburb of Kennesaw. The properties are in seven states -- including Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas -- along with New York and Vermont. After a brief stint in college radio, Hannity started his professional broadcast career at radio stations in Athens, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Why does the Hannity story raise an eyebrow with yours truly? My wife, Carol, and I went through a dubious foreclosure on our home of 25 years in Birmingham. Our home went into default in 2013, and we were in a forbearance program with our mortgage company (Chase) to get back on track when I was arrested in October 2013 shortly after breaking a series of posts about U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor and his history of posing nude for photographs that appeared at the gay-pornography Web site badpuppy.com in 1997.
The five months I was wrongfully incarcerated cost us any chance of saving our home, and it was sold at foreclosure in summer 2014, forcing us to move to my home state of Missouri. Reporting on the Hannity story states that many of his properties were bought at foreclosure, but we've seen no mention that foreclosures can be conducted unlawfully. Ours definitely was a wrongful foreclosure, and we have filed a federal lawsuit (we call it "The House Case") over the matter. As often is the case in legal matters where we are involved, courts have made numerous rulings that are contrary to simple, black-letter law.
Corrupt rulings in "The House Case" started in the Northern District of Alabama under Judge R. David Proctor and have grown more blatant at the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Bill Pryor and is based -- surprise, surprise -- in Atlanta, not far from the epicenter of Sean Hannity's real-estate empire. (More reporting on the Eleventh Circuit and our "House Case," plus possible ties between our foreclosure and the Hannity story, in upcoming posts.)
who broke the Hannity story yesterday:
The shell companies used to buy the properties are registered to the offices of Henssler Financial, a wealth management firm outside Atlanta. Bill Lako, a principal at the firm, has appeared on Hannity’s radio show as an expert on money issues.
Lako recently wrote an article for the show’s website berating Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating ties between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and Russia, without noting his ties to Hannity. He did not respond to an email. . . .
The list of properties bought by the Hannity-linked companies includes multimillion-dollar homes used by Hannity. It also features single-family units priced as low as $50,000 in relatively poor suburbs. In at least two cases, batches of homes were bought simultaneously at a discount, after they were repossessed by banks from their previous owners in foreclosure proceedings.
The entire portfolio connected to Hannity comprises at least 877 residential units, which were bought for a total of just under $89m. Another seven properties bought by the companies over recent years have subsequently been sold for more than $4m, according to public records.
How do shell companies enter the picture? An article at Fortune explains:
According to documents reviewed by The Guardian, Hannity bought real estate through more than 20 shell companies registered in Georgia. A shell company is a vehicle used to hold assets and can help beneficiaries remain anonymous. They are not in themselves illegal, though they are sometimes used to conduct illegal activities such as tax evasion. There is no indication that Hannity is engaged in any illegal practices, but he is the hidden owner behind at least some of the 20 companies through which he has bought property. In his case, it appears the shell companies were used to limit his liabilities in the real estate deals in question.
As is typical for a conservative, Hannity took advantage of others' struggles. He helped build a fortune on the collapsing U.S. economy that the failed GOP administration of George W. Bush ushered in -- a presidency that Hannity enthusiastically supported. From Fortune:
Despite his criticism of President Obama over the U.S. foreclosure rate, Hannity was an apparent beneficiary of the high number of foreclosures that accompanied and followed the great recession. In 2013 he purchased homes at a discount after their previous owners lost them to foreclosure. The Guardian reports he bought dozens of homes this way.
No wonder Hannity loved the Bush years. He made millions off the administration's failed policies, and then tried to blame it on President Obama, who pulled the country out of a potential economic disaster.
If you experienced an Alabama foreclosure in recent years, especially since 2013, we urge you to follow the Hannity story closely. With FBI agents recently seizing records from the office of Michael Cohen, attorney for both Donald Trump and Sean Hannity, more information about Hannity's real-estate holdings is likely to surface. And it might not be pretty.
As for our own foreclosure, we don't know if it has any ties to Hannity's wheeling and dealing. But it fits the profile of the properties that have been reported about so far -- especially when evidence suggests that our foreclosure was driven by those who saw me, and my journalism, as a threat to their political well-being. It was, without a doubt, a political hit -- and Sean Hannity is a political opportunist posing as a talk-show host on Fox News.
Here is the key questions for us, and we encourage targets of Alabama foreclosures over the past five years or so to keep it in mind: Were the foreclosures involving Sean Hannity's shell companies lawfully conducted? Did firms with ties to Hannity engage in wrongful foreclosure to essentially steal properties at bargain-basement rates from the rightful owners? Did the firms target individuals (such as Carol and me) who were seen as political opponents of Hannity and his right-wing friends?
(To be continued)