W/J whistle-blower may have gotten a cut in housing deal | AspenTimes.com

W/J whistle-blower may have gotten a cut in housing deal

John Colson

A local “whistle-blower,” who has accused a housing official of wrongdoing, appears to have made money off the very deal he is blowing the whistle on.

The whistle-blower is David Schoenberger and the deal was the sale of employee housing units at W/J Ranch.

Schoenberger has claimed that at least one of those sales involved illegal “kickbacks,” which allowed the home buyers to set themselves up for improper future profits and could have helped former W/J owner John Musick improperly obtain financing for his project.

However, according to documents obtained by The Aspen Times, Schoenberger was deeply involved in all financial aspects of those sales.

According to the documents, Schoenberger was in charge of negotiating the sales prices of the units and arranging all the financing.

In exchange for his work, Schoenberger was paid a commission on those sales, based on a percentage of the final sales price and amounting to as much as $150,000.

Schoenberger, contacted Monday, acknowledged that he was working for Musick at the time in question, and added, “I never said I wasn’t getting paid when I was working for John [Musick].”

As for knowing about the questionable nature of the sales and the “kickbacks,” Schoenberger said: “It’s true, in a sense, that I did come across a lot of the paperwork on it. But I turned it directly over to the county.”

Beyond that, Schoenberger said the documents in question were fakes, created in an attempt to discredit him.

Although a current investigation is looking into a number of the W/J home sales, Schoenberger’s whistle-blowing has involved just one sale.

That deal involved a home sold to Stephanie and Michael Levesque. More than a year after that sale was completed, Stephanie Levesque was hired as an Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority enforcement officer. Since Schoenberger made his charges against her, she has been placed on administrative leave.

Schoenberger, a former W/J resident, has accused Levesque of taking a $17,000 “kickback” from Musick when she bought a home there in 1996. A letter signed by Musick indicates that a payment of $17,000 was made to the Levesques, and that the payment was somehow connected to the purchase of their home.

The housing office is currently investigating allegations by Schoenberger that Levesque, who was hired in 1998, had broken the very rules she was hired to enforce by accepting the money from Musick.

According to Schoenberger, the alleged kickback was part of a complicated scheme to inflate the selling price of the home.

The Levesques, under this scenario, officially paid an inflated price for the home and then Musick paid them back $17,000. The higher price, which appeared in all the official documents, made Musick’s financial position look better when he applied for financing based on the potential sale of houses at W/J.

Meanwhile, according to Schoenberger’s version of the scheme, the Levesques would be able to make a greater profit if they eventually sold their home. Resale prices of affordable housing units are strictly controlled and are based on the original purchase price.

Stephanie Levesque has denied any wrongdoing, and maintains that the so-called kickback was a payment for work her husband did for Musick.

Schoenberger, after lodging the initial complaint against the Levesques in August 1998, has gone to some lengths to see that his charges are investigated.

In an e-mail obtained by The Aspen Times that Schoenberger sent to Housing Director Mary Roberts on Feb. 8, 2000, he described a meeting with the local housing board at which he laid out his charges against Levesque.

Schoenberger claims in the e-mail that in “the five months that you and T. Fenton Smith [attorney for the Housing Authority] have been investigating this issue you have refused to follow through with the evidence that has been furnished to you.” He claims the housing office is “stonewalling this situation so it hopefully goes away.”

Officials have recently indicated the investigation will not delve into the Levesque sale alone, but is expected to include other sales made at the same time and the circumstances surrounding those sales. Schoenberger’s role Schoenberger worked as a consultant for Musick between 1994 and 1997.

And according to documents obtained by The Aspen Times, he was in charge of setting up the sale of a group of cabins on the ranch to people who had been renting them from Musick. He had been living at W/J since 1992, and was president of the homeowners association while he was working for Musick.

A letter sent June 2, 1998 by Musick to then-president of the W/J Homeowners’ Association Phil Whittingham, and obtained recently by The Aspen Times, explains Schoenberger’s role in the sales of the homes, and the compensation Schoenberger was to receive.

Whittingham, when asked about the letter, confirmed its authenticity and said it was sent in response to a request from the board of directors of the homeowners association. The board wanted to know exactly what Schoenberger’s role had been, and what compensation he had received, in arranging the sales of homes by Musick to the residents at the time.

According to the letter, the association “appointed, or otherwise consented to, its President David Schoenberger, preparing their individual lots, plats, replats, merging of units, and trail easements, negotiating on their behalf the sale price, arranging their individual financing or refinancing, preparing their loan packages, and negotiating, both before closing and after closing, work, money and other concessions to be made to them individually and for the benefit of the Homeowners Association in general.”

Another letter obtained by The Aspen Times, this one purporting to be an agreement between Musick and Schoenberger, dated April 18, 1996, sets out Schoenberger’s payment for these services as a 1.5-percent commission on the sale prices of the homes.

The June 2, 1998 letter estimates that Schoenberger made between $100,000 and $150,000 in commissions, not counting “other out-of-pocket expenses.”

Schoenberger said Musick never paid him that amount of money for the work he did, and that the letter from Musick to Whittingham is a “piece of garbage.” He said that “this letter has been produced, I guarantee it, in the last week. I’ve been anticipating something like this, where the association and Musick get together and decide they’re going to get me. It’s called retaliation.”

Schoenberger maintained that the letter is part of a campaign to discredit him.

When asked what the point of such a campaign would be, he replied, “The point is that right now I’m in World War Three with the Housing Authority over a number of things,” including the Levesque situation.

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