Rep. Jim Ryun on Wednesday denied allegations by Democrats that he received a "sweet real estate deal" when he purchased a town house from a nonprofit group with connections to lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The Kansas Republican bought the historic Capitol Hill town house for $410,000 on Dec. 15, 2000. That was $19,000 less than the U.S. Family Network paid for the home about two years earlier, in January 1999, despite a sharp rise in local real estate values during that time.
He denies receiving any favorable treatment in the purchase. He declined to be interviewed but said in a written statement that he paid "fair market value" for the home.
Ryun said he negotiated the sale price after a housing inspector found a structural problem that would require up to $20,000 to repair. He said the seller also saved money on the deal by not having to pay a real estate agent’s commission.
The home is currently assessed at $764,310 for tax year 2007, according to the city’s Office of Tax and Revenue.
Mike Gaughan, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, called it a "sweet real estate deal" and questioned how Ryun found a house that lost value over two years in one of the nation’s hottest housing markets.
The U.S. Family Network is a now-disbanded nonprofit advocacy group for conservative ideas that was founded by Ed Buckham, a former chief of staff to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. Buckham’s lobbying firm rented office space in the town house from the group.
The group was funded almost entirely by corporations linked to Abramoff. Federal investigators are now exploring whether DeLay offered favorable treatment to Abramoff clients that made payments to U.S. Family Network, the Washington Post reported this week.
DeLay stepped down from his leadership post last fall after he was indicted in Texas on charges of laundering campaign money.
Ryun has not been connected to the scandals involving Abramoff or DeLay. Spokeswoman Michelle Schroeder said Ryun "was not specifically lobbied by USFN" and that the group has not made any contributions to his campaign.
Ryun said he heard news reports in the summer of 2000 that U.S. Family Network had zoning problems and might need to sell the house. Ryun said he asked Buckham for a contact and spoke to an attorney for the group in the fall of 2000.
"We inquired about the house and then entered into negotiations to buy it, finally arriving at a purchase price we believed to be fair market value based on its overall condition, including a structural deficiency," Ryun said.
A housing inspector found the upstairs master bathroom in the home was in danger of falling through the ceiling and told Ryun the bathtub should be removed and the living room ceiling needed to be reinforced, Ryun said.
Ryun said he asked the U.S. Family Network to take those repairs into account in reaching the sale price. He also agreed not to use a real estate agent, saving the group a 6 percent sales commission of $24,600.
To bolster his argument, Ryun’s office released documents showing that another home on the same block was sold for $409,000 on the same day he bought his home. Property records show the other home is on a land area about half the size of Ryun’s and is now assessed at $236,000 less than Ryun’s home.
Ryun’s office also produced documents showing the congressman paid $54,500 to make a variety of repairs to the home, including the structural support problem.
Buckham’s attorney, Laura A. Miller, did not return a call seeking comment on the sale.
Meanwhile, Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday in Miami to nearly six years in prison for committing fraud in the purchase of a fleet of gambling boats. He will remain free while helping prosecutors with a vast bribery investigation involving members of Congress.
Abramoff, 47, and former business partner Adam Kidan, 41, received the minimum sentence under federal guidelines: five years and 10 months.
© 2006 The Associated Press