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A Few Members Show a Big Shift in Bottom Line

While Roll Call’s annual evaluation of the wealthiest Members of Congress revealed a general dip in prosperity, a few Members fell off the list with a thump.

These displacements aren’t necessarily reversals of fortune, as Members report their assets and liabilities in broad ranges, making it at times impossible to determine exactly how much an asset declined in value. But the departures demonstrate notable shifts in the bottom lines of a few lawmakers.

Among those who decamped from the annual 50 richest Members of Congress list this year are Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), both of whom reported net worths millions of dollars below their previous levels.

According to his latest financial disclosure, which covers calendar year 2008, Shuler reports a minimum net worth of $2.28 million, a sharp decline from the $7.95 million claimed in 2007.

That gap results from the North Carolina lawmaker eliminating several major assets from his most recent report, including three real estate development companies previously valued at a combined minimum of $7 million.

In his report, Shuler includes a brief note stating that each of the three companies is now devoid of assets.

“River Crest Development, LLC (Real estate development company — interest is no longer included ... due to the fact that valuation no longer exceeds $1,000 — the company no longer has any assets. However, no money was paid or [received] by Shuler,” the report states. Listings for the other real estate companies refer to the same statement.

Shuler had valued that holding, River Crest Development LLC based in Del Rio, Tenn., at $1 million to $5 million in 2007, although he reported no income. He also reported an investment valued from $1 million to $5 million in the River at Shining Rock LLC, based in Haywood County, N.C., that generated no income.

Shuler’s largest asset, an investment in the Cove at Blackberry Ridge LLC in Loudon, Tenn., valued from $5 million to $25 million produced $15,000 to $50,000 in income in 2007.

Shuler spokesman Doug Abrams said Friday that the LLCs were consolidated into a single entity, the Highlands Property Group LLC, which the House lawmaker had listed in 2007 at a minimum value of $1,000. In his most recent report, that asset jumped to a value of at least $1 million, but reported no income.

According to a Knoxville News Sentinel report in August 2008, one of Shuler’s investment partners reported the lawmaker owned 80 percent of the Highlands Property Group, which in turn owns one-half of the Highlands Development Group, which owns the Loudon property.

The Cove at Blackberry Ridge LLC has also faced scrutiny in recent months from the Tennessee Valley Authority, after the TVA’s inspector general initiated an investigation into a land-swap program operated by the agency.

According to the News Sentinel, the real estate company applied to the TVA land-swap program in mid-2007 — seeking waterfront access in exchange for waterfront property at a different location and a payment to a shoreline bank stabilization project — at the same time Shuler served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which has oversight of the TVA.

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