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Megadonor says he thought former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman was ‘trustworthy’

March 21, 2018

A major conservative donor from the Chicago area was happy to invest to invest in former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman’s pet project because he considered him “trustworthy. ” So, he told a federal jury, he donated $350,000 to the renovation of a house near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., that would be living quarters and a training facility for young conservatives.

Richard Uihlein’s testimony came in a Houston courtroom Wednesday, during the second day of the former Republican lawmaker’s criminal trial on 28 counts of fraud and illegal use of campaign funds. Uihlein said that after spending less than an hour meeting with Stockman at his corporate offices in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. on Jan. 24, 2013, he cut a check from his charitable foundation to the newly elected representative’s charitable foundation for $350,000.

One month prior, at the urging of Larry Pratt, CEO and founder of Gun Owners of America, Uihlein had donated $5,000 to help pay for a group of homeschooled children to be in Washington for Stockman’s swearing in ceremony.

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And now the GOP legislator and an aide, Thomas Dodd, had come with an impressive brochure about Freedom House and asked for money to create their training center for young congressional interns. Uihlein, the CEO of a moving supplies empire, said he liked the idea of helping cover the house’s renovation.

“I felt they were trustworthy,” Uihlein told the jury, under questioning from a federal prosecutor. “And I trusted that they would spend the money the way they said.”

He said he understood from the brochure that Stockman was soliciting the money for a charitable cause through a 501c3 organization, and stressed he would not have given it if he knew it would be spent on the former lawmaker’s personal and campaign costs.

Other witnesses Wednesday included Michael Hartsock, a Federal Election Commission analyst, who said that campaign filings indicated that two of Stockman’s aides were listed as donors to his campaign.

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An old friend and campaign accountant of Stockman’s, Rabih Zeidan, testified that the defendant had told him the donations from the two aides were actually made with money Stockman had given them to donate.

Federal prosecutors contend the donations were made from money Stockman syphoned off from the Illnois shipping supplies magnate’s generous contribution to Freedom House.

Gabrielle Banks covers federal court for the Houston Chronicle. Follow her on Twitter and send her tips at gabrielle.banks@chron.com.