An attorney who investigated the fugitive financier Michael Mastro called Democrats' efforts to link Dino Rossi to Mastro's alleged wrongdoing a "lowlife smear."
A new ad connecting Republican Dino Rossi with disgraced developer Michael Mastro has drawn an angry response from the Rossi campaign.
Kim Schrier, Rossi’s Democratic opponent in the heated 8th Congressional District race, launched the new 30-second TV ad this week, attempting to portray Rossi as corrupt for his past association with Mastro, a one-time major Seattle real-estate developer and financier whose business collapsed in a wave of bad debt after the 2008 financial crisis.
Mastro and his wife, Linda, fled the country and were subsequently indicted for bankruptcy fraud and money laundering. French authorities have refused to extradite the couple to the U.S., citing their advanced age and health problems. (Mastro is 93 years old.)
In the Schrier ad, to a soundtrack of melancholy piano music, a male narrator says Rossi’s businesses were bankrolled by Mastro, “the same Michael Mastro indicted for money laundering and bank fraud.”
It continues: “Mastro spent millions funding Rossi’s real-estate deals. One deal alone netted Rossi $600,000. Mastro even slid Rossi $50,000 in an off-the-books personal loan, a loan Rossi was caught hiding from state regulators. There’s enough corruption in Congress. Keep Rossi out.”
Rossi’s campaign denounced the ad as “sleazy garbage” in a statement Thursday, saying Schrier was showing desperation.
“This is a sad instance of a politician trailing in the polls and panicking in the final weeks of the election,” said Andrew Bell, Rossi’s campaign manager. He said Schrier was trying to distract from her support of “Seattle-style tax hikes and protests.”
As with many negative attack ads, Schrier’s latest has some basis in fact, but stretches in trying to tie Rossi to Mastro’s fraud.
Schrier, too, has faced misleading attack ads, first raised by a Democratic rival and now repeated by Republicans, claiming she denied medical care to poor children. And Politifact this week rated a Republican attack ad about her advocacy for a Bernie Sanders-style Medicare for All plan “mostly false.”
As for Rossi, he did do business with Mastro prior to the developer’s indictments and bankruptcy — something Democrats have attacked him for during his previous unsuccessful campaigns for governor and U.S. Senate.
When Rossi and other investors, including two statehouse lobbyists, bought a Mastro-owned Federal Way apartment building in 1997, Mastro loaned the investors $2 million toward the $2.5 million sale price, according to past reporting by The Seattle Times and Associated Press. The investors sold the building three years later for $600,000 more than they’d paid for it.
Rossi also failed to report a $50,000 loan from Mastro for several years when he served in the state Senate. Democrats attacked him as “shady” for what he said was a minor and unintentional oversight when it was revealed during his second run for governor in 2008.
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The Mastros also donated a total of $11,400 to Rossi’s 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial campaigns.
In an interview, Schrier stood by the ad, saying “the people you surround yourself with, I think reflect where you stand… we have somebody in the White House who has surrounded himself with criminals.”
But Bell called Schrier’s ad ridiculous and a guilt-by-association smear about a few legal transactions Rossi and Mastro engaged in two decades ago. “We could play the same ridiculous game — Kim Schrier has a mortgage at Wells Fargo. Does that mean we can connect her to account fraud?” he said.
An attorney who oversaw efforts to extract money from the Mastros on behalf of creditors also said the guilt-by-association attempt is unfair.
James Rigby, the attorney, spent years combing through Mastro’s finances. He said Thursday he found “absolutely no evidence whatsoever” showing Rossi culpable in Mastro’s wrongdoing.
Mastro was a top Seattle real-estate developer who did business with hundreds of people before his fall, Rigby said.
“Just generally associating Dino Rossi with Mastro’s bad acts — that’s just a lowlife smear,” he said.
Rigby donated $500 to Rossi’s 2008 gubernatorial campaign, records show, but now lives in Montana and said he does not follow Washington politics.