Clarence Thomas’ wealthy megadonor friend Harlan Crow bought property from him in a deal the Supreme Court justice failed to disclose, according to a new report.
A company belonging to Texas billionaire Crow, who has showered Thomas with lavish trips and odd yet pricey gifts, bought a series of properties right next to each other in Savannah, Georgia, including a single-story home and two lots, according to ProPublica.
It’s the first known direct financial transaction between Thomas and Crow.
The company bought the properties from co-owners Thomas, his mother and his late brother’s family for $133,363, according to a tax document and deed from October 2014 the outlet obtained.
Crow called Thomas a dear friend, and got to know him after he joined the Supreme Court. Crow is a Dallas-based real estate magnate
A 2014 photograph shows the vacant lots that Crow bought from Thomas
Tax deed showing Thomas owned the home he sold to Crow in Savannah
The justice’s elderly mother lived at the property, and continued to do so under Crow’s ownership. Soon after the purchase was finalized contractors went to work on tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of improvements, including a carport, a fixed roof and a new fence and gates.
A federal disclosure law requires justices and other officials to report the sale of real estate over $1,000. But Thomas never reported selling the Savannah properties.
Crow told ProPublica he bought the home, where Thomas partially grew up, to one day preserve it for future generations.
‘My intention is to one day create a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice,’ he said. ‘I approached the Thomas family about my desire to maintain this historic site so future generations could learn about the inspiring life of one of our greatest Americans.’
Crow did not say why he bought the two lots next to the home, but said ‘the other lots were later sold to a vetted builder who was committed to improving the quality of the neighborhood and preserving its historical integrity.’
It’s not clear if Crow bought the properties at fair market value. In 2013, he bought two properties on the same block, a vacant lot and a small house, for just $40,000.
Crow said his company bought the properties ‘at market rate based on many factors including the size, quality, and livability of the dwellings.’
Meanwhile Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts demanding he open an investigation into Thomas’s gifts from his billionaire friend, as they announced their own hearing into court ethics.
Judiciary Republicans have been notably quiet on the issue.
Calling the gifts ‘plainly inconsistent’ with the ethical standards Americans expect of ‘any person in a position of public trust,’ the letter, led by Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, urged the Republican-appointed chief justice to ‘immediately’ open an investigation to ensure Thomas’s behavior isn’t repeated.
Clarence Thomas pictured above with his mother Leola Williams
Durbin wrote his committee will hold a hearing ‘in the coming days,’ adding: ‘If the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it.’
Some Democrats have called on the high court to adopt a formal code of ethics – it is currently the only court in the federal judiciary that does not have one for its nine members.
The letter noted there had been call for a code of ethics over reporting on Thomas’s gifts from real estate billionaire Harlan Crow in 2011, which Roberts ‘dismissed’ at the time.
Thomas, who has been showered with exotic vacations and luxurious gifts by the Republican megadonor, made a rare statement last week insisting colleagues and ‘others in the judiciary’ had told him such ‘personal hospitality’ was allowable.
Thomas flew on Crow’s private jet, sailed around the world on his yacht and stayed at his resort in the Adirondacks nearly every summer for around two decades, according to a Pro Publica report released Thursday
Thomas flew on Crow’s private jet, sailed around the world on his yacht and stayed at his resort in the Adirondacks nearly every summer for around two decades, according to a Pro Publica report released Thursday.
Monday’s letter turns up the heat on Roberts. Some have even called on the 74-year-old justice to resign. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib have called for his impeachment.
Crow has donated millions to Republican campaigns and conservative groups. He has also presented Thomas with a series of peculiar gifts, including an Abraham Lincoln bust and a $19,000 bible that once belonging to Frederick Douglass.
Thomas did not disclose trips to Indonesia, New Zealand and Sonoma, California, that he took with Crow – and which he would not have been able to afford on his $285,000-a-year salary.
Thomas takes annual trips to Topridge, Crow’s Adirondacks estate
The retreat offers opportunities for boat rides and fishing, and features exotic furnishings
Crow issued a lengthy statement in response to the revelations about his travels with Thomas.
‘My wife Kathy and I have been friends with Justice Thomas and his wife Ginni since 1996. We are very dear friends,’ he said.
‘The hospitality we have extended to the Thomases over the years is no different from the hospitality we have extended to our many other dear friends,’ he said.
‘Justice Thomas and Ginni never asked for any of this hospitality. We have never asked about a pending or lower court case, and Justice Thomas has never discussed one, he continued.
Crow called the trips ‘gatherings of friends.’
Crow and Thomas met in the 1990s, a few years after Thomas joined the high court and the two have had a close relationship ever since – Crow once reportedly provided $500,000 to Thomas’ wife Ginni to found a Tea Party-related group.
The 74-year-old billionaire real estate developer who has lavished gifts and trips on Thomas is the chairman of a highly successful private investment firm, Crow Holdings, with almost $29 billion in holdings, according to the Dallas Morning News.
He inherited the real estate empire founded by his father, Trammall Crow, who the Wall Street Journal in 1986 said was the nation’s largest landowner, with nearly 300 million square feet of developed real estate.
He has been active in Republican politics, once a member of the founding committee of the Club for Growth and serving on the board of the American Enterprise Institute.
He has donated millions to Republican campaigns and conservative groups. He has also presented Thomas with a series of peculiar gifts as an Abraham Lincoln bust and a $19,000 bible once belonging to Frederick Douglass.
A ProPublica report revealed that Thomas has issued a ruling in his own favor – allowing himself to make use of luxury jets, a mega-yacht, and stunning retreats all owned by the same real estate magnate.
He purchased and helped restore Camp Topridge in the Adirondacks, taking down some buildings and constructing new ones at the facility once owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post.
A friend of the Bush family, Crow is a trustee of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Texas, and also backs the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
He is a member of the Supreme Court Historical Society, although he said in a statement he has never had business before the Thomas court.
Crow has not been a party in any Supreme Court litigation, but has been involved in two conservative groups involved in filing supporting briefs in cases that go before the Supreme Court.