By Jack Mayne
A union that represents hotel workers claims Des Moines Councilmember – and former Mayor – Bob Sheckler failed to properly report that he and his wife took a trip paid for by a Chinese company then seeking to build the Artemis Hotel and wants the commission to “take appropriate action” against Sheckler.
Sheckler strongly rejects the charges and told the commission that the trip was paid for by Yareton Investments, “in exchange for tour guide services that my wife and I provided.”
The union, called Unite Here, Local 8, with offices in downtown Seattle, said Sheckler and his wife went on the trip during the first phases of developing what is now known as the Four Points by Sheraton Airport South in Des Moines.
Unite Here Local 8 represents thousands of Seattle area hospitality workers with a long list of hotels it wants people to boycott because they have not signed contracts with it.
Sheckler has been a Des Moines councilmember for 20 years who has also served as mayor. He recently announced he would not seek a new term and will leave the Council at the end of this year.
“I am very proud of my 20 years of service to the City of Des Moines as an elected official,” he wrote in his response to the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). “Everything I have done was for the betterment of this community, often at personal expense to me and my family. What I won’t miss after retiring at the end of this term (December 2015) are the attacks against me from those with their own selfish agendas.
The Union Complaint
On March 25 Abigail Lawlor, listed on the union’s website as a strategic researcher, filed the complaint.
Sheckler “failed to disclose a May 2013 trip to a Miami Beach resort hotel” that was “arranged for Councilmember Sheckler and his wife by an employee of real estate Yareton Investment & Management … ”
The union said in its PDC filing that it asked the Councilmember if he and his wife actually took the trip, but it “received no response to its inquiry.”
Sheckler says he never answers questions of this type, noting that requests for public records, or further information on previous responses to requests for public records, should be addressed to the Des Moines city clerk, which the union did not do.
In its complaint to the PDC, Unite Here, Local 8, said “Councilmember Sheckler should have reported financial details of it on his 2014 Form F-1,” the annual statement political candidates filed with the disclosure commission.
“He did not,” the union alleges.
Sheckler says not so.
“I did not feel that this travel was a gift, vacation, or reportable since I was providing tour guide services in exchange,” he told the PDC.
Yareton, the union said, is a subsidiary of Mintong Real Estate Company of Shanghai, China, and whose president, Chun Yang, has had a relationship with Sheckler “since 2009 when the two met during a trip the Councilmember (then the mayor) took to China.”
The union noted and Disclosure Commission records show that Yang was Sheckler’s largest campaign contributor in the 2011 reelection campaign.
A project proposed was the $45 million project to build a hotel that will be known as the Four Points by Sheraton Airport South.
The union tells the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) that at the time of the trip, Sheckler “was a proponent of Yareton’s plan to construct a multi-million hotel development in Des Moines” and that he “advocated in favor of a petition that Yareton had filed with the federal government to approval for an EB-5 application under an immigrant visa program that would facilitate foreign investing of the development project” that was “eventually granted.”
The EB-5 program allows for investors to obtain green cards for themselves and other members of their families by investing $500,000 in a new or struggling U.S. business operation, provided the investment generates 10 full-time jobs.
In January 2013, the union says Customs and Immigration intended to deny the application and told Yareton to submit more information, which it did.
At the same time, Yareton project manager Albert Sze in March 2013 asked then Des Moines Economic Development Manager Marion Yoshino for “assistance in convincing” Congressman Adam Smith to intervene to help them get approval of the immigrant visa program.
The union claims that Sheckler sought and got a meeting with Congressman Adam Smith, and a few days later, on July 10, 2013 Customs and Immigration approved the application.
Trip before approval
But it was in May, while still trying to get approval for the EB-5 green card program, that the union says they offending trip by the Shecklers took place.
It found and that a travel agency forwarded air reservations for Miami to Sze of Yareton with a note, “Here is the air tickets information for the Shecklers.” In turn, the union says Sze emailed “Mayor Bob” that the “e-tickets are confirmed” and the reservations made for Miami from May 17 to May 20.
The union said it again attempted to get Sheckler to acknowledge the trip and for what purpose, but it said the Des Moines City Councilman did not respond.
Sheckler said again he routinely does not answer requests for official information, noting that records requests go through the city clerk.
Legal Basis for Complaint
Unite Here Local 8 said there is “no record” that Sheckler sought any reimbursement from the City of Des Moines for the trip and did not include anything about the trip to the Public Disclosure Commission on his 2014 F-1 form.
The union says the Washington Administrative Code requires that such trips as the one the Sheckler’s took must be reported to the PDC.
“All persons … who attend a field trip or other excursion paid for or provided by a lobbyist, lobbyist employer, or other person paying for or providing field trips or other excursions shall report …” on the F-1 form.
The union says the evidence in their complaint to the PDC “creates a serious question as to whether Councilmember Sheckler and his wife took the trip to Miami Beach that Mr. Sze arranged for him, and if they did, who paid for the travel and lodging. If Yareton paid for the trip, then Councilmember Sheckler required by law to report details on his 2014 F-1 form, and did not. Local 8 requests that the Commission investigate this question thoroughly, and to take appropriate action in response to its findings.”
Sheckler told the PDC that he paid for all incidentals on the trip, “including upgrades on airplane tickets, meals and taxis.”
“This was not a social event, business-related trip, or gift.”
He and his wife were on the trip to be interpreters because all of the people on the trip did not speak English, “except for the two who interpreted for us.”
Sheckler said he had earlier lived several years in Miami and knew the places the visitors should see and visit and that is why Sze asked them to go.
“My wife and I were in two separate vehicles so that each of the visitors would know what they were seeing,” Sheckler wrote to the PDC. “This service was provided to these visitors that had never before visited Miami. I had provided Mr. Sze with the names of hotels in the area that met their criteria (they wanted to be in Miami on the water). He picked the hotel and made the arrangements. There wasn’t much to choose from because of the late date and the number of rooms needed.”
The Councilmember says Sze told a television news reporter that the EB-5 program and the “lack of interest for the hotel to unionize may be considered threats to Unite Here! Local 8 and they may feel that the Hotel will be intimidated by the union’s complaints.”