On his Fox News program last summer, Sean Hannity effused praise for his guest, U.S. housing secretary Ben Carson. “I know you have done a good job,” Hannity said. “You are a good man.”
Carson’s presence gave Hannity a chance to address a favorite topic: What he considers a low rate of home ownership in the United States. He noted that Carson’s agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, assists low-income Americans in finding affordable homes to rent. “And people need help,” Hannity said. “I’m a Christian. I believe we have a role. But I like the idea of them owning the place.”
At no time during the interview, however, did Hannity disclose his own role in the housing market – or the help he has received from Carson’s agency. News organizations generally disclose such potential conflicts of interest.
Hannity, a former talk-radio host in Atlanta who has become one of the nation’s most popular television and radio conservative commentators, has amassed a real-estate portfolio worth about $90 million, most of it rental homes in Georgia and six other states. HUD, the agency that Carson now heads, guaranteed about $22 million in loans on two of Hannity’s apartment complexes in Georgia.
Hannity’s real-estate holdings were first disclosed Monday by the British newspaper The Guardian. The newspaper’s report followed the revelation last week that Hannity is a client of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. Federal agents raided Cohen’s office and hotel earlier this month, seeking, among other items, documents on Cohen’s $130,000 payment to a pornographic film actress who says she had a sexual affair with Trump several years ago. Hannity has said he consulted Cohen only about real-estate matters.
Through a spokesman in his New York office, Hannity declined a request for an interview Monday. On his website, Hannity denied discussing the loans with anyone at HUD and noted that one had been approved under former President Barack Obama. Later, on the radio, he suggested the story about his holdings was retaliation for his support of Trump.
How Hannity acquired so much real estate – more than 870 homes, according to The Guardian – is a complicated tale involving more than two dozen shell companies, a wealth-management firm and its lawyers, all based at the same address in Kennesaw.
Since 2005, Hannity has created 28 limited-liability companies under variations of the name “SPMK,” according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. His name does not appear on publicly filed corporate documents, but he has signed loan papers that identified him as the firms’ owner.
Paperwork for each company was filed by lawyers for Henssler Financial, a Kennesaw firm that manages assets worth more than $1.8 billion. One of the lawyers, Christopher Reeves, is also Henssler’s chief compliance officer, according to the firm’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
In emails on Monday, Reeves acknowledged that Hannity is a Henssler client. Hannity also invested, through one of his shell companies, in two property-management companies affiliated with Henssler, Reeves said.
A Henssler executive, Bill Lako, has appeared on Hannity’s nationally syndicated radio show and has been described as the program’s “tax expert.”
Lako also published an article on Hannity’s website last week attacking one of the host’s frequent targets: Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
“How much does it cost?” Lako wrote of Mueller’s investigation. “And, who pays the bills? … The citizens pick up the tab. That’s right, a political game funded by taxpayer dollars. Shocker!”
State records list Lako as the chief executive and chief financial officer of many of Hannity’s companies. Hannity apparently has never disclosed on the air or online the specific financial connections he has with Lako. However, in introducing Lako on the radio, Hannity described him as his “financial guy” who “has literally managed me since I had zero dollars in my pocket.”
Hannity also said he and Lako had “done some business deals together and so on and so forth.”
Lako did not respond to requests for an interview.
Hannity’s property holdings include single-family homes purchased for as little as $50,000 in places like Woodstock, Mableton and Powder Springs; apartment complexes; and high-end real estate on Long Island, New York, where he lives. His companies bought many parcels out of foreclosure in the years following the banking crisis of the last decade. At the same time, Hannity frequently criticized Obama for failing to protect struggling homeowners.
His most valuable properties apparently are apartment complexes in Perry and Brunswick, for which HUD guaranteed loans. The Brunswick complex, Legacy Apartment Homes, rents one-, two- and three-bedroom units for $885 to $2,240 a month.
HUD agreed to back the loan for Hannity’s complex in Perry only if he promised to lease at least three-fourths of the units to elderly people.
On his website, Hannity said he “never discussed with anybody at HUD the original loans that were obtained in the Obama years, nor the subsequent refinance of such loans, as they are a private matter.”
“I had no role in, or responsibility for, any HUD involvement in any of these investments,” he said.
In Atlanta, Hannity’s radio show airs weekdays on WSB. Cox Media Group owns both WSB and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Hannity opened his program Monday with a full-throated defense of his real-estate dealings, suggesting that reports on his finances originated with so-called Deep State conspirators seeking to harm Trump.
“We have been the loudest voice, the biggest defender of a president who was duly elected by you, the people,” Hannity told his listeners.
“The fact that I am attacked and held to standards nobody else in the news business – no anchors, no reporters – has ever been held to is not surprising,” he said. “I get it. I understand it. I understand where they are all coming from.”
But he said: “We are not going to stop what we do.”
Staff writer Willoughby Mariano contributed to this report.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.