Freedom Caucus Holds Shutdown Talks in a Tax Cheat’s Home. The Neighbors Are Pissed.

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

When House Freedom Caucus members leveraged their votes this week to win a number of concessions in exchange for not immediately shutting down the government, they chose a curious place to discuss the prospective deal—a townhouse blocks away from the Capitol Building, owned by a convicted tax cheat, where the anti-spending hardliners appear to have set up an off-campus headquarters to stage their government shutdown meetings.

But the discussions on a sleepy corner of a Capitol Hill block aren’t just rattling Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s cage. The group has also disrupted its new neighbors, many of them elderly, who often cross paths with politicians and powerbrokers living blocks away from Congress. Some of the residents have complained to District of Columbia housing officials that the setup has caused a nuisance and is in violation of residential rules, arguing that the building—zoned as a home—functions exclusively as an office for business meetings and lobbying activity.

It’s unclear how legitimate that complaint is, but the neighbors flagged down a small group of reporters who were staking out the Freedom Caucus meeting Monday night to complain about the situation. What’s also unclear is who’s paying for the supposed office—a question that, depending on the answer, might present ethical complications.

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In May, The Washington Post reported that the Conservative Partnership Institute—a group that features former White House chief of staff and Freedom Caucus co-founder Mark Meadows—had quietly bought $41 million worth of property in the area. However, The Daily Beast’s review of Federal Election Commission filings and congressional expense reports did not uncover rental payments to corporate entities associated with CPI or the property’s owner. According to FEC filings, the HFC-aligned House Freedom Fund PAC paid $6,500 in monthly rent to CPI, dating all the way back to late 2018. Then, the HFF stopped paying rent in January of this year, the same month the move-in purportedly began.

The actual owner of the property—a convicted felon who used an offshore bank account to dodge hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal taxes—has rented out the townhouse for years, neighbors told The Daily Beast. No one, they said, actually lives there.

For nearby Capitol Hill residents, the ethics questions take a backseat to the state of the neighborhood, and the recent microboom of political and corporate real estate purchases in the area has led to a spike in disruptions to their daily life.

Amid this new trend, the home—a stately three-story brick townhome on a corner lot, replete with a castle turret—remains something of an outlier. And a mystery.

The house has functioned as something of an HFC hub since late January, neighbors claimed, but the complaints appear to have recently hit fever pitch. As the Freedom Caucus escalates its game of chicken against McCarthy—with an impending government shutdown looking more likely by the minute at this point—members of Congress, staffers, and various associates and advisers have flocked to the townhouse. The attendees have intruded on the neighborhood’s typical quietude, residents claim, creating noise, generating garbage, and gumming up traffic by parking illegally, with meetings sometimes stretching late into the night. They’ve pressed local officials to take action on the property, which has also been the subject of a locally focused blog called Capitol Hill Corner.

Gene Berry, who lives in close proximity to the address, told The Daily Beast that the business conducted at the house was “an antithesis to what we find the Hill to be.”

“It’s a commercial establishment. No one’s there, no one’s living there,” Berry said. “It becomes an eyesore, too, when people aren’t taking care of the property.”

Another nearby neighbor, Paul Cromwell, said he has lived in D.C. since 1962, and called on the city to “enforce its rules.”

“They are not using it as a residence. Whatever they are using it for, they’re not using it as a residence,” Cromwell told The Daily Beast, wondering, “Why the hell didn’t they just sublet it to a staffer and let them live there?”

A political strategist who attended a function at the house prior to 2023 recalled a “reception event” attended by politically connected conservatives, telling The Daily Beast that the house was “definitely set up as an office.”

Residents have observed the comings and goings at the townhouse for months, eager to prove the house is not, in fact, a home. A neighborhood group documented the developments in a dossier, which was given to The Daily Beast and other news organizations by the neighbors Monday night.

The dossier includes photos of visitors, mail, and illegally parked cars—as well as photos of drop-ins from politically connected players. One photo appears to show Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), the former Interior Secretary during the Trump administration. Another photo shows a banquet table laid out for an event ahead of the State of the Union address in February.

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Joy Pohl, another neighbor, told The Daily Beast that she didn’t even think they are “masquerading as a residential property.”

“I don’t see anything in there that suggests to me that somebody is truly living there,” Pohl said. “At some point, people saw somebody carry in a twin mattress or something like that. Someone carried in one of those little refrigerators that’s like one of those cheap office refrigerators, but, nothing—nothing to suggest anyone lives there.”

“Politicos going in and out is what you see in the evening,” Pohl said.

According to the dossier’s timeline, a family of five arrived in March, traveling in a white van with an Ohio license plate. They left a few days later, the document says—“but not before getting two parking tickets.” They returned in July, in what appeared to be the same van.

Photographs of mail in the dossier also tie the house to the Freedom Caucus. Those deliveries were addressed to Allison Weisenberger, a Freedom Caucus fundraiser who has also worked at the Heritage Foundation. Weisenberger also co-founded “Women for America PAC,” a hybrid super PAC which has raised $50,000 of its $63,000 total from a super PAC run by Mark Meadows’ wife. (The Daily Beast reached out to Weisenberger by phone and text message, but she did not reply to detailed questions.)

The neighbors also claim that another woman, who identified herself as “Mary,” had been a frequent visitor, and was seen moving office supplies into the townhome. Photos of the woman indicate that she is Mary Vought, who co-founded Women for America with Weisenberg.

The Women for America super PAC has not reported any rent payments in its FEC filings.

The property itself is owned by Oliver Hilsenrath, according to D.C. tax and land records. In 2003, the Justice Department brought a 36-count indictment against Hilsenrath—an Israeli who at the time was CEO of telecom company U.S. Wireless—charging Hilsenrath and a business partner with multiple counts of tax evasion and conspiracy, along with mail, wire, and securities fraud.

Hilsenrath eventually pleaded guilty to tax evasion and securities fraud, admitting he knowingly ducked taxes on income that he had secretly routed to an off-shore account in the Channel Islands, according to records in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

In 2007, Hilsenrath was sentenced to five years’ probation and financial penalties, including $2,000,000 in restitution to be taken out of a Swiss bank account he controlled, court records show. Two years later, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered Hilsenrath to pay a separate $110,000 in civil penalties. Hilsenrath represented himself on appeal but was denied in both cases. The federal court docket, which stretches until 2012, lists his address as the townhouse where the Freedom Caucus met Monday night.

But Hilsenrath’s legal troubles apparently still weren’t over. In 2013, the District of Columbia placed a lien on the house for failure to pay unspecified financial penalties, assessed at $2,000.

Hilsenrath wasn’t named in the lien, but a company tied to him was. Less than a year after the SEC’s judgment against him, a company called “Castlerock LLP” bought the townhouse, D.C. records show. While Castlerock had been registered in Delaware under a corporate agent on May 10, 2010, the company is tied to Hilsenrath in D.C. tax records. (Hilsenrath owns at least six other properties in the area through another entity he controls, Terra Lane LLC, according to city records.)

Castlerock LLP received a special warranty deed for the townhouse in the amount of $1.13 million on May 18, 2010; two days later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied Hilsenrath’s request for a new hearing.

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In a phone conversation with Hilsenrath on Tuesday, The Daily Beast explained that members of Congress appear to have been using the address to conduct business, asking whether he was renting the townhouse out to anyone. In response, Hilsenrath claimed he couldn’t understand the questions or the purpose of this story. When The Daily Beast tried to answer his questions, he grew combative and hung up. He did not reply to questions sent via text message, and later blocked the reporter’s number.

Hilsenrath’s neighbors also found him combative. Gene Berry said Hilsenrath “could be charming one minute and raging the next.” Another neighbor, Paul Cromwell, said he could see why fellow Capitol Hill residents would have a negative opinion of Hilsenrath because of the way he had treated neighbors, though he noted he hadn’t experienced those same problems himself.

“I don’t know where he gets his money to do whatever he does,” Cromwell said of Hilsenrath, describing him as “an entrepreneur of some sort.”

While clouds linger over Hilsenrath’s line of work—his LinkedIn page describes him as a “partner” at Hills Mason & Co., but The Daily Beast could find no record of a company by that name—that doubt doesn’t extend to the people using his house.

On Monday night, The Daily Beast observed Reps. Byron Donalds (R-FL), Clay Higgins (R-LA), and HFC chairman Scott Perry (R-PA) emerging from the townhouse after a meeting with fellow caucus members. The group had been discussing a possible spending resolution—a prospect which would avoid or curtail a shutdown, but still appears touch-and-go—but remained tight-lipped about their conversations.

“We’re just gonna talk through it,” Donalds told The Daily Beast. “We were just talking about strategy and tactics. We do that a lot.”

Inside the meeting, Donalds appeared annoyed when he was spotted by The Daily Beast through a side window, moving his hands vigorously while speaking with other members. Asked about his gesticulations and if he was frustrated during the meeting, Donalds simply said, “You guys are resourceful.”

Spokespeople for the Freedom Caucus and for CPI did not respond to requests for comment.

Neighbors also claim to have seen Reps. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Perry at the house, and told The Daily Beast that Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) dropped by in July. According to the neighbors, Scott’s attendance was confirmed to them at the time by his driver, who the neighbors say had parked illegally. Scott, a Freedom Caucus ally, has recently pushed back against the HFC’s hardline spending play, telling Axios earlier this month that “we need to not shut down the government. It’s important to not shut down government.”

Politics isn’t far from the neighbors’ minds, either, some of whom have spent decades living just a few steps away from the halls of power.

While two of the residents openly identified as Democrats, they all made clear that their complaints had nothing to do with politics, but were about quality of life and respect for the neighborhood.

“I would be just as upset if some Democratic group was doing it as a Republican group,” Cromwell said. “It would be exactly the same.”

Resident Maureen Shea agreed, but noted that some of the politicians taking advantage of her neighborhood today are the same ones who helped fuel the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, just a few short blocks away.

“Part of what makes me particularly angry about this is the fact that these are apologists for the January 6th crowd, which resulted in our wonderful neighborhood being an armed camp,” Shea said.

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