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Published September 13 2012

VIDEO: Past reports challenge Berg's claim of 'no involvement' with firm cited in Heitkamp attack ad

FARGO – Rep. Rick Berg said Thursday he was never involved in the property management firm skewered in a new ad from Heidi Heitkamp in the race for North Dakota Senate, but his past statements call that assertion into question.

A spokesman said Berg, a Republican, stands by his claim and that Heitkamp, a Democrat, hadn’t produced proof otherwise.

The ad, titled “Tenants,” references complaints against Goldmark Property Management concerning its upkeep of its rental units and treatment of tenants. It refers to the company as Berg’s, and says the alleged misdoings are indicative of Berg’s approach to Social Security policy.

Goldmark Property Management was originally incorporated by Berg and other partners 30 years ago as Midwest Management Company. Berg left in 1987 to pursue commercial real estate ventures, according to company documents provided by the Berg campaign.

Midwest Management changed its name to Goldmark Property Management in 1994. Two years later,

Berg founded Goldmark Commercial Corporation, now Goldmark Schlossman Commercial Real Estate.

The property management company and commercial real estate company, along with Goldmark Development, share an office building and a website, but are registered as separate entities with the North Dakota Secretary of State. All three companies are registered by Dale Lian, who heads Goldmark Development.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Berg said he has “had absolutely no involvement in the company she (Heitkamp) cited in her ad.” He said the radio ad first broadcast late last week is “100 percent false,” called it “a new low in North Dakota politics” and said he wants it pulled off air.

But his lack of involvement isn’t that clear-cut, based on prior news reports and a campaign donation by Berg – some of which was highlighted in a news release by the Heitkamp campaign.

In 2000, when Berg gave $500 to Al Carlson’s U.S. Senate campaign, his employer was listed as Goldmark Property Management.

In a statement, Berg’s campaign called that notation “a clerical error.”

A 2001 story in the Grand Forks Herald on Goldmark Commercial Real Estate called him “a partner in all the Goldmark companies.” Berg was quoted heavily in the article.

Berg spokesman Chris Van Guilder said the campaign stands behind Berg’s claim he had no ownership or financial stake in the property management company.

Company tax documents provided by Berg's campaign show he was not an owner of Goldmark Property Management at that time. The same documents show him leaving the commercial real estate company in 2011.

In 2003, after master keys for Goldmark Property Management properties were stolen, Berg acted as a spokesman for the company in a Forum article and addressed in detail the steps the company was taking to protect residents in rental properties.

Van Guilder referred questions on that issue to the campaign’s statement, which did not address it directly.

The statement said Heitkamp “cannot produce any legal documentation to support her false claims against Rick Berg.”

It calls for Heitkamp to pull the ads from the air, which her campaign hasn’t done.

In the same email, Berg’s campaign said Heitkamp “has intentionally ignored the facts while twisting clerical errors and unofficial third party misinterpretations to engage in her campaign of false and personal attacks.”

Goldmark Property Management officials sought Thursday to distance themselves from the other companies under the Goldmark name.

Kurt Bollman, chief financial officer for Goldmark Property Management, said the three Goldmarks are distinct entities that have no legal affiliation with one another and share no management.

“It’s simply another company with a similar name,” he said of the commercial real estate company.

But in the Herald article, Berg described close collaboration between the three companies. On numerous other occasions, he and others have described the three Goldmark companies without distinguishing them as separate entities.

Berg, Lian, Goldmark Property chief executive Ken Regan and Goldmark Schlossman president Jim Wieland were all involved with Midwest Management dating back to 1982.

Bollman said Lian and two other people he would not name still have ownership stakes in all three companies. A Berg spokesman said Berg currently has no stake in any of them.

Brandon Lorenz, a spokesman for Heitkamp’s campaign, said Berg is running from his business experience even as he touts it in his campaign.

“Congressman Berg would like you to believe he runs his campaign as a businessman and that his business experience is part of his rationale,” he said.

Lorenz said Berg is trying to distance himself from Goldmark because “he obviously knew that this is really troubling.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502