News Release

Panama Papers: Pritzkers, American Oligarchs


130429135800-penny-pritzker-story-topMcClatchy is now reporting that Liesel Pritzker Simmons “appears in the Panama Papers. She’s a former child Hollywood star and heiress to the Hyatt hotels fortune. She’s also related to U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Forbes magazine estimated her net worth at $600 million in late 2013, and her wealth is combined with that of husband Ian Simmons, himself an heir to a construction and retailing fortune.”

DENNIS BERNSTEIN, dennisjbernstein at
Bernstein, an award-winning investigative reporter, is the host and executive producer of “Flashpoints,” a daily news magazine syndicated on Pacifica Radio out of KPFA. He has written extensively on the Pritzker family. He said today: “We like to think we don’t have oligarchical families in the U.S., but the Pritzker family shows a grim reality. Starting decades ago, the grandfather of the family [Abram Nicholas Pritzker] virtually pioneered offshore trusts as a way of avoiding paying taxes.

“Penny Pritzker played fast and loose with the American Dream of others. Her then-novel sub-prime operations, out of Superior Bank in Chicago, specifically targeted poor and working class people of color across the country. She ended up crashing Superior in 2001 for a billion dollar cost to tax payers, and creating a personal tragedy for the 1,400 people who lost their savings when the bank failed. Pritzker, whose family controls Hyatt Regency Hotels, is in the top one percent of the one percent. Her extreme wealth and privilege has not only made her virtually untouchable by law enforcement, but paved the way for her to become Commerce Secretary.” See Bernstein’s piece, “Obama’s Sub-Prime Conflict.”

Public Campaign notes in “Penny Pritzker, Not Just an Obama Donor” that “she ran fundraising operations for his campaign in 2008 and bundled over $500,000 in 2012.”

Bernstein points to a series of pieces in Forbes magazine on the Pritzkers. The magazine estimates Penny Pritzker’s current net worth at $2.3 billion and wrote in 2013: “The Pritzkers are like America’s Rothschilds,” noting “they managed to build and pass along … Brobdingnagian wealth from one generation to the next and the next.” The magazine suggested a series of questions for members of congress to ask at Pritzker’s nominations hearings, for example: “What led to your being paid $53.6 million in ‘consultant’ income by your family’s offshore trusts in 2012?”

In 2003, Forbes ran an in-depth piece titled “Pritzker vs. Pritzker” after Liesel Pritzker Simmons “launched a $6 billion lawsuit against her father, Robert, and 11 older cousins, accusing them of looting her trust funds and those of her brother, Matthew, 21. … The aftermath of the suits has parted the curtain on the shadowy financial underpinnings of this empire — a vast network of domestic and foreign trusts designed to minimize, if not eliminate, taxes. …

“Do the Pritzkers hate paying taxes more than they seem to despise one another? Can they bust up the family fortune without the IRS finally breaking down their doors? …

“A great deal about the workings of these interwoven financial entities still remains wrapped in mystery. … They are complex — constructed to discourage outside inquiry — and brilliantly exploitive of loopholes in the tax code.

“Don’t even contemplate trying to copy the Pritzker family in using offshore entities to gain tax advantages; the loopholes have been closed. But they remain available to families that had the foresight to set up offshore trusts four decades ago, as the Pritzkers did. At their inception the trusts were seeded with small assets, but since then they have benefited from large amounts of leverage, in part in the form of loans from a Pritzker-controlled partnership and from years of business deals that threw profits from the expanding Pritzker empire into the trusts. Now the offshore entities hold more than $3 billion of the family’s net worth, according to sources familiar with the trusts.”

See video form Forbes: “Liesel Pritzker Simmons: ‘Where You Put Your Money Is A Moral Decision’.”