TORRANCE, Calif. » At the height of Roger Clinton’s fame, the struggling rock singer stood accused of taking cash and a gold Rolex to lobby for pardons as his half brother Bill Clinton’s presidency was ending.
Fifteen years later, with Hillary Rodham Clinton seeking to navigate a return to the White House, the self-described "first brother" is keeping a lower profile. He lives quietly in this seaside suburb of Los Angeles with his dog, Copper, spending time with his college-age son and pursuing an idea for a television music talent show.
Yet Roger Clinton remains largely dependent on his more famous family members — a relationship that poses the risk of new, if familiar, headaches. (Headache, in fact, was the code name given Roger by the Secret Service during Bill Clinton’s two terms.)
His own lawyer said last year that Roger Clinton had no money. Even the $857,000 house he lives in was provided by Bill Clinton, bought using a limited liability company at a time when Roger Clinton owed more than $100,000 in back taxes, according to interviews and public records.
More recently, Roger Clinton parlayed his family ties into a consulting arrangement with a group of builders hoping to sell houses in Haiti, where Bill Clinton’s private foundation and Hillary Clinton’s State Department helped direct recovery efforts after the 2010 earthquake. Roger Clinton’s intended role, previously unreported, was to use his connections to help win approvals, said Wayne Coleman, a Houston businessman involved in the project, which ultimately went nowhere.
"I paid Roger $100,000," Coleman said. "Basically, he promised to get us a contract through the Clinton Foundation for a project over there. What he was really trying to do was sell the influence of his brother."
A recent visit to his ranch-style home not far from the beach found Roger Clinton heading out to get an oil change with Copper, a big friendly shepherd he said he got from a local police officer. A vintage sky-blue Mustang sat in the driveway, but it did not appear to have been driven in a while; he was using a truck parked at the curb.
Standing in his doorway, looking casual in a backward ball cap and college sweatshirt, he was alternately wary and chatty, twice asking if the interview was being recorded — it was not — while expounding on the challenges of living in the shadow of the man he calls "Big Brother."
"I don’t have a choice of being first brother," Clinton said. "It’s not like I’ve been given the option of doing it and I could turn it down. There are times when it’s hard."
He said his family connections work against him "seven out of 10 times," and he cited the Haiti project as an example. He suggested that "advisers and lawyers" around the former president kept it from being approved, even though "Big Brother loved it."
"You had all this government grant money, and all this money Bill was raising from around the world for reconstruction," he said. "But we just couldn’t make it happen. It’s like, come on, man, can’t you just throw me a bone?"
Roger, 58, is not the only member of the Clinton extended family to have attracted unwanted attention: Hillary Clinton’s brothers, Tony and Hugh Rodham, also surfaced in various attempts to obtain pardons from the Clinton White House and, in the case of Tony, an unsuccessful bid for his own housing deal in Haiti through the Clinton Foundation.
Representatives of the Clintons declined to answer written questions for this article. Lanny Davis, a former special counsel in the Clinton White House who sometimes speaks for the Clinton family, issued a statement saying that the "brothers live their own lives" and expressing hope that "their desire for privacy is understood by both the Republicans and the media."
In the 1990s, Roger Clinton chased the limelight as an aspiring singer with a rock band called Politics and as an actor in movies like "Pumpkin Head II" and "Spy Hard." But he was known as much for his prison stint for a 1985 cocaine conviction as for his artistic talents, viewed as something of a sideshow, popping up on David Letterman’s show and singing in North Korea.
Congressional investigators in 2001 found that he had tried to "cash in" on his White House connections through pardon requests, consulting contracts and money from unexplained foreign sources. House Republicans, whose final report on the pardon inquiry accused him of "serious and reckless misconduct," expressed frustration that reaction seemed muted by generally low expectations for his behavior.
Today, he is mostly off the public radar — if also coping with the occasional tabloid cameo, as when he was sued, unsuccessfully, over fights between women at his home. It is unclear exactly how he supports himself, although Bill Clinton appears to play an important role.
When Bill Clinton was an adviser and partner in some of Ronald W. Burkle’s Yucaipa investment funds in the mid-2000s, Roger Clinton would occasionally appear at Yucaipa offices to pick up a check, a former Yucaipa employee said.
An adult daughter of Roger Clinton said Bill Clinton paid for her cosmetology schooling in Tennessee in recent years. And a lawyer defending Roger Clinton in a lawsuit in December floated the possibility that the former president could help with a settlement, according to emails related to the case that were reviewed by The New York Times.
The lawyer, Walter Wiggins Jr., said in one of those emails that his client "has no money himself, but he might be able to borrow some from his brother if the situation warrants it."
The plaintiff, Nadeze Connelly, maintained that Roger Clinton was liable for an assault on her by another woman at his home in 2011. No settlement occurred and Connelly lost in court.
Wiggins, who has represented Roger Clinton in various legal matters for at least a dozen years, declined to comment.
Bill Clinton’s role in providing his brother with a house is not readily apparent from the public record, which shows that the property was bought in June 2009 for $857,000 by Calle Mayor LLC. But the limited liability company shares a postal box with Bill and Hillary Clinton where they live in Chappaqua, New York. And the company’s contact person is Justin Cooper, who was a longtime aide to the former president. (Separately, Cooper’s name surfaced recently with the disclosure of Hillary Clinton’s home email server; records showed he was listed as the contact for the clintonemail.com domain registration.)
The house was bought during the early part of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state. She did not cite it specifically on her financial disclosure reports, but listed an unidentified parcel of California real estate owned by her husband. Her 2012 filing indicated the property was transferred to an undisclosed party on Christmas Eve that year, and it does not show up at all in her most recent filing, for 2014. On the public record, Calle Mayor LLC continues to hold the property, but changes to the company’s ownership structure would not need to be disclosed.
Further muddying the ownership picture were comments Roger Clinton made in the interview. Asked about Bill Clinton’s purchase of the house, he said that he actually shares ownership of it "50-50 with Big Brother."
"I put 50 percent of the money into it," Roger Clinton said.
He did not elaborate on when he had bought a share or where he had obtained the money to do so. Depending on the circumstances, such a purchase could have been problematic because of his outstanding tax debts, according to tax lawyers.
When Calle Mayor bought the house in 2009, the Internal Revenue Service had a lien on all of Roger Clinton’s assets because of $57,762 in unpaid taxes, and California had a lien for $57,827, laying claim to "property now owned or later acquired" by him. The liens were lifted in 2010 and 2011.
David Holtz, a former IRS litigator in Los Angeles, said it could be considered tax evasion if someone concealed their ownership of property with the intent of not paying a tax debt. On the other hand, he said, if the debtor was in a repayment plan and not trying to be deceptive, or if someone else bought the house and let the debtor live there, "that would be no problem at all."
"If I was still working at the IRS and someone came to me with this, it would raise eyebrows and trigger me to dig further to find out what exactly was going on," Holtz said.
A person familiar with the Clinton family said the former president decided to make the purchase to help provide a stable living environment for Roger Clinton and his son, who was a teenager at the time. The use of a limited liability company was to provide some financial protection for the former president, as he was not going to be living in the home, according to this person, who requested anonymity to speak about private matters involving the family.
Roger Clinton did come into some money over the next couple of years, after he was approached about helping the Houston builders win a Haiti reconstruction contract. Coleman, one of the builders, said a mutual friend introduced them to Roger, who "kept assuring us he could get something done."
The builders, whose proposal was called Living Modular and involved low-cost concrete homes for Haitians displaced by the earthquake, paid Roger Clinton $5,000 a month, Coleman said. Theirs was one of many in an expo in Haiti that showcased various housing plans; Coleman said Bill Clinton toured the builders’ demonstration home, along with others, none of which were chosen in the end.
Coleman said Wiggins, Roger Clinton’s lawyer, got involved in the effort as well, giving the builders hope the project might move forward, to no avail.
"He was basically trying to help Roger, because Roger was kind of a screwball, you could never pin him down on anything," he said. "I probably lost about half a million dollars overall on the whole thing."
Roger Clinton acknowledged that his former partners "might be feeling a little burned," but he said he spent thousands of dollars of his own money as well and tried his best. He said his decision to get involved with a project that his brother could have some sway over was "completely above board."
"I don’t usually do it, but this time I really felt like I could do some good," he said. "Would I have made money out of it? Sure, at least I hoped so. I could have kept half and given half to charity. I could be a philanthropist, too."