As noted in a pair of columns this past week (here and here), I recently discovered that a Reno lawyer and the former Lyon County (NV) sheriff secretly conspired to pass a 2018 ballot question to shut down the four legal brothels in Lyon County and hid the fact that the sheriff had helped bankroll the initiative.
The effort failed spectacularly – with voters crushing Lyon County Question 1 by a margin of 80-20 percent. But that’s not the point…
The point is that Jason Guinasso, who spearheaded the effort using a state political action committee (PAC), failed to disclose Sheriff Al McNeil’s financial support on a pair of required campaign finance reports leading up to Election Day – critical information for voters on this particular issue which could have changed the outcome.
As such, I filed today a formal complaint and request for an investigation of Mr. Guinasso and his End Trafficking and Prostitution (ETAP) PAC with the Nevada Secretary of State over suspected election law violations.
In short, Nevada law requires that the identify of donors to PACs who contribute $1,000 or more – either one time or cumulatively – be disclosed on official campaign finance reports. Mr. Guinasso and ETAP PAC failed to do so on Report #3 and Report #4 which were filed just prior to Election Day.
Had this information been disclosed, it would have been a major news story, as the sheriff was secretly funding and assisting efforts to shutter businesses he had the power and authority to regulate without the knowledge of county commissioners.
In fact, Sheriff McNeil delivered to the County Commission an extensive “Internal Audit Report On Brothel Compliance Requirements” just weeks before the election without disclosing his financial support of ETAP PAC.
“The discovery of US immigration law violations and possible acts of international human trafficking into a legal brothel system is extremely alarming,” McNeil told commissioners in prepared, incendiary remarks on October 3, 2018.
McNeil’s report generated several potentially damaging news stories – including reports on a brothel compliance check that many falsely characterized as an “ICE raid” – which could have adversely affected the vote on Lyon County Question 1.
Not only was this statement not true – as the Nevada Independent accurately reported, the compliance check did NOT uncover any “acts of international human trafficking into a legal brothel system” and “did not lead to arrests or citations” – it was clearly designed to sway voters into voting for Question 1 to close the brothels.
Again, all without disclosure to commissioners, the public or the media of his vested financial interest and other support – including his recently discovered public participation in a private church meeting last April where he declared “It’s time to close down these brothels in Lyon County” – for ETAP PAC’s activities despite the regulatory power he possessed over the brothels in his governmental position as sheriff.
In the Secretary of State complaint, I lay out the reasons why I believe Mr. Guinasso’s and ETAP PAC’s failure to disclose Sheriff McNeil’s financial support was both deceptive and intentional…
- Mr. Guinasso is a highly-trained lawyer. As an officer of the court, ignorance of the law is no excuse.
- Mr. Guinasso works for a politically-connected law firm headed up by Nevada’s former lieutenant governor which is experienced in a variety of matters involving governmental legal matters.
- Mr. Guinasso, who is also chairman of the Nevada Public School Charter Authority, was a candidate for public office in 2016 and his own campaign finance reports from that failed effort clearly demonstrate his knowledge of the reporting and disclosure requirements.
- Mr. McNeil’s contribution on August 30, 2018 of $999 clearly demonstrates that both Mr. McNeil and Mr. Guinasso KNEW of the $1,000 “trigger” amount requiring disclosure and attempted to hide his financial support from voters despite an earlier donation of $500 that put Mr. McNeil’s CUMULATIVE total over the $1,000 trigger.
As such, I have suggested to the Secretary of State – should it find in its investigation that this violation did, in fact, occur – “that the maximum fine and/or penalties be assessed as opposed to a simple slap on the wrist.”
In addition, since it’s clear to me that Mr. Guinasso, Mr. McNeil and ETAP PAC attempted to deceive the voters by filing inaccurate and improper reports, I’ve also asked the Secretary of State to obtain full bank statements for ETAP PAC for each month in 2018 and review them for any additional deceptions.
Under the circumstances, there is no reason whatsoever to “take their word for it” that the PAC isn’t hiding anything else.
Lastly, I’ve copied the Nevada Attorney General’s office, the Nevada Commission on Ethics and the Nevada Bar Association requesting they review this complaint for possible additional investigations into Mr. Guinasso’s and Mr. McNeil’s actions in this matter.
Clandestinely abusing power and authority – either as a licensed attorney or an elected public official – is serious. Especially when that power and authority are used against relatively powerless businesses and citizens in our state.
Let’s hope the authorities throw the book at ‘em.