North Las Vegas, Nevada
December 1, 2015
The Center for Public Integrity recently rated Nevada as the fifth most corrupt state in the nation. The Center is a non-partisan, non-profit, Pulitzer-prize winning investigative news organization based in Washington D.C. Its mission is “to serve democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of public trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism.”
At least one Nevadan has been championing the cause against Nevada’s corruption for the last 10 years. When he started revealing corruption in North Las Vegas, however, things got ugly, even for this seasoned veteran. He has received death threats, has been offered bribes, and is now on the receiving end of efforts to economically ruin his organization. Those efforts include attempts to coerce sitting judges and judicial candidates into boycotting his organization, lest they be ineligible for endorsements by police unions and the largest newspaper in Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal..
The twisted motives and relationships read like a Grisham novel. But this is no novel. This is happening now in Nevada, perhaps yet another outdated and unwelcome remnant of its “wild west” roots.
Who is Steve Sanson?
Steve Sanson is a decorated U.S. veteran who served his country in the Marine Corps for six years including in active, often brutal, duty, in Desert Shield and Desert Storm; he also served an additional six years as an active reservist with the U.S. Army. He has paid a high personal price for his service, and has seen the best and the worst in people under extreme circumstances, including in his role as a former chaplain for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Marine Corps League.
In 2005, Sanson became the President of Veterans in Politics International (VIPI), a non-profit, non-partisan organization. He made it his “mission” to advocate on behalf of Veterans, and to root out corruption wherever he found it in local and state government. He testifies before the Nevada State Legislature, participates in Town Hall meetings, County Commission meetings, Planning Commission meetings, City Council meetings and Judicial Selection Committee meetings. He has a blog and writes articles, and hosts a weekly internet radio show where he interviews government officials and candidates, to educate the public about pressing issues. Sanson’s organization also developed a candidate endorsement process where distinguished guests from the community interview judicial and political candidates and vote on who to endorse based on their qualifications and moral fortitude to refuse corruption. To ensure the independence of the panel, Sanson disqualifies himself from voting.
Sanson’s accomplishments are numerous, including pushing for the creation of Veterans’ Court, getting laws involving disability pay changed to benefit veterans, getting veteran identification stickers on Nevada drivers’ licenses so that police who stop veterans can de-escalate potential violence, getting veteran de-escalation classes to become mandatory in police academy training, and getting a USO lounge at McCarren Airport for service personnel to use between flights. Sanson has developed such a strong local following that Nevadan whistleblowers now routinely seek him out to expose wrongdoing, letting him, rather than them, take the “heat” from those being exposed.
Sanson does all this for free, often putting his own money into VIPI’s activities. Why? As he puts it, “if you turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to corruption, you are just as guilty of the wrongdoing as the perpetrators.” While Sanson admits that he is not perfect, his supporters will tell you that Nevada can use more people like Sanson and less people like the ones he exposes.
What’s Happening in North Las Vegas?
About nine months ago, Sanson started publishing articles on alleged government corruption in the City of North Las Vegas. The articles claim, among other things, that North Las Vegas’s efforts to recall its first female judge, Judge Catherine Ramsey, are politically and financially motivated. The articles also claim that North Las Vegas’s City Attorney Sandra Morgan has conflicts of interest and engaged in campaign finance improprieties. The articles further claim that the North Las Vegas police union engaged in improper campaign payments and repeatedly violate civil rights through the use of excessive force. The articles have been published on VIPI’s website and have been republished by other news and editorial organizations.
During the course of publishing these articles, Sanson received several anonymous threats. He was also offered a bribe of $25,000 by an anonymous caller with a restricted phone number to stop investigating North Las Vegas officials. These tactics, however, did not work, and instead, simply made Sanson more resolute in exposing the wrongdoing.
Given Sanson’s unresponsiveness to their prior tactics, it now appears that Sanson’s investigative targets are resorting to “economic warfare” – they want to put Sanson and his organization out of business.
Recently, several of North Las Vegas’s top police union brass, working with the union’s lawyer, formed an entity called “Nevada Veterans in Politics” (NVIP). They chose this name, as Glenn Cook of the Las Vegas Review Journal recently reported, “by design.” The group’s goal is apparently to confuse readers and voters into believing that press releases and endorsements from this group are actually coming from Sanson’s group, VIPI.
According to the Nevada Secretary of State, the President and Director of this new veteran group is Michael Yarter. Yarter is the President of the North Las Vegas police union. VIPI recently reported that Yarter appears to have exceeded by at least four-fold the legal campaign contribution limits to City Attorney Sandra Morgan. The Secretary of the group is Loran McAlister, who is also the Vice President of the North Las Vegas police union. McAlister was involved in a 2012 shooting and a civil rights lawsuit in 2014. The Treasurer of the group is Jason Scarale. He was involved in an officer-involved shooting in 2015 and was sued for civil rights violations in 2002 and 2014. The Registered Agent and apparent lawyer for the group is Jeffery Allen, the police union’s lawyer.
The group’s front man is Richard Carreon. Carreon was VIPI’s state chapter President for three months in 2015 during which time he also starting working for North Las Vegas City Attorney Sandra Morgan. He quit shortly after VIPI started publishing articles about Morgan’s conflicts of interest and campaign financing improprieties.
All of the corporate officers of NVIP make about $200,000 per year in salary and benefits from the broke City of North Las Vegas. Its President, Mike Yarter is a trained Detective but apparently has no detective casework.
The Bombshell Email:
On November 22, 2015, Dave Thomas of Policy Communications, who was nicknamed “The Judge Maker” for his successful but controversial and sometimes questionable tactics in getting his judicial candidates elected, sent an email to his clients outlining the North Las Vegas Police union’s new veterans’ group’s plot to isolate and “blackball” Sanson and his organization.
The email reveals that “Glenn Cook will be assisting the Nevada Veterans In Politics group to get exposure and help to dissuade people from go[ing] to the Steve Sanson’s Veterans In Politics group for an endorsement.” Glenn Cook is arguably one of the Las Vegas Review Journal’s most powerful editors, and is reportedly the prominent voice in determining the Review Journal’s endorsements.
The email continues that “the various heads of the police unions are in discussions about crafting a letter to all sitting Judges up for re-election that if they participate in the Veterans In Politics endorsement process in any way, the Judge will not be considered for endorsement by the various signatory law enforcement agencies.” The email indicates that one of the goals is to “get him removed from the political process.”
Essentially, Nevada Veterans In Politics is trying to get most of the police unions to agree to blankly withhold endorsements for any candidate who participates in VIPI’s endorsement interviews. The fact that Glenn Cook of the Review Journal is involved also means that an endorsement from the Review Journal is also at stake.
This kind of manipulation should be unconscionable to sitting judges and judicial candidates. Not only would boycotting VIPI’s endorsement interviews and activities affect VIPI’s ability to fundraise and therefore survive, but if a judge or candidate is allowed to be manipulated for the sake of an endorsement, then what is to be said for that judge’s ability to withstand manipulation when there are even bigger issues at stake for the union or another group that may decide to take a similar tack?
And what of defense lawyers whose clients are brought before these judges by members of these police organizations? Perhaps all they need to show a jury to get an acquittal or recuse a judge is that the judge was manipulated by the police union before, so what makes them so confident the judge isn’t being manipulated again?
(While the bottom of Thomas’s email states that it is “privileged,” Thomas is in “inactive” status with the State Bar of Nevada and is not authorized to practice law. Thomas cannot therefore issue an “attorney-client privileged” email. Moreover, only legal advice can be attorney-client privileged. Thomas’s clients, comprised of lawyers and judges, did not hire him for his legal advice, nor does the email contain legal advice. It is therefore not privileged.)
What’s in it for Those Involved?
The primary financial backer of the Judge Ramsey recall efforts is the North Las Vegas police union or its individual top brass. Sources say that the union wants Ramsey out of office because she is a stickler for following the law. She is costing the City of North Las Vegas thousands in lost monthly revenues as she refuses to enforce criminal traffic and other citations that she believes fail to comply with legal requirements.
Dave Thomas is the political consultant hired to orchestrate Judge Ramsey’s recall.
Thomas works closely with the police unions as he seeks their endorsements for his clients. With the union’s creation of its new veteran’s group, Thomas can also be assured that his clients would get a “good sounding” veteran endorsement, something he cannot rely on for all of his clients with Sanson’s VIPI.
Thomas also co-owns the largest marijuana growing and dispensary facility in Nevada, called “Nevada Pure.” It is set to open this month, and once opened, Thomas and his dispensary partner, Kathie Gillespie, would rely on the police to crack down on illegal marijuana sales in favor of legal sales, thereby adding to Nevada Pure’s bottom line.
Should Judge Ramsey’s recall be successful (it’s presently on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court), Sandra Morgan would likely become a judge given her substantial financial backing, and could help the City’s money-making traffic citations machine get back on track. The police union and other government officials would be rid of VIPI’s investigations into their actions, and Thomas, with all these endorsements for his candidates, would keep his title as “The Judge Maker” and help ensure his and Nevada Pure’s financial success.
Richard Carreon, the veteran group’s front man, aspires to be a councilman for the City of North Las Vegas. As a relative newcomer to Nevada, Carreon ran for North Las Vegas City Council in 2014 and lost. Sources say that the new veterans group has promised Carreon a “free ride” (i.e., full or substantial financial backing) in running against Anita Woods in the 2017 City Council race in exchange for being its front man. Of course, he would first have to move into Wood’s district, but maybe the union will pay for that too.
Glenn Cook & the RJ – the Biggest Disappointment:
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this twisted saga is Glenn Cook’s involvement. The American press is widely regarded as the “watchdog of democracy.” America’s free press influences the ethics of public officials as it monitors their conduct and exposes abuses. It should be unthinkable that a key editor for the largest (some say “only”) newspaper remaining in Nevada is actively “assisting” one group to get an advantage over another. Indeed it gives new meaning to the term “bully pulpit.”
Glenn’s unprofessional reporting has already begun. In his pro-Nevada Veterans In Politics piece of November 22, Cook not only reveals his animosity against Sanson (Sanson claims that the two had a disagreement over an unrelated story some time ago and Cook has had it out for him ever since), but he also states that “Sanson did not reply to a Friday email seeking comment on Carreon’s new organization by this column’s Friday afternoon deadline.” In fact, as can be seen from Glenn’s email, he sent the email to Sanson on Friday afternoon, when he always called Sanson personally. It made no difference that Sanson responded to it.
This transgression by the Review Journal is an unacceptable blow to Nevada’s democracy. It violates the public’s trust in the most profound way – by undermining the most basic tenant of our free press.
Thomas’ Clients and Potentially All Judicial Candidates Must Now Make The First Ethics Decision of their 2016 Campaign.
Nevada’s judicial candidates are set to officially declare their candidacy in January 2016. Yet, Thomas’s clients (and potentially all judicial candidates if the group’s intended letter goes out), is now in the position of having to make their first ethics campaign decision. How each of them reacts will be telling.
In the email, Thomas advises his clients “to be non-committal to any [sic] Steve Sanson’s opportunities either on his radio program or an event. . . I expect by January 15th the status of Veterans In Politics will be settled.” January 15 is the election filing deadline for judicial candidates to declare their candidacy.
According to sources, Thomas’ clients include two out of three of Nevada’s Appellate Court judges, one District Court judge, four Justice Court judges including a presiding judge, and four judicial candidates, one of whom is also the North Las Vegas City Attorney.
If one of these candidates does not interview with VIPI, or otherwise avoids its events, and receives endorsements from the police unions named in the Email, or even from the Review Journal, such endorsements should be suspect or worthless to informed voters.
Moreover, it would demonstrate to voters and signal to other unsavory groups that this candidate is susceptible to future coercion.
So What’s the “Take Away?”
Corruption will continue to exist in Nevada until those in a position to resist it actually do so. Only Nevadans can dig themselves out of the destructive and cancerous mess of corruption in their state.
Sanson, albeit fearless, cannot do it alone. It takes the entire community to decide that “Enough is Enough.”
In this case, we will see if even Nevada’s judges have the moral fortitude to refuse it.