Aspen Financial's ethics accusations lack one minor detail: facts


Let's start with a little disclosure. On second thought, make that a lot of disclosure.

It turns out I know a few of the characters in the malodorous melodrama swirling around local television news producer Dana Gentry, who isn't being sued but nevertheless finds herself accused of ethical impropriety in connection with her reports on the upheaval at Aspen Financial Services. Gentry, the executive producer for "Face to Face With Jon Ralston," is accused of biased reporting and too-cozy relationships with Aspen investors who are suing its principal owner, Jeff Guinn, son of former Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Now, about that disclosure.

I've had a few tepid exchanges with Gentry over the years, and once when I couldn't sleep, I tuned in "Face to Face" and saved the price of an Ambien. I am represented by Gentry's attorney, Donald Campbell. I went to high school with Guinn and his lead counsel, John Bailey. I also know a sizable number of angry Aspen investors, but then these days, most all of them are frustrated after having their millions in investments flattened and frozen in the tumbling economy.

If I've missed 10 or 10,000 locals connected to this issue, please excuse the omission. Finding disgruntled Aspen investors is difficult: First, you must open the phone book.

But, remember, for some reason this story isn't about Aspen Financial and its disappointed investors.

It's about a television news reporter who used her friendships and contacts to deliver some of the angriest investors to Ralston's show. On April 30, 2009, investor Chuck Ruthe told Ralston, "I believe that there is fraud involved with Jeff Guinn." After a follow-up question, Ruthe added, "Well in my opinion, he'd go to jail."

The ongoing civil case against Guinn had long since grown nasty and personal, but that exchange on television resulted in the filing of court papers that, in part, alleged Gentry had set out to "manufacture a news story" that "could embarrass, harass and defame Jeff Guinn." Attorney Bailey alleged Gentry was part of a plaintiff conspiracy to "destroy Jeff Guinn and Aspen."

That's right. A guy in Nevada's notorious trust deed business is worried about his reputation. And his attorney set out to drag Gentry through the septic bog of the litigation.

Bailey's challenge isn't that Gentry is somehow above suspicion - no reporter is. Nor is it Bailey's challenge that it's unimaginable a local reporter would act unethically. Las Vegas news history has plenty of embarrassing moments.

Bailey's problem is that his filings contain everything but facts to support his argument that Nevada's shield law shouldn't protect Gentry from his subpoena. He's fishing at the expense of the reputation of a reporter.

Before District Judge Allan Earl quashed the subpoena, he offered Bailey a chance to participate in a private evidentiary hearing. The attorney declined. Why?

In his response to Aspen's request for extraordinary writ relief, Campbell wrote, "The answer to this question is as simple as it is damning: The Petitioners had no evidence to present because their charges of journalistic corruption on the part of Ms. Gentry were fabricated."

The Review-Journal and Nevada Press Association are filing amicus briefs with the state Supreme Court in support of Gentry's position that the shield law protects her. That's the right move, and it's not a tough call.

The state's high court has serious work on its docket. Someone should open a window and toss out this sack of rotten garbage before it stinks up the place.

The saddest part of this unseemly episode isn't that a reporter's reputation has been smeared. That comes with the turf.

The most pathetic aspect is that these legal machinations distract us from the greater financial questions facing Aspen and Nevada's other trust deed lenders, which collected hundreds of millions of investor dollars and have yet to make them whole.

In the current light, Guinn appears more obsessed with payback than with paying back his investors.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.