Former Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion will not face criminal charges on allegations she tried to extort millions of dollars from ex-boyfriend Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson said in a statement Friday he found the behavior of some of the people involved in the case "troubling" but couldn't prove their actions were illegal.
The couple's five-year relationship broke down late last year, and in January, Vermillion filed a defamation lawsuit accusing Sisolak of leaking the results of a drug test she had taken. The test was positive for the painkiller methadone. At the time, she blamed the positive test on a pill she said she got from Sisolak's sister.
When Sisolak and his lawyer met to discuss the case with Vermillion's then-lawyer, Robert Martin, and public relations handler Mark Fierro, they told him that paying her would "make it all go away" and save his political career.
Sisolak took the statement - and the offer of a $3.9 million settlement - as a shakedown, and he filed the complaint with Las Vegas police against Vermillion, Martin and Fierro.
After looking at the evidence, which included Sisolak's secret recording of the meeting, Wolfson said he couldn't prove that what was alleged to be a threat wasn't merely a settlement offer. Civil law allows for a wide range of accusations and discussions about a settlement without those discussions becoming criminal.
If she hadn't filed the lawsuit before the meeting, then the threats could have amounted to extortion, Wolfson said. Vermillion dropped the lawsuit three weeks after filing it.
Sisolak said Friday he was "surprised and disappointed" by Wolfson's decision not to prosecute.
"Clearly what they did was wrong, there's no doubt in my mind," Sisolak said. "That type of behavior should not be allowed under a legal technicality or not."
Vermillion referred requests for comment to her lawyer, Neil Ackerman.
"She's elated to see that the DA made the correct decision," Ackerman said. "There wasn't a crime committed, in our opinion."
Lawyers typically discuss potential settlements in a civil lawsuit. Sometimes those discussions can sound like threats, but "basically anything goes with the plaintiff's attorney in settling a lawsuit," he said.
Martin thought he was engaging in the best course of action at the time, Ackerman said.
Nevertheless, "I would have handled the entire matter differently had I been the attorney at the time," Ackerman said.
Sisolak said Friday he would not release the recording of the meeting because of other pending investigations.
Vermillion is the subject of an FBI and Nevada attorney general investigation focused on finances related to the Homeless Youth Foundation, which she established in 2008 to ensure the future financial security of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, a charity she founded.
"I don't want to do anything to jeopardize those investigations," Sisolak said. "I will let those play out accordingly."
Ackerman said his client has been unable to find work because of the investigations, so he is happy that Wolfson has made a decision.
He is representing Vermillion in a lawsuit against the foundation, its executive director and the charity's board of directors. Sisolak is not named as a defendant in the case.
The lawsuit seeks damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims.