Weeks before the June showdown for mayor of North Las Vegas, an FBI informant has surfaced with information about a 15-year-old federal political corruption investigation during which longtime City Councilman William Robinson is alleged to have accepted thousands of dollars in payments.
Robinson, who faces Councilwoman Shari Buck in the upcoming general election, was never indicted. Regardless of whether the new allegations are political gamesmanship, FBI-stamped transcripts of numerous meetings with Robinson in the early 1990s appear legitimate, and law enforcement sources have confirmed there was an investigation.
A longtime North Las Vegas businessman who served as an undercover informant during the two-year investigation came forward with the documents, saying he was frustrated that Robinson was never charged with a crime. His allegations first aired on KLAS-TV reports earlier this week.
The informant, who spoke to the Review-Journal on the condition of anonymity, said Robinson was not only hungry for cash in exchange for voting favorably on zoning matters but expressed interest in receiving a Land Rover, a swimming pool, new furniture and help getting out of debt.
"If Robinson thinks he didn't do this, it's in black and white in the federal transcripts," the informant said. "I can't change the transcripts."
The Land Rover, pool and Robinson's debt are mentioned by the informant in the heavily redacted transcripts, which comprise about 1,300 pages. But nearly all of Robinson's comments are redacted, as are those of the FBI agent, making it difficult to determine what is being discussed. The informant obtained the documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Only one page of the transcripts includes unredacted comments from Robinson, and the four short remarks are all benign.
Robinson, the city's 69-year-old mayor pro tem, vehemently denied the informant's allegations earlier this week. He said he has never been questioned about any wrongdoing and was unaware the FBI was investigating him. He doesn't know who the informant is and doesn't remember any meetings resembling those described by the informant, he said.
"The people who know me know I wouldn't do anything like that," he said. "If I had done anything that was illegal I would be in jail."
That the FBI "apparently" investigated him in the '90s and no charges were ever filed "is vindication enough," he said.
Robinson, a retired high school counselor who was first elected to the council in 1983, scoffed at the notion he would ask for cash, cars or other goods in exchange for votes.
"I don't even like Land Rovers," Robinson said jokingly. "Are you kidding me? The (U.S.) Mint couldn't make enough money for me to do anything illegal. People put too much trust in me when I was elected for me to do anything illegal."
Robinson accused Buck and her campaign of using "dirty tactics" to smear him before the election.
The timing "is one hell of a coincidence, isn't it?" he said.
But the informant says he has never met Buck, and hasn't interacted with anyone from her campaign. He said he came forward independently because the idea Robinson might become mayor of North Las Vegas made him "sick."
"The man should not be the next mayor of North Las Vegas; the man should be behind bars," the informant said.
Sources told the Review-Journal that then-U.S. Attorney Kathryn Landreth chose not to prosecute Robinson because she didn't want her first public corruption indictment to be a black politician. Sources also said no clear quid pro quo was captured on tape and Robinson could have argued that he would have voted that way anyway.
Landreth did not return phone messages left at her Reno office this week. Neither the U.S. attorney's office nor the FBI would confirm or deny that there had been an investigation.
Buck also denied she had played any role in information about the investigation coming forward just days before early voting begins in North Las Vegas. She has heard rumors about wrongdoing linked to Robinson for years, she said.
"It's just disappointing because it confirms to me that the things I didn't want to believe were true about William," she said.
Buck's campaign manager, Dan Hart, did not return the Review-Journal's calls.
Buck defeated Robinson in April's primary municipal election by a mere 35 votes.
The informant said he first met Robinson during one of the councilman's races. Robinson repeatedly stopped by his shop seeking campaign contributions, the informant said.
The informant contacted an acquaintance in the FBI.
"I said, 'There's a guy; there's no one like him,'" the informant said. "'There's no end to the campaign contributions with him.'"
The informant said he and the agent hatched a plan to set up Robinson: The agent would pose as a Detroit mobster looking for zoning variances to pave the way for a new casino in North Las Vegas; the informant, an active North Las Vegas business owner, would act as the go-between in assisting the "mobster."
The three had numerous meetings and conversations, which were taped by the FBI.
The redacted transcripts reveal little about the conversations. Zoning issues appear to have been discussed, but only the informant's comments are included.
The informant said Robinson happily accepted cash payments, some $6,000 he was told came from illegal drug deals. The informant said he once handed Robinson $1,000 and was present during about 15 other transactions. He said Robinson was told the cash was drug money about 30 times.
The informant didn't come forward earlier because he was hoping one of Robinson's opponents would uncover the probe on their own, he said. He also waited until the FBI agents involved retired.
"I didn't want to do anything to hurt the agents," he said.
The informant ordered the transcripts in May 2007 and received them in February 2008.
The transcripts cover a period between December 1993 and July 1994. The informant said the investigation then proceeded without him.
"I felt somebody was going to have to get a hold of this and prosecute him," he said. "The U.S. attorney's office failed to prosecute a guy who should have been prosecuted."
How news of the investigation will affect the election remains to be seen.
"Just the accusation hurts," said University of Nevada, Reno, political scientist Eric Herzik.
Though the investigation is "old news" and no charges were filed, voters probably will take note, Herzik said.
"People think if you get investigated there must have been something there," he said. "It's not something a campaign wants to deal with."
Robinson also recently had to deal with an accusation that he accepted an "inappropriate" gift from a former strip club owner.
The accusation surfaced in February during a murder trial in District Court for club owner Luis Hidalgo Jr. A Clark County prosecutor said Robinson had been accused of accepting $500 from Hidalgo.
Robinson called the accusation a lie.
"I've had 26 years of public service and never a blemish since I've been here," he said in March.
On Wednesday, he said that "as long as you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have to worry about anything."
"I don't have any reason to worry about me," he said.
Robinson is focusing instead on becoming North Las Vegas' next mayor.
"I'm dealing with election issues, not dealing with something that happened 15 years ago," he said.
Review-Journal writer Jane Ann Morrison contributed to this report. Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710, and reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal. com or 702-383-0285.