Jurors wonder after trial


When the FBI unveiled its political corruption investigation into whether strip club owner Michael Galardi was bribing elected officials, word spread that the probe would ultimately shake the foundation of the valley's development industry.

Four years and three federal trials later, three Clark County commissioners are sitting in prison. The fourth, government witness Erin Kenny, was sentenced last week, seemingly ending a sweeping federal probe that mesmerized and angered the public for years.

Federal officials refuse to say whether their corruption case is over. However, if it has reached its final resting place, the only businessman in the development community to be prosecuted is 73-year-old real estate consultant Donald Davidson.

Jurors who sat through Davidson's three-week trial and listened as the names of high-profile developers were tossed about wonder why the government's investigation would end with Davidson.

"Why weren't some other people indicted?" asked juror Ron Bowling. "Mr. Davidson probably is a middleman in a lot of this, a delivery boy. I don't think he was the mastermind. There are people higher up in the food chain involved in all this."

During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Schiess told jurors that Davidson's one-time boss, Canadian billionaire Eskander Ghermezian, funneled money through Davidson's personal bank account to pay Kenny $3,000 a month after she voted in favor of a controversial casino in the Spring Valley neighborhood.

Charles Bradshaw, a former employee with Ghermezian's Triple Five Nevada Development Corp., supported Schiess' theory. Bradshaw testified that Davidson once told him Ghermezian funneled $200,000 through Davidson's account to pay Las Vegas politicians.

Kenny explained that after the January 2000 Spring Valley casino vote, Ghermezian paid her a visit and said he owed her a "life debt." She said she worked for Triple Five for three months and Davidson delivered $3,000 a month to her. But when she quit working, the monthly payments continued for nearly three years.

Michael Kantner, another juror in the Davidson trial, said he wondered why Ghermezian was not called to the witness stand. He said jurors believed that Ghermezian was well aware that the money he provided Davidson was delivered to Kenny.

"The majority of us believed he knew exactly what was going on and that was his way of doing business," Kantner said.

The federal government declined to say whether it plans to pursue Ghermezian, and has, in fact, refused to say whether its much-publicized probe will generate any more high-profile defendants in the future.

"We can say that we are committed to pursuing the prosecution of public corruption in whatever form, whether it is public or elected officials who enrich themselves at the expense of the duties of their office or the person who seeks to corrupt those officials or public institutions for his or her own gain," Acting U.S. Attorney Steve Myhre said. "In all investigations, we follow the evidence wherever it may lead and until all leads are exhausted."

Kenny provided leads that led to convictions. She served as the government's star witness during last year's trial of former colleagues Mary Kincaid-Chauncey and Dario Herrera, and most recently, Davidson.

She signed a plea deal in 2003 that capped her potential prison sentence at five years as long as she was truthful about who paid her while she served in office.

During her initial interviews with FBI agents, Kenny named Galardi, who also signed a plea agreement. Then she turned on Davidson, saying he delivered $200,000 to her after she voted in favor of a controversial CVS pharmacy and the $3,000 a month after she helped pass zoning that allowed the neighborhood casino.

Kenny never mentioned receiving illicit payments from any other developers. But other cooperating witnesses did.

Kenny's accountant, Daniel Geiger, told FBI agents that the commissioner received between $70,000 and $100,000 from golf course developer Bill Walters. Geiger also said residential developer Jim Rhodes gave Kenny $100,000.

Galardi told the FBI that Rhodes was paying Kenny $20,000 while she served on the board. Kenny testified that when she left office in 2003, Rhodes hired her to serve as his government services consultant. As recently as this month, Rhodes paid the disgraced commissioner $16,800 a month.

"There are varying opinions on the truthfulness and value of (Kenny's) testimony," U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson said last week.

He questioned Kenny's financial arrangement with Rhodes and publicly wondered why Rhodes, who frequently had business before the County Commission when Kenny served on the board, would hire her and pay her such a significant salary.

"I continue to wonder whether we have only seen the tip of the iceberg," Dawson said.

The Davidson jury also briefly pondered Rhodes' relationship with Kenny.

"The question was brought up about whether Jim Rhodes was involved or wasn't involved, but it never went beyond basic questioning," Kantner said.

As commissioner, Kenny lived in the Rhodes Ranch community and involved herself in Rhodes projects before they came to the board.

For example, in 2001, Kenny assisted Rhodes in reconfiguring a drainage ditch on his land allowing more space for additional homes. Kenny appeared at a staff meeting held to discuss the ditch, a move employees viewed as an attempt to intimidate them.

In 1999, Kenny opposed a proposal to rezone to commercial at the southeast corner of Warm Springs Road and Durango Drive, across the street from commercial property owned by Rhodes. The property considered for rezoning was designated for a community park, but some county officials believed commercial use along the two thoroughfares was appropriate.

Three years later, Kenny flip-flopped and supported the idea. But the circumstances had changed and the potential for a commercial center no longer threatened Rhodes, who had sold his land.

Also, land once designated for a park was leased to Walters, who received the 99-year lease at no cost. But his contract requires him to pay 50 percent of his revenues to the county when he begins to make a profit on his project.

Davidson's attorney, Dominic Gentile, called the healthy monthly salary Rhodes paid Kenny "hush money."

Rhodes could not be reached for comment; his attorney, Richard Wright, was unavailable Friday. Attempts to reach Walters for comment Friday were unsuccessful. He has previously declined to comment on Geiger's allegations. Triple Five, Ghermezian's comany, has called the bribery allegations baseless.

Though witnesses named Rhodes and Walters as developers who delivered money to Kenny, Gentile suggested in court it was land broker Tommy Fehrman who arranged the $200,000 payment to Kenny in exchange for the CVS Pharmacy vote. Ferhman's attorney called that merely an attempt by Davidson to shift blame.

Gentile told jurors that Kenny expected another $200,000 at the end of her term in 2002 after she voted for a residential development under busy flight paths. He said Fehrman was the only common denominator in the CVS deal and the proposed neighborhood.

Jurors in the Davidson case deadlocked on 18 counts, each involving alleged payments he made to Kenny. The majority of jurors favored a conviction, though. They did find Davidson guilty of trying to bribe Las Vegas City Councilman Michael McDonald in 2002.

The government placed wiretaps on the phones of McDonald and former Clark County Commissioner Lance Malone, both of whom were working for Galardi. Malone would also eventually plead guilty to corruption charges.

Some jurors felt that McDonald was tempted to accept bribe money from Davidson, but opted against it at the last minute.

After a 2002 lunch during which Davidson offered McDonald "five dimes" for his assistance with a zone change in the city of Las Vegas, McDonald called Malone.

"You're going to be in the middle of this whole thing, that's one stipulation," McDonald said during a phone call intercepted on April 19, 2002.

A month later, McDonald backed out, telling Malone: "The way he came across; not the way I operate."

"Davidson tried to bribe him, but he didn't take the bribe," juror Kantner said. "We wondered why he wasn't charged or why he wasn't a witness."

Schiess told jurors that he would explain why McDonald was never charged in the case, but he never offered that explanation. McDonald refuses to speak with the media on this topic. His attorney is Wright.

 

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