Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said Thursday she will drop the criminal case against Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, despite maintaining that he committed felonies and that her job is to make "elected officials be accountable to the public."
The unprecedented case neared an end Monday when a judge in Las Vegas tossed it out of court. District Judge Valerie Adair said the state's indictment was "not sufficient and does not satisfy due process."
On Thursday Masto met with reporters to explain why she won't appeal the decision or move to reindict despite her insistence that Krolicki broke the law in his handling of $6 million in the Nevada College Savings Program.
"I do not believe it is in the best interests of the state to proceed further with this case," she said. "A consideration in my office also was the resources and the limited resources that we have at this point in time. We have priorities in this office with other cases, as well."
Krolicki, charged with two counts of misappropriation and falsification of accounts by a public officer and two counts of misappropriation by a treasurer, maintains his innocence. The Republican and his supporters allege the case by Masto, a Democrat, was politically motivated.
Masto denies the accusation. "I brought this case in good faith to a grand jury," said Masto during a news conference. "The money in question was not the treasurer's to spend."
Krolicki said he's happy to put the case behind him.
"Obviously I welcome the closure to this long and absurd ordeal," he said. "This whole legal matter has been very upsetting, certainly to my family and those around me."
The case centered around Krolicki's management of the college fund during his tenure as state treasurer.
Masto says from 2001 to 2006 Krolicki kept proceeds from the program under his control in the treasurer's office for marketing and other expenses when the money should have been sent to the state's general fund.
Krolicki described the program as one of the most successful of its kind in the country. He said it wasn't until after he left the office that state law was changed to require all the proceeds be sent to the general fund.
Some of the money, an estimated $1.5 million, was used on marketing that included advertisements that included Krolicki.
Masto alleged the ads benefited Krolicki by raising his political profile.
But Krolicki is far from being the first public officeholder to combine personal image with an official program or duty.
Current state treasurer Kate Marshall appears in print advertisements promoting her office's unclaimed property auctions.
Las Vegas mayor and chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Oscar Goodman has raised his personal profile in part by frequently appearing with showgirls paid for by the taxpayer funded authority.
No one in an official capacity has suggested that Marshall and Goodman are abusing their power.
"If somebody can, everybody should be able to," said Krolicki consultant Ryan Erwin about appearing in advertisements and promotions. "The playing field should be level."
The decision by Masto to pursue a criminal case despite no evidence Krolicki enriched himself and when no money was missing is unprecedented in Nevada, said Guy Rocha, a retired state archivist.
In 2004 state controller Kathy Augustine was impeached by the Legislature in part for violating state law by using her personal assistant to perform campaign duties while on state time.
"Those are always handled outside the criminal justice system," Rocha said of misconduct by state officers that doesn't clearly demonstrate criminal intent. "This is a first, and maybe along this line, hopefully a last."
The indictment against Krolicki was returned Dec. 4, 2008, not long after Krolicki talked openly of possibly challenging Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., for his seat.
At first Krolicki and his supporters alleged the prosecution was an attempt to derail his potential candidacy, although no one produced evidence to prove the case was politically motivated.
But the political motivation theory gained new steam last month when it became public that Masto's husband, Paul Masto, was planning a political fundraiser on behalf of Robert Randazzo, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. Masto says she didn't know about the fundraiser, which was subsequently canceled.
University of Nevada, Reno political science professor Eric Herzik says it is unlikely Masto will face official sanctions for the failed prosecution.
But he says it hurt her political credibility.
"Her competence has to be questioned. Her political and legal judgment has to be questioned," Herzik said. "I just don't have a good explanation for it. It is hard to swallow there was no political motivation in this legal travesty. Who was behind it? I don't know."
The case against Krolicki's chief of staff, Kathryn Besser, also has been dropped.
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.