Vilisia Coleman is a felon, but that didn't stop the second suspect arrested in a growing Clark County court scandal from becoming a state-approved notary public and unlicensed process server.
State regulators are investigating how Coleman slipped under the radar.
Coleman, 46, who police say was a process server and office manager for On Scene Mediations, the unlicensed company at the center of the scandal, was sentenced to three years of probation for felony cocaine possession in 2006 and ordered to undergo drug treatment, records show.
She also has a gross misdemeanor conviction for attempted grand larceny at a local Walmart in 2001, records show.
In that case, she was charged with violating her two-year probation in 2003 and ordered to spend eight months behind bars at the Clark County Detention Center.
Coleman, back in custody Tuesday, is now charged in what authorities call a sweeping scheme to file false court affidavits that allowed payday loan and debt collection companies to get default judgments in Las Vegas Justice Court.
Also charged is Maurice Carroll, 41, a former Las Vegas police officer who owns On Scene Mediations. He is free on $35,000 bond.
Because of her criminal history, Coleman by law cannot receive a notary appointment from the state or be a licensed process server.
But Secretary of State Ross Miller said Coleman obtained a notary appointment from his office in June 2009. When she applied to become a notary, she filled out a form that asked if she had ever been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude. She checked the "No" box, said Miller, who has ordered an investigation.
He would not discuss his investigation further but said state agents have spoken with Las Vegas police, who are spearheading the criminal investigation.
Miller said that in November 2009, several months after Coleman received her notary appointment, she reported to Las Vegas police that her notary stamp had been stolen. He said Coleman got a new stamp from his office in January, and the old stamp never surfaced.
Mechele Ray, executive director of the Nevada Private Investigators Licensing Board, which regulates process servers, said Coleman was not licensed by her agency at all. Ray said the private investigators board sent cease and desist letters last week to Carroll, Coleman and other process servers linked to On Scene Mediations, demanding that they stop serving court papers.
Ray would not discuss what further action her agency was taking. Under state law the board also can issue citations with fines of $2,500 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second offense and $10,000 for the third offense, she said.
Coleman is to appear before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure on Wednesday on eight felony charges of perjury and filing false affidavits in Justice Court. Carroll, who has denied wrongdoing through his lawyer, is charged with 35 counts of perjury, filing false affidavits and obtaining money under false pretenses.
Separate criminal complaints allege that both Coleman and Carroll, whose company is believed to have been operating without a license since at least 2003, lied in notarized affidavits when swearing they had served defendants with copies of court papers on behalf of debt collection agency Richland Holdings. The affidavits allowed Richland Holdings to obtain default judgments against defendants who failed to respond to the lawsuits.
Justice Court officials also have raised questions about the conduct of Carroll and Coleman in lawsuits brought by Rapid Cash, a payday loan company, but so far no criminal charges stemming from those cases have been filed.
Sean Hillin, a lawyer who has worked with On Scene Mediations in thousands of lawsuits filed by Rapid Cash, said Tuesday that he was "blindsided" by the allegations.
"I certainly hope that none of this is true, but at the end of the day, you never know," he said. "We have a tough time doing our job, but it's difficult trying to police someone else's job as well."
Justice Court officials on Tuesday formally asked the county for money to hire a special hearing master to review nearly 20,000 default judgments Rapid Cash and Richland Holdings have obtained since 2004.
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melissa Saragosa, one of the judges police have credited with uncovering the process serving scheme, delivered a letter to county commissioners asking that they consider the $60,000 request at their Sept. 7 meeting.
"Given the current case loads of our sitting judges, the court's docket is unable to handle this task, and without additional support cannot bring swift resolution to these cases," Saragosa wrote.
"We know these are difficult times financially, but it is imperative that the court provide the appropriate access to justice in order to maintain public trust and confidence."
Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal. com or 702-380-8135 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.