Nye justice denied

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has recommended to the White House that it reappoint Daniel Bogden as U.S. attorney for Nevada. The Bush administration fired Bogden two years ago in a political purge of nine federal prosecutors perceived as not sufficiently supporting the Republican Party cause. Reid believes Bogden, registered nonpartisan, was terminated unfairly and should get his job back.

Fair enough. But what about the current holder of the position, Gregory Brower? Is he doing a bad job? Reid says no.

But based on a plea deal Brower worked out this week, I'd say it's time for him to look for another position.

Brower wants to effectively let Nye County brothel owner Joe Richards off the hook for attempting to bribe a county commissioner. Under the proposed plea deal, Richards would serve no time behind bars for his 2005 payoff to a public official in a scheme to get an ordinance changed to help his business.

Incredibly -- gallingly -- Brower defended the plea deal by telling The Associated Press that Richards' offense constituted "a small-time effort at bribing a county commissioner."

Please tell me, fellow Nevadans, is there ever such a thing as a "small-time effort at bribing a county commissioner"? Who among us believes someone caught red-handed attempting to corrupt our cherished democratic system should be allowed to escape justice?

Consider the contrast: Brower's predecessor, Bogden, exposed the worst corruption of the Clark County Commission in recent memory. Four former commissioners -- Dario Herrera, Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, Erin Kenny and Lance Malone -- received prison sentences, as did the key person doing the bribing, strip club owner Michael Galardi. In Clark County, bribing a county commissioner is a serious offense, but in Nye County, Brower thinks it's "small time."

The fact is, Joe Richards has been playing dirty in Nye County politics for decades. In 1990, a grand jury indicted him on a charge of bribing County Commissioner Bobby Revert. Richards allegedly paid Revert $20,000 in exchange for favorable treatment by the Nye County Liquor and Licensing Board. (Richards and Revert claimed it was a loan.)

The charges were later dropped on a technicality: The indictment was faulty because it didn't list where the alleged crime occurred. Apparently there was some uncertainty about whether the alleged payoff happened in Nye or Clark County, which would determine where the case should be filed. The charge was never refiled.

Richards owns three brothels in Nye County, but he doesn't have one in Pahrump, which is closer to Las Vegas, the wellspring of copulatory wealth. Richards owns property across the street from the Chicken Ranch, one of Pahrump's two brothels. But he isn't allowed to open a brothel on his property, because it does not fall within a county island where brothels are permitted.

That's why Richards tried to bribe former County Commissioner Candice Trummell to get the law changed.

But in the meantime, to spite the commissioners, Richards opened a strip club on State Route 160, the highway heading into Pahrump. He plastered big pictures of scantily clad women on the building. Many residents were appalled, but the commission couldn't do anything because it lacked an ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses.

In defense of the plea deal, Brower told The Associated Press: "He has no criminal record, he apparently has health issues, and he's 75 years old."

But in fact, Richards has an extensive rap sheet dating from the 1950s and '60s in Wisconsin, including 11 arrests on charges such as assault, robbery and burglary, two felony convictions and several prison sentences, according to FBI records obtained by the Las Vegas Sun and published in 1990. For an unknown reason, the Wisconsin governor pardoned Richards in 1975, so his criminal record is officially sealed.

And when Richards was accused of bribing Trummell, former Nye County Commissioner Cameron McRae told the Review-Journal that the brothel owner had tried to bribe him, too. "It's about time they get him," McRae said. "He offered me money two or three times, and I went to the FBI and got the cold shoulder."

Brower's assertion that Richards "has no criminal record" may be true in the eyes of the law, but it is laughable in the court of public opinion, especially in Nye County. And why should Richards' age and health have any bearing on the case?

My sympathies lie with Trummell. The former commissioner, who wore a wire to help the FBI catch Richards, told the Review-Journal that she wonders now why she agreed to take such a risk only to see Richards get a "slap on the wrist."

"This is a crime that deserves real punishment, and probation isn't real punishment as far as I'm concerned," Trummell said.

What's more, it's time for justice to be served in Nye County. For years, corruption has been allowed to fester there, and state and federal authorities have been remiss in rooting it out. Suits like Brower might consider a Nye County corruption case "small time," but that's an insult to the citizens who live there and to the basic concept of justice.

Geoff Schumacher (gschumacher@reviewjournal.com) is the Review-Journal's director of community publications. His column appears Friday.