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Arberry pleads guilty in campaign contributions case

Former longtime Nevada lawmaker Morse Arberry pleaded guilty Tuesday in a criminal case alleging he failed to report $121,545 in campaign contributions and diverted the money to a personal checking account.

As part of an agreement with the Nevada attorney general’s office, Arberry entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of fraudulent appropriation of property and received a six-month suspended sentence.

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Diana Sullivan also fined the former assemblyman $1,000 and ordered him to pay $121,545 in restitution to the attorney general’s office, which will distribute the money to the campaign donors victimized in the scheme.

In court, defense lawyer Mark Bailus told Sullivan that Arberry, once one of the most powerful members of the Legislature, is now unemployed. He resigned from the Assembly last year hoping to launch a lobbying career.

The former Democratic lawmaker agreed in the plea deal to pay a minimum of $100 a month in restitution over the next year while Sullivan keeps open the criminal case. Sullivan set an April 25 status hearing.

Arberry also agreed to sign a civil confession of judgment promising to pay the remaining portion of the $121,545. The confession of judgment, a legal document filed in court, will act as a lien on future income Arberry earns.

The attorney general will distribute any restitution not claimed by Arberry’s contributors to a special state fund set up for victims of crime, according to the five-page plea agreement.

If Arberry doesn’t abide by the agreement or lands in more trouble with the law in the next year, Sullivan can order him to serve six months behind bars.

In return for his misdemeanor plea, six felony counts against Arberry were dismissed.

Afterward, Arberry declined comment.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Thom Gover, who prosecuted the former lawmaker, said his office agreed to the deal because it wanted to “make sure there was a criminal conviction” in the case.

The plea sends the message that “criminal law has a role in enforcing violations of campaign finance laws,” Gover said.

Previous campaign violation cases have been settled through civil actions, he said.

Arberry — who served 25 years in the Assembly, including time as chairman of the influential Ways and Means Committee — was charged in a six-count criminal complaint in June.

The complaint accused Arberry of depositing checks made out to his campaign into a personal checking account and not reporting the contributions on campaign reports.

Investigators with the secretary of state’s office discovered the discrepancies after comparing Arberry’s campaign finance reports from 2008 and 2009 with his banking records.

The state’s campaign finance law was designed to keep track of political donations and make voters aware of attempts to influence their elected officials.

The list of unreported Arberry contributions includes those from the politically active mining, gambling and banking industries.

Arberry resigned from the Assembly in August 2010, months before the conclusion of his final term, to take a job as a lobbyist for Clark County district judges.

The County Commission voted against approving the lobbying contract, with opponents saying Arberry didn’t put a long enough “cooling off” period between his time as a legislator and his attempt to become a lobbyist.

Arberry later registered as a lobbyist in Carson City and represented Frias Holding Co., a Las Vegas transportation company, during this year’s legislative session.

Contact reporter Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135.

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