The Clark County district attorney’s office confirmed Tuesday that a criminal inquiry of Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell was initiated after a Las Vegas Review-Journal investigation uncovered questionable spending by the elected official.
Also on Tuesday, the Clark County Commission discussed eliminating the Henderson and North Las Vegas constable offices but did not act pending a county audit of the Henderson office prompted by the Review-Journal story.
In the criminal investigation, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson notified the Nevada attorney general’s office on April 6 that police are investigating Mitchell and that prosecutors will consider charges depending on what investigators find.
“It is my understanding that this matter is being investigated by law enforcement authorities,” Wolfson wrote in the letter obtained by the Review-Journal under state open records laws. “Should a law enforcement agency refer this matter to my office for consideration of prosecution, we would review the matter to determine whether, or not, charges are appropriate.”
The letter, which does not specify the police agency investigating Mitchell, was a response to a March 29 letter from the attorney general asking whether local law enforcement would investigate the matter or if state investigators should take the case. The attorney general’s office said Tuesday that staff will keep an eye on the progress of the investigation.
“Our office has received the district attorney’s response letter and will continue to monitor and coordinate with law enforcement as necessary,” spokeswoman Monica Moazez wrote in an emailed statement.
Mitchell’s attorney Damian Sheets said the constable has not heard from law enforcement.
“To date, the district attorney’s office has not opened a line of communication with Mr. Mitchell or myself, but we anxiously await the opportunity to show Mr. Mitchell’s innocence and dedication to the community he serves,” Sheets wrote in an email. “We are confident that, once the investigation is complete, the district attorney and Clark County will conclude that Mr. Mitchell has conducted himself with dignity, honesty and integrity throughout his lifetime of public service.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department apparently is taking the lead on the Mitchell investigation. Metro Detective Paul DeAngelis emailed the Review-Journal on April 2, requesting a meeting with this reporter to discuss the Mitchell story.
Review-Journal policy prevents reporters from discussing stories beyond what the paper publishes. Reached by phone Tuesday, DeAngelis would not confirm an investigation, and Metro public information officers and Wolfson’s staff did not return calls or emails seeking comment.
Mitchell abandoned his re-election bid on March 21, hours before the Review-Journal published a story showing he wrote himself more than $70,000 in checks from county funds which were deposited into his Henderson constable account. Mitchell also withdrew $1,700 from ATMs in casinos and video poker bars and used county money for trips to towns where his children live.
The Review- Journal story, which examined Mitchell’s spending over the past two years, sparked Clark Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani to initiate a discussion at Tuesday’s commission meeting about eliminating the remaining urban constables’ offices.
“There has been a consistent problem with the money,” she said.
The Review-Journal story prompted the county to audit the Henderson constable’s funds, which staff had not done for nearly four years since taking over the office’s purse strings.
Commissioner Jim Gibson, whose district covers much of Henderson, said he would like to wait until the county audit is completed before acting.
“We can take action when the findings are revealed,” he said.
In 2014, Clark County commissioners cracked down on the Henderson and North Las Vegas constables offices after questions arose about how much constables were paying themselves from fees they collect for serving legal documents. The elected constables collected their own fees and spent the money with little oversight or transparency.
Commissioners voted to instead have the county collect the constable fees while setting salaries for Henderson and North Las Vegas constables at $103,000 a year and covering office expenses.
Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said the county should have audited the Henderson constable before the news report questioned the spending.
“This was brought up through a (records) request through the media,” he said. “Maybe we ought to audit this more often when we’re talking about this amount of money.”
The auditor’s office also did not audit the North Las Vegas constable’s office, which is run by Robert Eliason. The county tried to vacate the office after Eliason could not pass state-required police certification, but the District Court blocked his removal. The case is pending in federal court.
Eliason testified Tuesday that his office is properly run and shouldn’t be closed.
“Why don’t we put this on the ballot and allow people to decide what they want?” he said.
Metro Deputy Chief Richard Forbus told the commission that Metro could absorb the North Las Vegas and Henderson constable duties with little difficulty. Commissioner Larry Brown said moving the offices to Metro would save more than $200,000 paid a year to constables.
Eight other constables in Clark County, stretching from Mesquite to Laughlin, continue to collect their own fees and run their offices without significant county money or oversight.
Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick directed staff to determine whether the commissioners could eliminate the Mesquite constable and have the local police take over those functions.
“It can be better handled by the police department out there,” she said.
But public comments at the commission meeting all opposed eliminating local constables.