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Constables crossing jurisdictions raises new questions about pay

Updated January 14, 2020 - 5:28 pm

Southern Nevada constables are crossing out of their townships to compete for lucrative process serving accounts, resulting in big salaries for some constable staffers.

As an example, the gross income of Boulder Township Constable Steve Hampe’s office went from $203,000 in 2018 to $515,000 last year when he secured three large Henderson accounts following former Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell’s indictment.

Mitchell’s deputy, Steve Kilgore, took a job with Hampe managing those accounts, which are primarily serving papers in Las Vegas, and made more than $150,000 last year for the work, records show.

Clark County Commissioner Jim Gibson, who is chairman of the audit commission, said Las Vegas should be the territory of the Metropolitan Police Department constable.

“I don’t see any good reason for others to come into another area,” he said after the Review-Journal told him about constables’ serving outside their jurisdictions. “I have not taken it up, but now that I heard about it, it will prompt me to ask the question.”

The moving of large accounts and the windfall profits again raise questions about Nevada’s constable system, which has been the focus of scandal regarding how much constables pay themselves, where they spend their money and whether they meet the qualifications for the office.

Constables are charged with serving subpoenas, handling garnishments and performing evictions. Large law firms and collection agencies often sign up with a constable’s office that can give them a discount in exchange for a large volume of work. Client fees fund the offices and salaries.

Constables are elected officials with sworn deputies who carry a badge and a gun.

But constables contend that their clients — who want evictions, court papers and garnishment services quickly and cheaply — benefit from the competition.

Not allowing constables to cross jurisdictional lines “would create unnecessary delays and expense for the taxpayer and the courts,” Hampe said.

Constable controversy

Constable controversies have plagued the county for years. Mitchell was indicted in 2018 on five counts of felony theft and public misconduct.

The investigation into Mitchell was sparked by a Review-Journal investigation questioning Mitchell’s inflation of salaries and expenses for deputies and expenditures of county money at casinos and restaurants and on trips to places where his children live. In July, Mitchell pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor charge of fraudulent conveyance and paid back $80,000. In return, prosecutors dropped the felony charges.

The Las Vegas constable’s elected office was eliminated and its work was transferred to Metro after allegations of misconduct by former Constable John Bonaventura. He was indicted in 2017 on theft and wire tapping charges, and his trial is scheduled for February, court records show.

The county has also been battling to remove North Las Vegas Constable Robert Eliason because he cannot complete a Peace Officer Standards and Training certification. Eliason’s lawsuit claiming that the requirement violates the Americans with Disabilities Act is before the state Supreme Court.

County oversight for some

The Henderson and North Las Vegas constable offices were changed in 2015 from independently run agencies to county enterprise funds, which allows the county to control constable pay and spending. The change limited the salaries of Eliason and Mitchell to about $103,000 a year because county officials were concerned that Mitchell and Eliason’s predecessor were paying themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Henderson Constable Kenny Taylor, who was elected last year to replace Mitchell, said that the Henderson accounts were moved to Boulder City before he took office and that constables who are under the enterprise fund are at a disadvantage.

“The system incentivizes such compensation for accounts without any cap in salaries for Constables that are not regulated by the enterprise fund,” he wrote in an email statement. “This allows those agencies to violate fees established in statute, and charge flat rates for services, where the enterprise-funded agencies have to charge according to statutes.”

About 70 percent of the $1,125,446 the Henderson constable took in during the 2018 fiscal year and $772,157 this fiscal year came from work in Henderson, emails show. About 60 percent of Boulder Township’s work is outside its area.

Constable competition

Constables in Clark County often compete for big accounts.

North Las Vegas took an account from Las Vegas, which was then lured to Laughlin.

To get that account, Laughlin Constable Jordan Ross, who is not under an enterprise fund, said he provided free mileage on subsequent attempts to serve documents when the first attempt was unsuccessful.

“I lost my shirt doing discounts, and I’m not doing it anymore,” he said, adding that any constable can provide discounts.

About 90 percent of the $511,000 of gross in revenue Laughlin collected in 2018 came from outside the township, and 85 percent of last year’s $340,000 was not from Laughlin, records show.

The dispute over constables’ crossover into other townships has previously been before the courts and the Legislature.

Bonaventura sued Mitchell and Ross to block them from doing work in his area, but the Nevada Supreme Court ruled against him.

In 2015, Senate Bill 285 struck the provision that constables can be officers only in their township.

But bill sponsor Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said the county could still limit cross-jurisdictional activity.

“We’ve had a degree of concern with regards to constables working outside their townships,” he said.

Ross said blocking constables from serving around the county would hinder competition and affect the quality of service.

“There is an issue with the service provided by Metro, and that is why they come to us,” he said, adding that the Metropolitan Police Department’s constable service doesn’t answer its phones and is slower than his deputies.

Metro issued a statement denying any problems.

“At this time we are unaware of any complaints against this office in regards to the services we provide and if we receive complaints, they will be thoroughly investigated,” the statement reads.

Deputy windfall

In Henderson, Kilgore made $131,000 in 2017, his last full year with the office. In 2019, his earnings in Boulder Township were $151,093 through Nov. 5, records show.

Kilgore said his pay isn’t out of line with what other law enforcement supervisors receive in Southern Nevada because he doesn’t receive benefits like health insurance and retirement.

“I’m an independent contractor, so there will be great months and skinny months,” he said. “There are no guarantees.”

Hampe said he previously returned all profits to the constable’s office but took home $46,224 since the new accounts came to his office. Hampe said he did not need to take a salary because he receives about $27,000 a year in PERS payments from his previous job as a Boulder City police officer.

He also sold the Lake View Lounge to Station Casinos in 2006 for nearly $1.4 million, land records show.

Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin said the county is studying the issue and expects to evaluate it in 2021, but potential changes would have to wait until the constable terms expire in 2023.

Hampe said the fights over jurisdiction just create problems.

“Encouraging constables to squabble over territory is a waste of time and money and is not good government,” he said.

This story has been updated. A previous version of this story had incorrect information about North Las Vegas Constable Robert Eliason. Eliason took office in 2015 after his office was placed under the county enterprise zone, which limited his salary to about $103,000.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Support our journalism.

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