A central figure in the FBI investigation of former Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow has detailed in federal court papers how Barlow repeatedly demanded a $20,000 campaign kickback.
Andres Ramirez, a political consultant who worked on Barlow’s 2015 re-election campaign, laid out the demands in a rare pretrial diversion agreement with federal prosecutors that could keep him from being charged with a crime.
The allegations shed new light on the criminal case against Barlow and raise the level of concern about Barlow’s lobbying at City Hall in the wake of his felony conviction for taking campaign kickbacks.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Democratic political strategist Dan Hart. “I think somebody convicted of such a crime should not be allowed to continue to lobby.”
Republican consultant Nathan Taylor, who also lobbies the city, said he is “disgusted and embarrassed” that Barlow has returned to City Hall.
“He showed up at the Planning Commission meeting the other day acting like he’s a rock star, smiling, patting people on the back, shaking people’s hands,” Taylor said. “And I’m thinking, ‘How can you show your face here after violating the public’s trust?’”
Taylor said the City Council should pass an ordinance banning former elected officials convicted in cases like Barlow’s from lobbying the city.
Barlow resigned from office and pleaded guilty last year to misusing more than $66,000 in campaign funds. He registered as a city lobbyist after completing a federal sentence that included one month behind bars, three months in a halfway house and eight months of home detention. He is still under three years of supervised release.
At his sentencing, Barlow vowed to redeem himself and become a productive member of the community.
That resolve continues.
“I’m very apologetic for the actions from my 2015 campaign,” he told the Review-Journal last week. “I have always been open and honest about my actions, and I stood up publicly on my own and addressed those matters.”
He said he knows nothing about Ramirez’s deal with the government and did not want to comment on it.
But he added, “I’m moving forward to do even greater things in this community, having learned from past experience.”
Barlow said his company, LV Access LLC, is a full-service consulting firm dedicated to helping businesses expand and navigate the bureaucratic process at all levels of government. His company is built on his long list of contacts and 25 years of government experience and the expertise of several business partners, he said. Barlow declined to identify the partners.
City officials continue to support Barlow’s presence at City Hall despite the new revelations from Ramirez .
“Councilman Barlow is certainly within his legal rights to lobby members of the City Council,” Mayor Carolyn Goodman said in a statement. “For me, my door is always open to those who need to talk with the city leadership about their issues.”
Councilman Bob Coffin, who acknowledged meeting with Barlow, agreed.
“Barlow is a gentleman,” Coffin said. “He’s never tried to strong-arm me to get a vote. There is a difference in political circles between robbing your own political account and taking a bribe to help someone or hurt someone on a project.”
Barlow has signed in to meet with council members or their representatives three times since he began lobbying in January, City Hall logs show.
Demands for money
Ramirez, a former aide to retired U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, ran the Ramirez Group. At one point, his company had a contract to help the state enroll residents in qualified health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Actpushed by former President Barack Obama.
The company’s state license expired last year, records show.
In his diversion agreement, which was unsealed two weeks ago, Ramirez said Barlow began demanding $20,000 shortly after the consultant deposited a $40,000 check from Barlow’s campaign in May 2015. At the time, Ramirez and his company were active in the Hispanic business and political communities and listed disgraced former U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen as a principal of the company.
Barlow pressured Ramirez for the money for months until Ramirez wrote him a check for $20,000, the agreement states. The check bounced, but Ramirez made smaller payments until he paid off Barlow in December 2015.
Ramirez admitted in the agreement that he lied to FBI agents about the payments, saying they were part of a $20,000 loan to Barlow.
But Ramirez later changed his story and provided information to FBI agents as they built their case against Barlow, knowledgeable sources said.
“Andres has been compliant and cooperative with the government throughout the court process,” his lawyer, Chris Rasmussen, said. “He is moving forward from this matter without a conviction.”
For the next 18 months, Ramirez must follow a dozen conditions under the agreement, including reporting to a pretrial officer and doing 100 hours of community service. He also must continue to reside in Nevada, work regularly and not possess a firearm. In return, the government agreed not to file charges against him.
Barlow’s plea agreement
Barlow acknowledged in his plea agreement that he used his former company, Allegiant Business Development LLC, as a front to collect $49,125 in kickbacks from vendors paid by his campaign. Ramirez and his company were not identified as one of the vendors at the time.
Prosecutors revealed in court papers prior to Barlow’s sentencing in July that Barlow had taken the bait from an undercover FBI informant and “pocketed” $17,000 more in cash payments meant to go to his campaign.
“In short, the defendant’s criminal activity was planned out, sophisticated and ultimately harmful to the public confidence,” prosecutors wrote.
Hart said last week that Barlow had “forfeited the privilege” of participating in the political process as a lobbyist.
“It’s important that we understand that these kinds of corruption issues taint everybody involved in politics and diminish people’s respect and faith in the political system,” he said.
Prosecutors shared that view in court papers last year as they sought up to 18 months in prison for Barlow.
“The danger is that members of the Las Vegas community will hear about or see media reports concerning the defendant’s scheme, shrug their shoulders, and conclude that all politicians are dirty and that the system is rigged to benefit those in power,” prosecutors wrote.