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Henderson constable exits election after RJ questions his spending

Updated March 22, 2018 - 2:15 pm

Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell wrote himself more than $70,000 in checks over the past two years from an account containing county money for his deputies’ wages, records show.

Mitchell, who was first elected to the post in 1994 and this year was seeking a seventh term, on Wednesday announced his sudden withdrawal from the constable’s race in a news release, citing “family related priorities that require his immediate attention.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal has been investigating Mitchell’s handling of constable’s office finances for three months.

In addition to writing himself checks, Mitchell withdrew about $9,000 in cash from two township accounts. Several withdrawals were made from ATMs at casinos or video-poker bars, bank statements show. He also used a debit card for one of the accounts to pay bar tabs, eat at restaurants and take trips to locations where his children live, records show.

A Review-Journal analysis determined $151,000 of the nearly $1 million Mitchell requested in 2016 and 2017 for deputy pay was not paid to deputies. The money also was not used for deputies’ expenses or the county’s tax withholding obligation.

Mitchell, whose office delivers legal documents such as subpoenas and eviction notices, receives more than $180,000 per year in salary, longevity pay and state pension benefits, records show. “(Wes

State law says Clark County should review constable expenses and reject any without proper documentation. But Mitchell did not ask the county to approve the checks he wrote to himself, the cash he withdrew or the expenses he paid out of the Henderson Township Holding Accounts, records show.

Despite previous questionable financial practices in Henderson and other Southern Nevada constable offices, the county auditor has not audited Mitchell’s spending of county money.

In response to the Review-Journal investigation, Clark County Commissioner James Gibson, whose district covers much of Henderson, called for an immediate audit of Mitchell’s spending. “It’s in the works,” he said.

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said he was not aware of Mitchell’s use of county money but was concerned when he learned of some of the expenditures.

“People are put into a position of trust, and when someone abuses it, that is problematic,” he said. “If what you’re telling me is right, we have to look into it.”

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, whose district also covers part of Henderson, did not respond to requests for comment about the expenditures.

Records redacted

Mitchell blacked out 315 of 762 itemized expenses listed in the township bank account records he released in response to a public records request.

He declined an interview and instead issued a statement saying the redacted items were related to personal spending that he reimbursed. The statement did not address the business purposes of the unredacted expenditures.

A week after the Review-Journal asked for the records, Mitchell instructed the bank to send future statements to his home address instead of his county office at 243 S. Water St. in Henderson, records show.

In an October news release announcing his re-election bid, Mitchell said the office accounts are managed efficiently. “During my term as constable for the last 23 years, I have gained a thorough understanding and commitment to provide the citizens of Henderson with a Constable’s office that is efficient, fair, and fiscally responsible,” the release said.

The bank records show about $49,000 of deposits made from an unspecified source over the past two years into the Henderson Township Holding Accounts.

But during that same time, Mitchell wrote himself 51 checks totaling $72,146 from the accounts and made $9,000 in ATM and bank withdrawals. The Review-Journal was not able to determine the cost of personal expenses that Mitchell blacked out on account records.

The unredacted transactions in the debit card statements show Mitchell spent a total of $71,000 on what he determined to be business expenses. Mitchell and the district attorney’s office, which released the records on Mitchell’s behalf, did not respond to requests for documents that show office expenses, county income tax payments for deputies and the fees they collected.

Mitchell also did not provide documentation that the $49,000 in deposits came from his personal funds.

Constable controversy

In 2014, Clark County commissioners cracked down on two constables offices — Henderson and North Las Vegas — after questions arose about how much constables were paying themselves from their fees for serving legal documents. The elected constables collected their own fees and spent the money with little oversight or transparency.

Commissioners voted to set salaries for those elected constables at $103,000 a year. Mitchell was paid more than $125,000 last year, including longevity pay for running the office for more than 23 years. A retired Henderson police officer, Mitchell also collects about $60,000 a year in state pension benefits, records show.

Despite those earnings, Mitchell personally owes as much as $172,000 to the Internal Review Service, an attorney, trash collectors and others, liens filed with the county clerk’s office show.

As part of the 2014 reforms, the county took control of the fees constables previously had collected and used the money to directly pay salaries for employees and constables. The county also gives the constables money every two weeks to pay deputies, who work as independent contractors and are paid for the work they complete.

The other eight Clark County constables, stretching from Mesquite to Laughlin, were not subject to the county’s reforms. They run their own offices, collect fees and spend the money as they see fit. Most of those offices collect only a few thousand dollars each year.

Mitchell receives about $20,000 every two weeks to pay his deputies, their expenses, taxes on deputy pay and an accounting firm that manages the deputy payroll. But a Review-Journal analysis of bank statements shows Mitchell asked for about $151,000 in payroll expenses that exceeded what he actually had paid deputies since 2016.

Two deputies, Steve Kilgore and Ron Maxwell, were paid more than Mitchell’s annual base salary. Kilgore was paid about $131,000 last year, and Ron Maxwell collected nearly $123,000, cancelled checks show. In 2016, Kilgore was paid $128,000, and Maxwell received $108,000. Those figures include reimbursements for mileage and expenses.

Casinos and bars

The purpose of many of the charges and checks Mitchell deemed business expenses remains unclear.

He spent or withdrew cash totaling about $6,000 in the past two years at casinos, bars, restaurants and grocery stores — several times during work hours.

For example, on Nov. 2, 2016, Mitchell took $500 from an ATM at Timbers Bar & Grill on Horizon Ridge Parkway, which features video poker machines, bar food and alcohol. Nineteen minutes later, he withdrew another $500 from the same ATM, records show.

On Jan. 4, 2016, Mitchell withdrew $103 from Players Club on Stephanie Street, a bar with video poker machines, bank statements show.

The constable’s office is closed Friday through Sunday, but on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017, Mitchell withdrew $100 from an ATM at Sunset Station.

On Dec. 29, 2016, he withdrew $500 at an ATM at Casino Fandango in Carson City.

Trips near family

Mitchell also made charges and withdrew cash outside the county — including in towns where his adult children live — without explaining the business purpose of the expenses.

None of the spending from the publicly funded township account for deputy expenses was approved by the county, despite a state law saying travel expenses must include “itemized vouchers and receipts” for county approval.

In January 2017, Mitchell visited Oak Harbor, Wash., taking out $100 in cash. One of Mitchell’s sons owns a house in Oak Harbor, records show.

In June, he visited Coupleville, Wash., which is 11 miles from Oak Harbor, spending $15 from the township account at a store before heading to Oregon.

Two days after the last expenditure in Oregon, Mitchell had a series of ATM and debit card charges in and near Yerington, Nevada, where his daughter lives.

On June 19, he withdrew $100 from an ATM at a grocery store in Yerington. A day later, he charged $58 at a Chinese restaurant and $40 at a gas station in the town. There were also restaurant and bar charges and other purchases on those dates in Virginia City, which is about 54 miles away.

In April, he withdrew $100 from an ATM in Big Bear, Calif., and paid a local mortuary there $1,584 out of the account.

On May 11, 2016, he charged $100 at Boneyard Saloon in Park City, Utah, and the next day he charged $86 at an oyster bar in Salt Lake City, records show.

There are also about $400 in charges for airline tickets.

Mitchell did submit some expenses, such as vehicle purchases and office supplies, directly to the county for payment.

No audits

Neither of the Henderson Township Holding Accounts that Mitchell oversees have been audited, despite the county putting in nearly $500,000 a year for deputy payroll.

The county auditor twice audited the Las Vegas constable’s account, finding accounting, IT security issues and failure to repay clients for documents that were not served.

The auditor’s office also did not audit the North Las Vegas constable’s office, which is run by Robert Eliason. He is suing the county to keep his job, despite failing to pass the required Peace Officer Training and Standards tests. The North Las Vegas constable’s office bank statements showed no expenses other than payroll drawn out of county funds provided for deputy pay. None of the charges were redacted.

The Las Vegas constable’s office is now run by the Metropolitan Police Department. The county eliminated the elected position after a series of controversies involving the last elected constable, John Bonaventura. He was indicted for theft and wiretapping after allegedly recording phone calls. County officials could not account for more than $1.5 million in county funds deposited into the office account.

The auditor’s office, which audited the Las Vegas constable’s office, directed questions about why the other constables were not audited to county spokesman Dan Kulin.

“We typically wait before conducting a formal internal audit of a new enterprise fund,” he wrote in an email. “This gives an office time to implement any changes to their processes.”

Sisolak said the Review-Journal investigation of Mitchell is only the latest controversy surrounding constables, and elected officials might revisit whether constables are necessary in urban areas.

“Metro absorbed (the Las Vegas constable’s office), and it has been run very efficiently,” he said. “Since problems keep coming up with (constables), it might be time to take a look.”

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described who audits county finances. It is the county auditor’s office.

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