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Nevada state senator under FBI investigation

Updated April 5, 2024 - 8:32 pm

The FBI is investigating whether state Sen. Dina Neal used her influence to secure federal money for a friend, an allegation first exposed by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Agents have interviewed College of Southern Nevada business professor Kevin Raiford and North Las Vegas police Chief Jacqueline Gravatt regarding Neal and a Review-Journal investigation into her conduct, according to records and interviews.

Raiford said he was questioned by two FBI agents on March 6 about Neal’s involvement in the multimillion-dollar, tax-funded NV Grow grant program, which is intended to help local businesses. He provided the Review-Journal two business cards of agents and a voicemail left by one of the investigators setting up the meeting.

Agents referenced the newspaper article in a city email and during an interview with Raiford.

Raiford previously complained to both CSN and the state that Neal, D-North Las Vegas, worked to get him removed as the director of NV Grow after he refused to award money to unqualified companies. One of those businesses is owned by Neal’s friend, former North Las Vegas police officer Donavan McIntosh.

“Their main line of questioning was: Did she pressure me to give the funds to this company? And I said yes,” Raiford told the Review-Journal.

Neal — who has adamantly denied any wrongdoing — did not return a request for comment. The Review-Journal revealed last year that the state was investigating Neal, but the Legislative Counsel Bureau has declined to provide the outcome of the investigation because it is not considered a public record.

She previously called news about law enforcement meeting with city officials an ongoing “smear campaign” spawned from political disagreements with the city of North Las Vegas. In a statement last year, she wrote that she has always conducted herself ethically.

Neal formed a legal defense fund in August but dissolved it in November, writing in a campaign filing that it was never used.

Agents interview police

FBI agents have been in touch with Gravatt several times since May, city emails show. One agent, J. Aaron Woodill, referred to in an email as a supervisor in the FBI Las Vegas’ public corruption unit, signed a city visitor sheet in May. In January, he emailed Gravatt about “the case we have.”

Gravatt and Woodill declined to comment for this story. In a statement, FBI spokeswoman Sandra Breault said she could not confirm the investigation. She noted that the FBI generally reviews allegations of criminal conduct, but those inquiries may not result in a full investigation.

In complaints filed with CSN and state officials, Raiford alleged that Neal meddled in NV Grow, which started in 2015 and has counseled hundreds of small-business owners, helping them secure loans and develop strategies to expand. CSN spokesman Richard Lake said he could not comment on personnel matters.

Raiford said Neal remained mostly hands off until 2021, when he secured just over $2 million in grants for the program. The senator has sponsored funding for NV Grow each time it came up in the biennial Legislature, which last year awarded more than $1 million in funds to aid the program.

Neal has frequently asked about the program and its finances, according to CSN emails provided to the Review-Journal. She also probed about the status of McIntosh’s funding and the applications for two other businesses. Neal wanted McIntosh to use the money to repay a loan she had given him to start his business, according to Raiford’s complaint.

McIntosh could not be reached for comment for this story. He previously hung up on a reporter when asked about Neal’s involvement in his business.

Neal pushed Raiford to give McIntosh “at least $20,000” for his startup clothing business, according to Raiford’s complaint and text messages he said came from Neal. Eventually, he awarded $6,000 to McIntosh’s business, Maction LLC.

Neal registered agent

At the time, the senator was listed as the business’s “noncommercial registered agent,” a person who receives tax and legal documents for the business. As of last year, she is no longer the registered agent, secretary of state records show.

Raiford said he only recently learned that Neal had been a registered agent from the FBI.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I was seared by emotion. How embarrassing. It proves that I was forced to do this.”

Before Raiford was removed from the program in August 2022, Neal emailed his boss, CSN Vice President Clarissa Cota, to follow up on what she said was a meeting about Raiford, according to emails released in a public records request.

Cota responded that administrators were discussing the recommendations for the program’s oversight and asked to set up a meeting with Neal, the emails show.

“The restructuring would allow for NV Grow to build upon its success and move in the direction you have expressed you wish to see,” Cota wrote.

Since he departed from NV Grow, Raiford said he has heard from dozens of businesses that don’t feel like they’ve gotten what they need. He has concerns over how the program is spending the money and came to the Review-Journal last year, he said, when his complaint went unaddressed by the school.

“I get a phone call every week from people begging for help,” said Raiford, who is still a tenured professor at CSN. “The real victims here are the people who paid their tax dollars for this and are losing their companies.”

Contact Briana Erickson at berickson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @ByBrianaE on Twitter. Erickson is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.

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