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Constable’s office gets loan relief from county

Almost a year after Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura was forced out of office and his elected position eliminated, he and his former office are still making news.

On Tuesday, Clark County commissioners heard that the office — now run by the Metropolitan Police Department — is broke and can’t afford to repay a $1.5 million loan it got from the county last year.

Then, on Wednesday, the state’s top court rejected an appeal from Bonaventura, who sued in an effort to keep his job. The Nevada Supreme Court said commissioners were within their rights under state law to eliminate the elected constable.

Where did the money go?

After hearing a presentation Tuesday on the $1.5 million loan, commissioners voted to cover the repayment with other county money for now. But they expect the constable’s office to pay up at some point.

Meanwhile, the Henderson and North Las Vegas constables, whose offices are independent, have already repaid loans of $250,000 apiece.

It’s unclear why the Las Vegas office cannot pay. The county’s chief financial officer, Yolanda King, told commissioners only: “They do not have the amount of resources available to be able to pay back their portion of the loan.” The Metro captain who now oversees constable operations did not return a call seeking comment.

Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak asked staff to bring commissioners more information and perhaps do a new forensic audit.

“It’d be nice to know what happened to the financial resources that were there at one time,” Sisolak said.

The county loaned $2 million as “seed money” when commissioners decided to start a new fund that gives the county more oversight over spending at the three largest constable’s offices

Henderson Township Constable Earl Mitchell said his office barely dipped into its $250,000 portion, had no problem repaying the loan and is still running in the black.

Until Bonaventura, constable’s offices were all but unknown by the public. They do unglamorous jobs such as serving court papers and performing evictions.

But Bonaventura’s first and only term, which started in 2011, featured battles over — among other things — a profanity-laced reality TV pilot starring his deputies, his decision to sue fellow constables for serving papers in his district and the financial management of the office.

Commissioners voted in 2013 to do away with the elected Las Vegas constable and make the office part of Metro once Bonaventura’s term ended in January 2015. The other constables, including Mitchell, remain independent elected officials.

Bonaventura’s office apparently had plenty of money as of April 2014, when he was caught in a recorded conversation in his office griping about the elimination of his job.

“Right now, with everything going on, I want to spend all the money,” Bonaventura says on that recording, later obtained by the Review-Journal. “You know, we’ve got $3.9 million in there. I wish I could just spend it all and then if they did eliminate the office say, ‘F*** you, Sisolak, you got nothing. What happened to the money … you’re trying to get the money and guess what, what do you got? You get nothing.’ I wish I could do that somehow, but you can’t spend that much money.”

Court ruling

In a six-page order Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected all the arguments Bonaventura’s lawyer made in trying to get his job back.

Bonaventura said commissioners had a secret agreement to eliminate his office before voting on it at a public meeting, which violated his due process rights and the state open meeting law.

But the court wrote, “Bonaventura was elected and accepted the position of constable in 2011 with knowledge that Clark County could abolish the office pursuant to” state law.

A clause in the state chapter governing constables specifically gives Clark County commissioners the power to abolish the office of constable in any township if they determine it is “not necessary.”

The high court also rejected Bonaventura’s argument that a district judge should have allowed testimony by then-Commissioner Tom Collins that there was a “prearranged plan to get rid of Bonaventura.”

The District Court barred Collins’ affidavit from evidence as a sanction, ruling that Bonaventura’s lawyer improperly went to visit the commissioner despite knowing he was represented by an attorney in the case. That’s a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers.

Amid his effort to keep his job as constable, Bonaventura also waged an unsuccessful 2014 bid to replace Mary Beth Scow on the County Commission. Scow, who beat Bonaventura with 83 percent of the vote, called his campaign “revenge.”

Bonaventura and his lawyer could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Contact Eric Hartley at ehartley@reviewjournal.com or 702-550-9229. Find him on Twitter: @ethartley.

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