Before the age of 30, he was a state assemblyman, a Clark County commissioner and a U.S. House candidate.
Then, he was inmate #38621048.
For many, Dario Herrera’s story ended on Aug. 21, 2006, the day he was sentenced to 50 months in a federal prison camp for political corruption.
But speaking Friday in front of an audience of about 40 people, several with their own felony convictions, Herrera said the opposite was true.
“Your final chapter is not written because you did time or you’re unemployed,” he said.
Herrera was a guest speaker for the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow’s weekly mentor meeting. The organization provides support, training and coaching to unemployed Las Vegas residents, with a focus on ex-convicts.
Sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, jeans and Chuck Taylor shoes, the 43-year-old Herrera spoke for about an hour, weaving a brief biography of his life with advice.
He said those who consider their options limited because of their criminal records could empower themselves by accepting responsibility and planning for a better future and not resigning themselves to failure.
“I realized if I had the power to get myself into that mess, I had the equal or greater power to get myself out,” he said. “Drive forward every day.”
Once seen as a rising star of the Democratic party, Herrera’s political career crashed and burned after a federal investigation revealed he accepted bribes from strip club owner Michael Galardi while serving on the county commission.
He and fellow former county commissioners Erin Kenny and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey all were found guilty of taking bribes. Former commissioner Lance Malone was incarcerated for delivering cash bribes on Galardi’s behalf.
Herrera served 29 months of his sentence at a federal prison camp in Colorado before being released in June 2009. By that time his wife had divorced him.
In 2012 he was arrested in Northern California on suspicion of domestic battery after his then-wife — the sister of rapper Pitbull — told police he pushed her several times and head-butted her. Charges were never filed.
Since his release, Herrera has worked as a salesman for a Las Vegas printing company, as chief marketing officer for the Nevada Institute of Professional Careers, and now as the CEO of his own marketing company.
“No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, we all have the ability to stand up, no matter how many times we’ve fallen down.” Herrera said. “As long as you align your actions with what is right, honest and kind, you’ll be OK.”
His story appeared well received by the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow audience members, who applauded, asked questions and stayed after to talk one-on-one.
“Everyone in this room is able to connect to what he’s going through,” said Anthony Gilyard, the nonprofit’s mentor coordinator. “Anybody and everybody is one bad decision or a string of decisions away from the rise and fall of themselves.”