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Vegas constable re-writes campaign finance reports

Las Vegas Township Constable John Bonaventura moved Friday to untangle his campaign finance records, filing three amended reports in one afternoon in response to a complaint from a close associate.

What prompted the flurry of paperwork was a complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s office by his own second-in-command, Deputy Chief Dean Lauer, who on Monday reported that a donation he made to his boss’ political campaign was dramatically overstated.

In his complaint, Lauer said he gave Bonaventura a $100 check and $20 cash for raffle tickets at a May 1 campaign fundraiser for his challenge of Clark County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow in last month’s Democratic primary.

Lauer told the Secretary of State that when Bonaventura filed his May 20 campaign finance disclosure report, the $120 donation had somehow become $800. He also reported that when he asked Bonaventura about the discrepancy, the constable gave him a check for $500, saying it represented the return of money given in five separate donations in 2012 and 2013.

Lauer told the state he didn’t want the money — he just wanted his boss to correct his records, which Bonaventura hadn’t done despite weeks of requests to do so.

Lauer said Bonaventura on June 30 insisted that he take a $500 cashier’s check drawn from the Bank of America, bearing the words “Donations not accepted.”

In a written statement Friday, Lauer told the Review-Journal he understands that all errors have been resolved but is waiting for direction from the Secretary of State and hasn’t cashed the check.

Catherine Lu, a Secretary of State’s office spokeswoman, said Lauer’s complaint is still being reviewed, and that the office would give Bonaventura a chance to respond. She gave no indication of how long the process would take.

In general, the Secretary of State allows candidates to file amended reports to fix any oversights without punishment, but the state office can seek civil penalties of up to $5,000.

Bonaventura said Friday he returned the money to Lauer because he didn’t win the commission race and isn’t running for re-election as constable. Bonaventura said his next report, due in October, will reflect the $500 refund.

“We are always thankful for anyone that can point out any oversights,” Bonaventura said in a written statement.

Neither Bonaventura nor Lauer explained how the $120 donation on May 1 became $800 on the May 20 report.

Lauer told the state he gave Bonaventura a series of five $100 contributions between October 2012 and February 2013. Including the recent $120, Lauer’s financial support for his boss since 2012 should total $620.

Allan Bachman, a certified fraud examiner and education manager of the Texas-based national Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, said over-reporting a campaign donation can be a way to mask another source of donation.

“Does that mean that the contribution itself was pocketed illegally? Was it an oversight?” he said. “You can speculate on that quite a bit.”

In cases that involve fraud, trying to correct records later won’t necessarily hide the underlying, previous paper trail, he said.

“It doesn’t always work,” he said. “You can’t always go back and fix history.”

MISSED DEADLINES

When it comes to math and promptness, Bonaventura’s reports reflect a casual approach.

Under state law, Bonaventura was required to disclose all donations received in 2012 in January 2013. He missed the deadline by 18 months, filing that report for 2012 late Friday. His reported total was only the $300 from Lauer.

Bonaventura had earlier filed a report covering donations received in 2013, but it only said he took in $300 from donors he didn’t name. Under Nevada law donors who give more than $100 must be identified. On Friday he amended that report, showing that $200 came from Lauer alone.

Bonaventura’s amended reports included disclosures related to his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Scow, who voted with the commission in a unanimous 2013 decision to abolish the Constable’s Office when Bonaventura’s term ends in January. He reported raising and spending $7,225 in his commission challenge.

On July 6 Bonaventura filed another amended contribution report, covering 2011, to reflect a previously undisclosed $1,000 donation. That amendment came on the same day the Review-Journal reported that two former employees allege that they gave the constable kickbacks of hundreds of dollars out of each paycheck. Bonaventura has denied those allegations.

One of those employees said he gave Bonaventura a $1,000 campaign check after being hired in 2011, showing a canceled, signed check as proof.

In a related move, Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins this week amended his own campaign finance disclosure forms to remove a previously reported $250 donation to Bonaventura from his campaign fund on March 28.

The reported donation was a bone of contention between Collins and Bonaventura, who hadn’t reported any such gift and maintained that Collins had never made a donation.

Responding to a state inquiry, Collins amended his report to erase the $250 contribution and told the state he couldn’t find a cancelled check to support the disclosure he had made.

“I’m sure glad you realize I’m a cowboy and not a politician,” Collins wrote Tuesday in an email to the state to explain the reason for the error and for his amendment.

Bonaventura on Friday appeared unaware that Collins had amended his report.

“I am still waiting for Tom Collins to produce proof of his $250.00 claimed donation,” Bonaventura told the Review-Journal. “As you may know all of my records were confiscated by Clark County during a raid on my office and home over a month ago. I cannot find any records of his donation.”

The two officials recently had a falling out. A recorded phone conversation between Collins and Bonaventura is now the subject of a wiretapping probe by the Metropolitan Police Department. The Review-Journal in May obtained a copy of a recording on which Bonaventura is heard playing the telephone conversation to another person.

The Metropolitan Police Department raided Bonaventura’s office and residence with search warrants on June 17 as part of the investigation.

Bonaventura’s political fortunes have been heading downhill since he took office in 2010. His office has experienced a variety of high-profile controversies, including recent revelations that in 2013 he ordered the shredding of documents showing that Lauer had used an office database to research information about adult film performers.

Contact Ben Botkin at bbotkin@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.

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