Dawn Gibbons organized company events, lawyer says

Nevada first lady Dawn Gibbons earned her $35,000 as a public relations consultant for a Sparks-based company by organizing at least two technology demonstrations, a lawyer said Tuesday.

One such demonstration took place on March 10, 2004, at Jean Airfield outside Las Vegas, according to an invitation to the “special and private presentation of our latest Communication Network System.”

The invitation refers to “Dawn Gibbons – State Assemblywoman” as one of the hosts of the event. It does not say she was a paid contractor.

Dawn Gibbons’ relationship with Sierra Nevada Corp., a Sparks-based defense contractor, has come under scrutiny because her then-congressman husband was helping the company get federal contracts at the time.

Dawn Gibbons in 2003 had announced she would not seek re-election to the Assembly and started a political consulting firm, Politek Inc. Her term in the Assembly ended at the end of 2004, as did her contract with Sierra Nevada.

Dawn and Gov. Jim Gibbons have said her consulting contract and his advocacy for the company were unrelated. But the revelation that Dawn Gibbons was being paid by the company while her husband was lobbying on the company’s behalf in Congress has raised suspicion, especially because the FBI already is investigating Jim Gibbons’ relationship with another defense contractor when he was in Congress.

Dawn Gibbons refused to answer questions about the matter personally, referring questions to lawyers with the Washington, D.C., firm that is representing the couple, Chadbourne & Parke.

Pam Marple, a lawyer with the firm, said Dawn Gibbons was promoting two of the firm’s technologies. One was a handheld computer that police could use to communicate with each other and exchange information. Another was an airship for which Sierra Nevada built components.

The blimplike “spherical airship” was being built under a contract with the Navy by Georgia-based Techsphere Systems, according to news accounts of a demonstration of the airship in Maryland in June 2004. Dawn Gibbons was involved in that event too, Marple said.

If federal authorities broaden their investigation to include the Sierra Nevada connection, investigators probably will want to know what Dawn Gibbons did to earn her pay to prove it was not a bribe or kickback to the congressman, said Melanie Sloan of the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a congressional watchdog group.

The invitation to the March 10, 2004, demonstration said it is for Sierra Nevada’s “Force 4” communications system, which “offers real time video, blue force tracking, two-way voice, and message traffic with command center interaction for terrorism preparedness and homeland defense requirements.”

The invitation said, “This sensitive briefing is only being exhibited to a limited and privileged audience of Nevada’s Homeland First Responders.”

Former Nevada Homeland Security Adviser Jerry Bussell is listed on the invitation as one of two “honorary dignitaries in attendance.”

Bussell said Tuesday that he did not end up going and could not remember why, but he did remember being contacted by Dawn Gibbons about the event.

“It was a PDA-type device that would give you the location and direction of all your team members” in a law enforcement operation, Bussell recalled.

“It was a neat idea, and I don’t remember why I didn’t go, but yes, I was contacted by Dawn, and yes, there was a presentation.”

Bussell left his homeland security post in May 2004. His departure was clouded by accusations he used his position to help his wife’s law firm secure a government contract.

Gibbons also organized a similar demonstration on Jan. 20, 2004, at Reno’s Stead Airport, and several private meetings with state officials, Marple said.

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