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FBI launches evidence tampering investigation in Nye County office

PAHRUMP — FBI agents confiscated two computers from the Nye County tax assessor Wednesday as part of an evidence tampering investigation, sources told the Pahrump Valley Times.

An assessor’s office employee saw Assessor Shirley Matson earlier that day intercepting mail from the human resource department addressed to the FBI’s Las Vegas office, sources said. The mail was said to consist of a computer disk with employment records for Dan Ellis, a sheriff’s deputy fired earlier this year after an investigation found he fired a Tazer at an inmate multiple times without provocation.

“The county assessor admits to removing a letter addressed to the FBI from the county mail bin shortly before the mail was to be picked up by the postal carrier,” a statement from the county reads. “Three hours later the county assessor went to the post office and deposited this letter in the drive-through mail box in the front of the main post office. Local law enforcement advised the FBI of the possibility of a compromise in the integrity of the evidence that had been requested by the FBI.”

Matson said the agents took her two county-owned computers but denied tampering with the disk. She said she merely wanted to take the package to the post office herself.

“I think what is happening is more of the same, false accusations and harassment. I would not be at all surprised to find out this is some sort of setup by the district attorney,” she said.

District Attorney Brian Kunzi declined to comment.

Mail to county offices, including the district attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Office, county recorder, treasurer, clerk’s office and multiple courts is delivered to and picked up from the assessor’s office.

“Nye County is exploring options to move the mail service to a more secure area to prevent any future breaches of the confidentiality of the mail,” the county’s statement said. “Nye County will not tolerate such a breach of public trust by any employee or elected official. Options to be taken in response to this breach are being considered by county administration.”

Matson said FBI agents interviewed her on Wednesday and she requested a lawyer after initially denying she opened the mail. After her interview, Matson’s staff members told the FBI agents that she often comes into the office after normal business hours, sources said.

County Commissioner Donna Cox said she and Matson often met at the assessor’s office outside of normal business hours. She said any records she and Matson ever discussed were public records.

“I don’t understand what’s going on here, I haven’t heard a word about anything,” Cox said. “You have to understand, Shirley and I are friends. What we do on our own time is our own business. If it’s after business hours, that’s between her and I.”

This is not Matson’s first brush with controversy.

In April 2012, she was found guilty of two ethics violations and fined $5,000. The Nevada Commission on Ethics found she failed to avoid conflicts between her private interests and those of the public and used her position to intimidate and harass her employees and other officials.

A recall effort to remove Matson from office failed in October 2011 after controversy erupted when emails she sent to the Sheriff’s Office were leaked to the Pahrump Valley Times. In the emails, Matson suggested the Hispanic males working at the construction site for the new county jail were illegal immigrants. Private emails containing racial comments she wrote during her 2010 election campaign for assessor also surfaced.

The FBI was unavailable for comment.

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