Gov. Jim Gibbons and his wife vacationed in Turkey in 2000 with the owners of a Sparks-based defense contractor whose ties to the couple have raised questions, lawyers for the couple said Wednesday.
Jim and Dawn Gibbons paid for their own flights and expenses on the weeklong trip they took with Fatih and Eren Ozmen, owners of Sierra Nevada Corp., and two other couples, said Andrew Blum, spokesman for Washington, D.C., lawyer Abbe David Lowell.
"The Gibbons (sic) paid for their flights to and from Turkey and for other expenses like accommodations," Blum said in a statement. "Four couples went on the trip, including the Ozmens of Reno, Nevada, with the group joining together for some activities and not others. Expenses for group activities were generally shared."
Jim Gibbons was a member of Congress at the time. In mid-2004, he helped Sierra Nevada get a $2 million no-bid federal contract for helicopter landing technology. Throughout that year, the company was paying Dawn Gibbons $2,500 a month as a public relations consultant.
Dawn Gibbons, who was a member of the state Assembly until early 2005, organized a March 2004 demonstration of technology the company hoped to market to Nevada law enforcement agencies.
The hosts of the demonstration were listed on an invitation as "Fatih and Eren Ozmen – Chief Executive and Financial Officers" of Sierra Nevada and "Dawn Gibbons – State Assemblywoman."
From 1999 to 2003, Dawn Gibbons represented an area including Sparks in the Assembly. Jim Gibbons represented the same district from 1989 to 1993 before being elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. Both are Republicans.
After announcing she would not seek re-election to the Assembly after the 2003 legislative session, Dawn Gibbons founded Politek Inc. and began amassing lucrative consulting gigs.
Over the two years the company was in business, her earnings included more than $93,000 from her husband’s campaign, about $18,000 from the Education First ballot initiative she and her husband sponsored, $50,000 from the Nevada advertising and lobbying firm R&R Partners, $4,000 from state Supreme Court candidate James Hardesty and $35,000 from Sierra Nevada.
The Ozmens, who are married and live in Reno, reportedly acquired Sierra Nevada in 1993. Since then, the company has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.
When the Gibbonses and the Ozmens went to Turkey together in 2000, the Ozmens "facilitated the trip by providing information to their friends about Turkey" given their background and family there, Blum said Wednesday. The trip’s activities included a snorkeling outing on a commercial boat, he said.
In late 1999, a Pentagon spending bill was passed that included a $12 million contract for Sierra Nevada to build an aircraft landing system for the U.S. Marine Corps, according to news reports.
Under the House rules that would have applied at the time of the trip, members were not allowed to accept gifts worth more than $50, with some exceptions for personal friends.
The rules have been changed. Members also must get permission from the House Ethics Committee to accept travel from personal friends valued at more than $250, but such requests are not public.
The Gibbonses previously got in hot water for another exotic vacation with a federal defense contractor.
The couple and their teenage son went on a lavish Caribbean cruise in 2005 hosted by Warren Trepp, a Lake Tahoe entrepreneur and former trader for convicted junk-bond king Michael Milken.
Permission was never sought for the trip, but Jim Gibbons left Congress, and the ethics committee’s jurisdiction, before the potential violation of House rules could be investigated.
Dawn Gibbons said she gave Trepp a check for $1,654 and put another $1,508 in expenses on her personal credit card for the trip, but the cruise, which actor Patrick Swayze also took, reportedly was worth far more.
Jim Gibbons’ ties to Trepp and his company, eTreppid Technologies, are being investigated by the FBI based on allegations that Jim Gibbons helped Trepp get millions in federal contracts in exchange for cash, gifts and campaign contributions.
The allegations are contained in a civil lawsuit between Trepp and a former partner; most parts of the lawsuit are sealed because they might contain trade secrets or classified national security information.
Dawn Gibbons appears to have violated Nevada law by promoting Sierra Nevada using her position in the Assembly, Craig Walton, president of the Nevada Center for Public Ethics, said.
"You just can’t do anything in any way with your office that has anything to do with your commitment in a private capacity to the interests of others," Walton said, paraphrasing the relevant statute.
If Dawn Gibbons was being paid to promote Sierra Nevada’s products, she should have said so and not used her elected title, he said.
By referring to herself as "assemblywoman," she created the impression that she was acting as a public servant when in fact she was working for her personal financial gain, he said.
One person who attended the March 2004 demonstration of a Sierra Nevada handheld communications device was Metropolitan Police Department Assistant Sheriff Mike McClary, who at the time was a captain in charge of the department’s Homeland Security Bureau.
"The technology that they showed us certainly at that time was state-of-the-art and high-quality stuff; it was just very expensive," he said. "It was more than most local law enforcement agencies could afford."
The department did not purchase the product, he said.
Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault and Review-Journal writer David Kihara contributed to this report.