Grand jury hears testimony in corruption probe of Las Vegas councilman

A federal grand jury has heard testimony from witnesses in the FBI’s corruption investigation of Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has learned.

Witnesses first appeared before the grand jury a few months ago, and the nearly 3-year-old investigation remains active, a knowledgeable source said.

It is unclear how many witnesses have testified and whether federal prosecutors might be close to filing charges against Barlow, who was first elected to the City Council in 2007.

The investigation, which began when Barlow ran for re-election in 2015, has focused on allegations the councilman received kickbacks from campaign funds he steered to consultants.

Barlow and his lawyer, Richard Wright, confirmed the criminal investigation in September 2016 after agents assigned to the FBI’s public corruption squad in Las Vegas raided Barlow’s home and issued subpoenas for financial records. Barlow denied wrongdoing.

At the time, Wright told the Review-Journal that he believed investigators were looking at possible violations of a federal law aimed at elected officials who deprive the public of “honest services.”

Wright declined to comment on the recent grand jury activity.

The investigation, which began with the help of an undercover informant, is being overseen jointly by the Nevada U.S. attorney’s office and the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C. FBI agents have undercover video of Barlow.

Both the U.S. attorney’s office and Justice Department declined to comment.

Barlow, whose service on the council ends in 2019 because of term limits, represents Ward 5. His ward includes much of downtown and extends northwest along Rancho Drive. He serves on the boards of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the Southern Nevada Health District, and he has a seat on the committee that oversees the Metropolitan Police Department’s budget.

As part of its investigation, the FBI in 2016 subpoenaed Barlow’s records of financial dealings with political consultant Roxann McCoy and her company.

Barlow’s campaign paid roughly $30,000 in fees to McCoy and Aspire Consulting Group in 2015, state records show.

Her lawyer, Charles Kelly, declined comment.

The Ramirez Group, a once-politically connected public relations firm, also has been tied to the corruption investigation. Agents have scrutinized business transactions between Barlow and the company.

Barlow’s campaign records show he paid a total of $70,000 in consulting fees to the company in 2016.

Defense lawyer Chris Rasmussen, who represents company President Andres Ramirez, declined to comment on the grand jury proceedings. He said the Ramirez Group, which cooperated in the investigation, shut its doors last year.

Ramirez and his wife, Jacki Ramirez, the company’s CEO, are former aides to retired U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and have been active in the local Hispanic business and political communities. The firm helped the state of Nevada enroll residents in qualified health insurance plans in 2013 under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Embattled U.S. Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., worked for the Ramirez Group from 2014 until 2016, when he was elected to Congress. Kihuen has since announced that he won’t seek re-election this year because of allegations that he sexually harassed women.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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