A campaign consultant and former Nevada Democratic Party official was arrested this week on charges he tried to extort a former Assembly candidate.
Las Vegas police arrested Michael Zahara, 47, Tuesday on one count of felony extortion. He is accused of trying to shake down Sanje Sedera, who ran for Assembly District 2 briefly before pulling out in May to help with the cyclone relief effort in Myanmar.
Zahara was a member of the executive board of the Nevada Democratic Party. He declined to run for another term in May.
Zahara’s credentials to the state Democratic convention were revoked after he threatened other delegates, according to a party official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Hotel security was instructed not to allow him to attend the party meeting taking place at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno in May.
Authorities said Zahara threatened to tell people that Sedera committed IRS and mortgage fraud, among other things, unless Sedera paid him $5,250.
Zahara also accused Sedera, who is originally from Sri Lanka, of being involved in “terrorist rebel activity,” according to a Las Vegas police report.
Sedera, who hired Zahara as a campaign consultant in February, said the accusations are baseless. “I wish I didn’t meet him (Zahara). Unfortunately I did,” said Sedera.
Zahara remained behind bars in the county jail on Wednesday on $3,000 bail. He is scheduled to appear in court this morning.
Sedera first met Zahara at a Nevada Democratic Party event in January at the Sahara Library, the police report said. In February, Sedera met with Zahara at a local Claim Jumper restaurant to discuss hiring Zahara as a campaign consultant. At the meeting, Sedera agreed to pay Zahara a $7,500 retainer fee and $1,500 a month until the August primary to work as his campaign consultant.
At the time, Sedera said he was new to politics and naive. When he mentioned he hired Zahara, other party members shook their heads and asked, “Oh, why him?” he said.
In May, Sedera announced that he wasn’t running for Assembly District 2 because he wanted to help out with the relief effort in Myanmar. Cyclone Nargis swept through Myanmar on May 2 and 3 and may have killed upwards of 130,000 people.
Sedera, who has worked as a mortgage banker and broker since 1996 in Las Vegas, announced that he would hold two political fundraisers before he dropped out but would donate all the proceeds to the relief effort. He also cut Zahara a final check for $750.
But Zahara wanted more money, according to a Las Vegas police report. On May 15, Zahara sent Sedera a notarized letter threatening to expose Sedera as a scamster involved in mortgage fraud. Sedera said a copy of the letter was taped to his front door and his parents had found it.
Zahara stated in the letter that he was prepared to tell Sedera’s family, business associates and church members of his alleged misconduct and wrote that he would ask the IRS to audit him and the FBI to investigate him, the police report stated.
Zahara also threatened to write a story about the accusations and send it to the Review-Journal. The Review-Journal has previously published commentary by Zahara criticizing the Democratic county convention and he frequently writes to the letters to the editor section on political topics.
Zahara stated that he would “transfer all the materials he owns to Sedera free and clear” once he received $5,250, the report stated.
The same day he received the letter, Sedera went to Las Vegas police. Police began investigating the allegations and interviewed, among other people, a woman at a local UPS Store who notarized Zahara’s letter to Sedera.
After viewing a photo of Zahara, the woman confirmed Zahara had the letter notarized.
Contact reporter David Kihara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Contact reporter Molly Ball at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.