Mazzeo fights ‘cover-up’

It was a deja vu moment: There was former cocktail waitress Chrissy Mazzeo in an attorney’s office accusing Gov. Jim Gibbons of assaulting her in a parking garage. Her attorney claimed some of Nevada’s most powerful men had orchestrated a cover-up. She was mobbed by local media who shouted over each other to get questions answered.

It could have been 2006 all over again. But this time, Mazzeo was on the offensive.

Mazzeo, 34, filed a lawsuit in federal court this week alleging her rights to due process and equal protection were violated during the incident and the following police investigation.

The lawsuit names Gibbons, political consultant Sig Rogich, Las Vegas police, former sheriff Bill Young, attorney Don Campbell and former friend Pennie Mossett-Puhek, as defendants. "I think the whole thing’s a cover-up," Mazzeo said Wednesday.

Mazzeo said she’s been wanting to file a lawsuit against Gibbons and the others for two years but couldn’t find a lawyer to take her case. Robert Kossack, an attorney known for suing police for misconduct, is now representing her.

During an interview Wednesday, Mazzeo said the incident wrecked her life. She couldn’t find work as a cocktail waitress and believes she was blacklisted from working in casinos. She was accused of being a liar. She eventually moved to Southern California even though her family lives in Las Vegas.

"You see how many ways you get screwed," she said of the case. "My whole thing was, as long as you tell the truth, it will always come out. But it doesn’t seem like it worked out that way."

Gibbons on Wednesday said the lawsuit filed against him is groundless.

"It looks like this is another flagrant attempt to utilize the legal system for purposes that it shouldn’t be legalized for," he said in Washington, D.C.

Kossack said they are asking for more than $10,000 in damages. But with the right jury, the award could be seven figures, he said.

By now, many details of the incident are known.

On a rainy night on Oct. 13, 2006, Mazzeo and Mossett-Puhek had drinks with Gibbons and Rogich at McCormick & Schmick’s in the Hughes Center complex near Flamingo and Paradise roads. Two other women were with them and Rogich paid for a total of 38 alcoholic drinks.

At the end of the night, Gibbons offered to walk Mazzeo to her truck. While in a nearby parking garage, she claims, Gibbons shoved her against a parking garage wall and told her he would rape her.

At the time, Gibbons acknowledged walking Mazzeo to her car but said he did nothing improper. He said he had reached out to grab her arm to stop her from falling when she slipped on wet pavement.

She broke free after kicking Gibbons in the shins and ran to a nearby La Quinta Inn & Suites to call for help, the lawsuit states. She claims Gibbons followed her to the La Quinta and accosted her in the hotel lobby.

Mazzeo called police and detectives started an investigation. This is where the cover-up began, Kossack claims.

Mossett-Puhek, a Republican, relayed threats and bribes from Rogich in order to get Mazzeo to change her statements to police, she states.

Then-sheriff Young, a Republican who endorsed Gibbons, told Rogich and Gibbons of the investigation’s progress, the lawsuit claims. Normally, police wouldn’t have informed a potential criminal defendant of details of an ongoing investigation.

The district attorney’s office later determined there wasn’t enough evidence to go forward with criminal charges against Gibbons. It also ruled that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support charges that Mazzeo was pressured to drop the lawsuit.

"They acted like they investigated this thing to death and left no stone unturned," Kossack said.

He added that he hasn’t uncovered new facts surrounding the case.

Young couldn’t be reached for comment but Gibbons maintained that the accusations against him are false.

"There’s really no basis, from what I understand, for this lawsuit," he said. "I don’t know what she’s complaining about or why."

Unaccompanied by aides, Gibbons made his comments during an interview at the Department of the Interior. In a statement issued later in the day, Gibbons said he’s disappointed the case re-emerged when the investigation into it was "comprehensive and revealed no evidence to back up Ms. Mazzeo’s claims."

Mazzeo said she ultimately wants people involved in the case to start telling the truth. She knows there are questions lingering about the case, such as where Gibbons was for at least 30 minutes after the alleged assault or why she never appeared on surveillance footage taken the night of the incident.

She also asked a simple question about her accusations: "What would I have had to gain?"

Mazzeo said she’d like to return to Las Vegas someday. But that likely won’t happen anytime soon.

"If he’s (Gibbons) in office? Probably not."

Stephens Media Washington Bureau writer Tony Batt contributed to this story. Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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