Cheating scandal spurs twin inquiries

There’s two of ’em.

That’s the punch line to an old joke, but in this case, it’s not so laughable.

There are actually two parallel investigations into the 14 Las Vegas Fire Department recruits blocked from graduating after state Fire Marshal Pete Mulvihill found signs of cheating on their written tests because so many answers were alike.

The city of Las Vegas is investigating the employment side. The state fire marshal is investigating whether any certificates need to be revoked.

The 14 can’t be prohibited from applying under federal law, but realistically they would be wasting their time. Take my word for it. None of the 14 will end up working as Las Vegas firefighters. They have cost the city too much money, nearly $719,000, and left the city short-staffed at a time when Las Vegas needs firefighters.

And to all my many readers who want each would-be firefighter to reimburse the city the more than $51,000 it cost for their 18 weeks of training and salary, that is not going to happen. The taxpayers just have to suck it up.

Mulvihill said Tuesday that his office’s investigation is expected to last another two or three months.

The timeframe for the city, spokesman David Riggleman said, is difficult to determine.

“A number of personnel-related items pertaining to this matter are taking place,” Riggleman said

Neither Riggleman nor Mulvihill can say how many actually cheated and how many tolerated cheating by others. But under Nevada law, indirect cheating is just as bad as direct cheating, so the weak-willed are just as culpable as the evil-doers.

“Our investigation revolves around the certification program, whether certification should be revoked. A revocation is permanent,” Mulvihill said.

Reading between the lines, he is talking about staff in the Las Vegas Fire Department because other employees wouldn’t fall under the fire marshal’s jurisdiction. The 14 in the academy are no longer city employees and never received their certificates as firefighters because Mulvihill never certified them. Revocation would not apply to them.

State law is pretty clear. Nevada Revised Statutes 477.315 says the state fire marshal may refuse to “issue or renew, or may suspend or revoke, any certificate of registration or license if he or she determines that an applicant, licensee or registrant has obtained or attempted to obtain a license or certificate of registration by fraud, misrepresentation or falsifying information required on an application form.”

Cheating on a written test falls under the fraud provision.

The fire marshal declined to say whether the answers were identical, although it is clear that they were similar enough to red flag the entire academy class.

The language he mentioned to me concerned revocation of certification.

“A revocation is permanent and applies to any person who is found to be an accomplice to a violation, whether directly or indirectly,” the law reads.

In other words, if someone is implicated, directly or indirectly — and that’s where both investigations are headed now — revocation would be permanent and statewide. If the fire marshal revokes someone’s certification, that person is banned from being hired for another fire service job anywhere in Nevada.

The law permits lighter penalties, but that’s not where Mulvihill directed me.

This is the first cheating case of such magnitude that Mulvihill has heard of in Nevada, and he began fire service here in 1987.

Last year, a volunteer firefighter in Northern Nevada broke into the chief’s office, stole a copy of the test and was promptly fired. But that was just one person.

A cheating scandal involving 14 far surpasses that one as far as scope. And that number might possibly go higher, depending on the conclusion of this phase of the dual investigations.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at or call her at 702-383-0275.

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