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Plea deal to reduce charges against former assemblyman

Six felony charges against former Assemblyman Morse Arberry Jr. will be knocked down to one misdemeanor at a 9:30 a.m. hearing today before Justice of the Peace Diana Sullivan.

In June, Arberry, D-Las Vegas, was charged with six felonies in connection with deposits of campaign checks worth $121,545 into his personal account: three counts each of perjury and offering false instruments for filing. The sums involved just one campaign — 2008.

Arberry was first elected in 1984. After he became chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, it was always strange that he took in such relatively small amounts of money when he held such a powerful position.

Under the plea agreement reached with his attorney George Kelesis, the attorney general will recommend a $1,000 fine, a suspended sentence and restitution. Restitution may be a challenge for Arberry because he is currently unemployed.

Clark County officials have a pattern of settling campaign violations with civil actions.

After Las Vegas City Councilwoman Janet Moncrief was charged in 2004, her felony was reduced to a civil violation.

Former GOP Assemblyman Chad Christensen also paid a fine to settle the complaint against him.

When accused of campaign finance violations, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid resolved the matter with Secretary of State Ross Miller with no admission of guilt and a $25,000 civil fine, one of the largest of such fines collected in Nevada.

But in Arberry’s case, Miller suggested a criminal investigation.

In 2010, Arberry was barred by term limits from running again in November.

But while he was still a legislator, he opened his lobbying business in June and went trolling for contracts. He found a juicy one: a two-year, $124,000 contract to represent Clark County district judges and Las Vegas justices of the peace during the 2011 legislative session. He signed the contract in August before he resigned his legislative job. The money would have been paid with tax dollars, and the Clark County Commission rightfully refused to approve the contract.

I’ve always suspected, but never been able to prove because I have no access to bank records, that 2008 wasn’t the only campaign in which Arberry diverted money from donors.

Nevada has no system of checks and balances in which donors are required to list the donations they give, even though, rest assured, they know where every penny goes. Such a list, if computerized, could be checked against individual campaign donations.

But lawmakers don’t want to do that, and donors don’t care whether their checks are reported or not, as long as the candidate knows who gave them the dollars.

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