Nye County District Attorney Bob Beckett was arrested late Tuesday night on suspicion of drunken driving after authorities in Pahrump received a report from a concerned citizen: Heidi Fleiss.
The former Hollywood madam said she called the Nye County sheriff’s office about a suspicious vehicle parked on the secluded dirt road near her house in Pahrump.
The car turned out to be a county vehicle with Beckett passed out in the driver’s seat, Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo said.
Beckett was arrested after he failed both a field sobriety test and a preliminary breath test, DeMeo said.
A second breath test administered at the sheriff’s office showed Beckett with a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, “well above” the legal limit of 0.08 percent, the sheriff said.
Under state law, people can be charged with drunken driving even if they are found sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car because they are “still in control of the vehicle,” DeMeo said.
“This was an elected official driving a county vehicle who should have known better than that,” he said. “It doesn’t serve the citizens of Nye County well and it doesn’t serve his office well for this to occur.”
Beckett, 51, was held in a cell by himself for about 12 hours before being released on his own recognizance Wednesday morning.
Messages left on his cell phone and at his office were not returned.
This wasn’t the four-term district attorney’s first drunken driving arrest.
In 2008, he was charged with drunken driving in California after crashing two vehicles, one of them a county-owned SUV, on the same desert highway six hours apart.
Beckett eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and agreed to undergo counseling on the dangers of alcohol and driving.
His probation in California prohibits him from violating any law or driving a motor vehicle with any measurable blood-alcohol level.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to Beckett in the event he was found to have violated his probation.
He also was arrested May 5 by sheriff’s deputies in Pahrump and booked on embezzlement and other charges in connection with a bank account his office managed for more than a decade. A special prosecutor has been assigned to review that case, as well as allegations Beckett later brought against members of DeMeo’s staff.
The sheriff said the drunken driving case against Beckett also will be turned over to the special prosecutor.
“It couldn’t be (handled by) anyone from his office. He’s still the DA,” DeMeo explained.
Beckett lost his seat in the June 8 Republican primary, when he finished last out of five candidates. He will leave office at the end of the year.
In the wake of Tuesday’s arrest, Beckett’s driver’s license has been suspended and the county has stripped him of permission to drive its vehicles, DeMeo said.
The sheriff declined to identify the caller whose tip led to the arrest. All he would say is that “whoever made the call did the right thing.”
Fleiss has lived in Pahrump, 60 miles west of Las Vegas, since late 2005. She owns a laundromat called Dirty Laundry on the town’s main drag and shares her home with about 25 exotic birds.
She said she intentionally bought her home on a lonely dirt road because she wanted some privacy for her and her menagerie.
“There are three houses on my street,” she said. “That road is like a security system.”
Fleiss said she called the sheriff’s office only because the car was agitating her birds and she was worried the person inside might be a stalker.
“I told them it could be a car broken down, it could be teenagers having sex, it could be nothing, but a car shouldn’t be parked there,” she said.
When the deputy arrived, Fleiss got out her night-vision binoculars and tried to watch, but the flashing police lights made it hard to see what was going on. She said she didn’t find out it was Beckett until Wednesday morning.
“I feel bad for the guy, but drunk driving is like shooting a gun in a crowd of people,” she said.
Fleiss speaks from experience. In 2008, she was booked for driving under the influence of drugs and other charges after a traffic stop in Pahrump. She pleaded guilty last year and remains on probation.
At the time of her plea, Beckett said of Fleiss, “Time will tell if she’s serious about turning her life around.”
Fleiss said she has no hard feelings about being prosecuted by Beckett’s office, and she’s sorry it was her call that landed him in jail.
“You know me. I’m not like a school principal or a probation officer looking to get someone in trouble. I avoid those sorts of things,” she said.
“If I’d known it was him, I never would have called the police. I would have told him to lay down in the guest house and sleep it off.”
Contact Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283.