Attorneys for the developer of a long-stalled housing project at Blue Diamond Hill alleged in federal court Thursday that Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones deleted all his text message history hours after voting against the development in 2019.
Gypsum Resources LLC asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Elayna Youchah to schedule an evidentiary hearing to explore possible sanctions for “destruction of evidence” against Clark County and Jones, who was legal counsel of a conservation group that opposed the project before he was elected to the commission.
Gypsum CEO James Rhodes claims the county’s actions, or lack thereof, to approve building on the Gypsum mine — which overlooks Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area and is opposed by conservationists — cost him hundreds of millions of dollars, and sent his company into bankruptcy.
It was through those proceedings that a third-party auditor found that the messages on Jones’ cellphone sent or received before 6:09 p.m. on April 17, 2019, disappeared, according to court filings. Earlier that day, Jones was part of an unanimous vote to deny a “critical” waiver that doomed the development project.
“There can be no little doubt that a number of the text messages were about Gypsum as well as celebratory text messages after the vote that day…,” attorneys for Rhodes wrote in a court filing.
Gypsum Resources also claims that it took the county months to ask staff and commissioners to preserve evidence despite facing litigation. In depositions, commissioners said that they hadn’t been asked to do so, according to court filings. The county, which provided the court about 350,000 documents, declined to comment.
Attorneys representing the county and Jones, who argued in court that there is no basis for the motion, also declined comment Thursday. Jones echoed the attorneys in a text message to the Review-Journal. “My position remains as stated in the legal filings,” he wrote.
A representative for the developer said they expect a decision on the evidentiary hearing within 10 days.
The vote on the waiver — pushed by the company before first receiving approval from the Bureau of Land Management for a necessary access road to the construction site — was originally set to take place in December 2018, after the election in which Jones and Gov. Steve Sisolak — then the chairman of the county commission — won their current seats, but before they were sworn in.
Attorneys for Rhodes have alleged Jones had traded favors with Sisolak during that campaign season: Sisolak would come out against the development and Jones would deliver political support from environmental groups in Sisolak’s governor bid, the lawyers contend.
The purported proposal was outlined in a partial email from Jones to political consultant Jim Ferrence submitted in court filings.
“Save Red Rock (and other conservation groups) want the commissioners to stick with their promise to the public in imposing the BLM right-of-way and deny the pending waiver request,” Jones wrote, noting that his clients in the Save Red Rock nonprofit, which had pending litigation with the county and the development, would send the information to its email list and publicize it on social media.
“I have SRR’s authorization to stipulate to dismiss all claims in the lawsuit … immediately if Commissioner Sisolak commits to denial of the waiver request,” the “resolution” in the email read.
If the lawsuit was to go to trial, Jones indicated in the email that it would “likely be uncomfortable” for Sisolak and others in the county.
Announcing he would not support the development, Sisolak said that he would “not be a party to a lame-duck vote” on the issue. He earned praise from the Nevada Conservation League and Save Red Rock dropped the lawsuit two weeks later.
A day before the waiver request was expected to be discussed during a zoning meeting in December 2018, then-Commissioner Susan Brager said she had requested a delay.
Sisolak already had support
Jones acknowledged to the Review-Journal in June 2021 — after Gypsum Resources filed for bankruptcy — that discussions of the purported deal with Sisolak had taken place, but that the commission chair already had support from conservation groups.
“It was a pretty minor thing at the end of the day,” he said. “It was probably an unartful email to send to (Ferrence).”
Jones noted he sought and earned approval from the Nevada Commission on Ethics to participate in votes relating to the development.
Sisolak’s campaign at the time said that he “has long worked to protect Nevada’s public lands,” and had already earned support of groups such as the League of Conservation Voters and others.
Rhodes intends to build master-planned communities at the mine. Earlier this month, he cleared a significant hurdle for the first phase of the project that would put 400 single-family homes on a parcel just under 700 acres.
The Clark County Zoning Commission voted unanimously Oct. 4 to accept a tentative map of the project, but imposed conditions on the company.
Advocates with Save Red Rock and other conservationists gave impassioned speeches against the project.