October 17, 2007 - 9:00 pm
As political fixers go, Gary Horrocks didn’t exactly fit the image.
He wasn’t a silk-suited cigar smoker puffing away in some backroom. He was a bar owner and motorcycle club lobbyist who hustled votes out in the open at his Clubhouse Tavern.
The Clubhouse, at 4001 Las Vegas Blvd. North, is one of those friendly working-class bars where the drinks are cheap and Harleys are regularly lined in a neat row out front. It’s no hotbed of political discourse — unless you count the hard rock on the jukebox.
Back in 2002, Horrocks took it upon himself to expand his sphere of political influence by crafting a voter registration and absentee ballot program that targeted Assembly District 37, where he and some friends had legislative designs. He assembled a gang of friends, bar patrons and motorcycle enthusiasts, and got down to work.
Along the way, he broke a pile of election laws. Because most of those he registered to vote didn’t actually live in Assembly District 37, Horrocks used his real estate contacts to develop a list of mailing addresses of abandoned houses for them to use as mailing addresses.
When the voter fraud was uncovered, it wasn’t clear whether anyone at the district attorney’s office or the Clark County Election Department wanted to do anything about it.
Southern Nevada has a long history of shady campaign activity, but a remarkably brief record of actually prosecuting the corruption.
Horrocks even bragged about his accomplishment to newly elected Clark County Recorder Frances Deane (who since has fallen on difficult times and has become a target of a police investigation).
According to Deane’s affidavit, Horrocks said he had generated "over 100 votes in the general election for me. … I later asked him how he had obtained the votes, and he related that he had absentee ballots mailed to his wife and him and he filled out the ballots."
Horrocks’ version of events was harder to believe than a Larry Craig bathroom joke.
"I did offer to help people find houses in the district," he told me. "But I didn’t ask them to break any laws. If people could move, they moved. I encouraged them to move to vote in the district."
Problem was, a tour of Assembly District 37 revealed the simple truth that Horrocks’ friends had registered to vote with the addresses of abandoned houses.
History was on Horrocks’ side, but this time was different. In late 2002 rookie DA David Roger picked up the case and stuck with it, and a grand jury indicted Horrocks and his wife, Pamela, on 62 counts of election fraud.
After several years of negotiations with defense attorney Dominic Gentile, the DA’s office recently settled its case against Horrocks and his wife.
In their plea agreement, those 62 counts were whittled down to a single felony and a gross misdemeanor conviction against Horrocks and a single gross misdemeanor conviction against his wife for conspiring to violate election laws. Both are expected to receive probation.
Horrocks’ agreement gives him an opportunity to have the felony removed from his record upon successfully completing his probation.
The couple are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 19.
Should taxpayers and the district attorney’s office be disappointed?
Not at all. Horrocks wasn’t a political mastermind, but the scheme he pulled was unabashed election rigging. The authorities didn’t turn away, and Horrocks sweated buckets for his actions.
The message has been received.
"We felt this was an important case to prosecute because people were fiddling with the election process," Roger said Tuesday. "Individuals were submitting false voter registration cards, and I think people should have confidence in the election system."
Although he expressed disappointment that the case took so long to be adjudicated, Roger said his office would not be deterred from continuing to prosecute incidents of suspected voter fraud.
Southern Nevada’s political atmosphere has changed dramatically since the Assembly District 37 election of 2002.
Where officials once shrugged and did nothing about complaints of voter fraud and political corruption, public outrage and media interest have motivated authorities to enforce the laws on the books.
The shenanigans at the Clubhouse Tavern helped change the game in Southern Nevada.
Maybe Gary Horrocks became an important political player, after all.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.JOHN L. SMITHMORE COLUMNSDiscuss this column in the eForums!