Clear-cut case

If ever there was a person who should not be considered as a candidate for the public trust, it would be former Assemblyman Morse Arberry.

The Las Vegas Democrat — who filed last week to run for Congress in the Fourth District — has a history of unpaid federal and local taxes. He was once accused of abusing sick time at the city of Las Vegas while serving in the Legislature. He allegedly negotiated a private lobbying job while still serving as a lawmaker. He stole more than $120,000 intended for his campaign account and put the money into his personal account. And he’s ignored a legal agreement to repay the money.

Arberry is fortunate he’s not in prison, much less putting his name forward as a candidate for Congress.

As the Review-Journal’s Ben Botkin reported last week, Arberry still owes the state $120,345 in restitution, plus a $2,400 fine. For those keeping track, that’s actually more than the original amount at issue. Arberry deposited $121,545 in campaign money into his personal bank account, failing to report the contributions in the process.

In October 2011, he agreed to repay that entire amount, plus a fine of $1,000, by making payments of at least $100 per month. (Yes, you read that correctly: At that pace, Arberry would have to make payments for 102 years in order to satisfy the entire amount.)

But he didn’t even do that. After paying for about a year, Arberry simply stopped, and two collection agencies have been unable to get him to pay up.

It must be said here that Arberry’s treatment at the hands of the state was incredibly generous. The attorney general’s office — under former Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto — chose to allow him to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor count when he was originally charged with six felonies. Contrast that with the indictment of former Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who was charged with potentially career-ending felonies for allegedly mishandling (but not misspending) state funds. The case against Mr. Krolicki was eventually dismissed.

But Arberry has always enjoyed favor in the political class. Notwithstanding unpaid property taxes, the District Court judges of Clark County in 2010 unsuccessfully sought to hire Arberry as their lobbyist for the 2011 Legislature. They allegedly negotiated a contract with him while he was a sitting lawmaker, but when a majority of the Clark County Commission balked at the $124,000 deal, then-Chief Judge Arthur Ritchie complained loudly about violations of the court’s sovereignty, and allowed that he felt badly for Arberry having been subjected to criticism by the commission.

Judge Ritchie’s radically misplaced sympathy aside, one potential benefit had Arberry received the job was that he could have repaid his debt to the state.

Speaking of repayment, state officials need to revisit the Arberry matter, perhaps using liens on property as a way to force the wayward lawmaker to make good on his five-year old promise. (They will need to get in line behind the IRS, which is again pursuing him for unpaid taxes, according to Mr. Botkin’s report.) And Democratic primary voters need to do their part as well, sending a clear message that a person who fails to pay his taxes, steals campaign funds and breaks faith with his constituents is unfit for any public office, least of all Congress.

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