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COMMENTARY: Grifters gonna grift

Updated May 4, 2019 - 9:00 pm

Grifters gonna grift.

That phrase springs immediately to mind upon the news that disgraced former Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow has hung a shingle as a City Hall lobbyist, advertising his services as “the key to the city.”

Perhaps its time someone changed the locks?

If Barlow proved anything during his tenure at City Hall it was that he was unworthy of an office of trust or profit, most particularly because he abused the trust of his donors while in office to profit.

For those who don’t recall, Barlow agreed to plead guilty to federal charges after an investigation showed he was getting kickbacks from people he paid with campaign funds and accepting funds without reporting them. He was sentenced to one month in prison, three months in a halfway house and eight months of home detention, which is only about five or so years short of what his sentence should have been.

“I would rather see you back in the community quickly,” said the federal judge who sentenced Barlow, Andrew Gordon, speaking only for himself.

It’s important at moments such as these to keep things in perspective.

Barlow, at least as far as we know, did not use his position in government to obstruct justice or cover up his crime, the way Richard Nixon did.

Barlow, at least as far as we know, did not sell his vote for cash, the way former Clark County commissioners convicted in the infamous G-sting scandal did.

Instead, Barlow’s crime was a more common grift. He’s guilty of basic greed more than institutional corruption.

But that greed still led him to commit crimes and to involve others in his criminal scheme. Even if it didn’t taint the institution of City Hall, it eventually could have — and probably would have.

Barlow said in January 2018 that he was “deeply ashamed” of his crime, although he tempered that statement. “That shame is as dark and abiding for me as my gladness for my City Council service is bright and enduring,” he said when he resigned.

But let’s not inflate the past. Barlow did at least one (other) bad thing while on the council: In 2017, he sponsored an ordinance to undo an ethics reform that required city employees to take unpaid leave while running for office, a rule that had cost him personally when he was seeking the Ward 5 council seat in 2007. He was successful in getting that rule repealed.

But apparently the gloom has lifted from Barlow’s dark and abiding shame, given that he’s now proud to tout himself as a lobbyist helping clients get what they want from City Hall. He’ll do government affairs, zoning, special use permits, variances and business licenses, too!

Perhaps it’s a measure of where we are as a society that Barlow could tout connections at City Hall that should have been severed the moment he tossed off his mock salute in the council chambers, handed in his resignation letter and strode out of the building. Elected officials in less forgiving times might be unwilling to meet with someone who once held the close attention of the FBI.

And that’s an interesting concept, forgiveness.

Barlow, having paid his ridiculously small debt to society, should still be able to make a living. No rule or law prevents him from working as a lobbyist. In fact, it can be argued he has a First Amendment right to do so. If Barlow’s clients and the fine people at City Hall aren’t worried, embarrassed or concerned even about the perception of a felon-lobbyist, why shouldn’t Barlow be able to ply his trade?

But forgiveness is not a blank slate. It requires true repentance. If Barlow really was deeply ashamed of his conduct while serving at City Hall, it’s doubtful he’d seek employment there the moment he was once again free to roam the countryside. More likely, he’d seek life — and a job — elsewhere.

But even if Barlow is truly repentant, it doesn’t mean life goes on without consequence. Pete Rose is banned from baseball for life. Doctors who permanently lose their medical licenses and lawyers who are permanently disbarred can do any job but medicine or law. Break the laws on Wall Street and say goodbye to trading, sometimes permanently.

Barlow should be allowed to make a living. But perhaps not back at City Hall, where he formerly worked and served on the council, and where he now seeks to trade on his contacts despite proving that, no matter what else, he was unworthy of public service or a public salary.

Grifters gonna grift. But that doesn’t mean their former colleagues and co-workers have to let it happen.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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