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STEVE SEBELIUS: Grifters still grifting

Updated August 29, 2022 - 12:03 pm

Back in 2015, former Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow said he was “deeply ashamed” of stealing about $66,000 in campaign funds.

Apparently, that’s over now.

Barlow, who admitted his guilt and served a month in federal prison, quickly founded a lobbying firm and returned to advocate before the very City Council he had disgraced with his conduct. His pitch: He was the key to the city!

Surprisingly, his former colleagues welcomed him back as an old friend, not as a thief who had betrayed his constituents.

And now, one of his former colleagues thinks his endorsement is something to advertise.

Councilwoman Michele Fiore — who herself faces an FBI investigation purportedly over campaign finance issues — touted Barlow’s cross-party backing of her campaign for Nevada treasurer. (Fiore has been stung by Republicans endorsing her Democratic opponent, incumbent Zach Conine, so she’s been trying to get some aisle-crossing backing of her own.)

Unlike the City Council or Fiore, I took a somewhat dimmer view of that development on Twitter: “It’s hardly believable that disgraced former Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow is allowed to show his face at City Hall, let alone be welcomed as a lobbyist (!) with paying clients (!!). But to think that he’s got the political capital to endorse? That’s truly shocking.”

Barlow, now fully recovered from his brief dalliance with shame, was none too pleased.

He replied on Twitter: “Sooooo, what you’re really saying Steve is that you don’t believe I deserve a right to work, a right to provide for my family or a right at a 2nd chance. I believe, if it were up to YOU, a person like ME would not have ANY rights. Welcome to America!!”

No, what I’m really saying is that somebody who has disgraced himself in politics shouldn’t be immediately welcomed back into politics. It’s no different than a police officer who plants evidence and testifies falsely in court. If he’s caught and pleads guilty, he can work again, but not as a cop. If a bank employee embezzled funds, got caught and pleaded guilty, she can work again, but not in banking. If a journalist plagiarized material or made up sources, he can still work, but not in legitimate media.

Actions have consequences, a concept Barlow apparently hasn’t yet fully grasped.

But let’s also not neglect the unsubtle accusation of racism in Barlow’s response, a bush league attempt to silence a critic when no other argument is available. What he’s yet to grasp is that this is not about him, or me: It’s about the things he’s done and the consequences of those things.

Barlow didn’t just pocket money meant for his campaign. His grift went further, forcing vendors to rebate him fees so he could pocket the money without getting caught. He involved others in his scheme, indifferent to the fact that he made them co-conspirators in his crimes.

That makes him unique, but not special. I’ve written to criticize the unethical, outrageous and sometimes criminal acts of many Nevada politicians, including ex-lobbyist Harvey Whittemore (who has the good sense not to haunt the halls of Carson City any longer), ex-Las Vegas Councilman Michael Mack, former U.S. Sen. John Ensign, former state Sen. Mark Manendo, former Clark County Recorder Frances Deane, ex-Mayor Oscar Goodman, former state Controller Kathy Augustine and the Operation G-sting defendants, including former Clark County Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey.

Oh, and Fiore, too.

For her part, Fiore defended Barlow and condemned me, saying on Twitter: “Proud and honored to have @RickiBarlow endorsement — I love this man and his family. After decades of community service, it’s unfathomable that you would make such toxic comments. Disappointed in your humanity.”

Words fail to describe the emotions a person feels when someone with as finely honed a moral compass as Fiore finds one’s humanity lacking. But I will soldier on.

Barlow may indeed have learned from his crime and repented of his sins, although the public record is suspiciously vacant of any apologies or expressions of remorse not timed to play on the sympathies of his sentencing judge. He may indeed be a different, better person than the one who subordinated the public good to private greed. Certainly, he’s paid his legal debt to society.

But forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting, and his quick trip from lockup to lobbying is more than a little suspicious. Barlow may have the key to the city, but he’s forfeited the right to ask for public trust.

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

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