The guilty plea Republican political consultant Steve Wark entered in federal court this week isn’t notable because he insisted he was innocent of wrongdoing in a fraudulent construction defect scandal.
Every two-bit grifter says that.
No, Wark’s plea — accepted in exchange for testimony against fellow co-conspirators — is notable because of what he did and who he is, or, more particularly, who he was.
Wark was once a political consultant of note in Nevada. He headed Pat Robertson’s ill-fated presidential campaign in the state in 1988; he served as chairman of the Clark County Republican Party and he worked on Gov. Kenny Guinn’s successful gubernatorial campaign in 1998.
Although his list of recent successes was thinner — he advised on North Las Vegas Mayor Mike Montandon’s mayoral bids, and Montandon’s third-place gubernatorial campaign in 2010 — Wark was still considered a player in Republican politics. When U.S. Sen. John Ensign announced his affair, it was Wark’s voice loudly declaring Ensign hadn’t done much to help the party, which explained why the party wasn’t doing much to help Ensign.
But whatever credibility Wark once had is gone. The question now is, how long will he spend behind bars?
According to federal court papers unearthed by the Review-Journal’s Jeff German, Wark used his political talents to help a Las Vegas construction company rig homeowner board elections. Wark himself was elected to an HOA board after his co-conspirators paid his down payment, monthly mortgage and HOA dues. Then, Wark would gin up construction defect lawsuits filed by lawyers who were part of the conspiracy, generating repair work for the construction company that was in on the scheme, too. The pattern was repeated in about 12 HOAs.
Think about that: A guy who elected officials entrusted to run significant pieces of their political campaigns conspired to rig elections by peeking at completed ballots so he’d know how many fakes were needed to make the conspiracy caucus look legit. Fake ballots were shipped to California, where they were mailed from different locations to make it appear that out-of-state homeowners were legitimately participating in HOA democracy.
Or this: A guy who represented a political party that’s constantly complaining about “junk lawsuits” engaged in an elaborate ritual of conspiracy and fraud to maneuver himself into a position where he could commence the filing of junk lawsuits.
Or this: A guy who represented the Christian Coalition’s presidential candidate thought nothing of bearing false witness and stealing. And it wasn’t just once. It was a pattern of behavior that, according to federal prosecutors, started in 2003 and ran until 2009.
And why did Wark do it? For some high-minded principle? No, he did it for money. (As part of his plea deal, he’ll have to pay nearly $100,000 in restitution.)
Now Wark is by far the only person who conspired in the scheme (many others are striking similar plea deals) and he’s not the guy who concocted it. But that doesn’t make his involvement any less outrageous, or his hypocrisy any more forgivable. For a long time, Wark ran campaigns for people who saw no problem with imposing their personal virtues upon others via force of law. Now we learn — perhaps unsurprisingly — Wark was hardly one to talk.
There will surely be calls for construction-defect lawsuit reform in the wake of this scandal, maybe from some of Wark’s old clients or associates. Surely we can do a better job of weeding out legitimate cases of shoddy building (in which homebuyers deserve quality repairs paid for by the builder) from fraudulent shakedowns. Perhaps that will be the basis of somebody’s campaign in 2012.
The only thing we know for sure is that Wark won’t be running it.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.