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|FOR HERRERA, KINCAID-CHAUNCEY, JUSTICE IS DONE
Former Clark County Commissioners Dario Herrera, 33, and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, 68, were sentenced to federal prison Monday for taking bribes from local strip club owner Michael Galardi in the political corruption case dubbed G-sting.
Herrera, a one-time Democratic candidate for Congress, was sentenced to 50 months. Kincaid-Chauncey, his former colleague on the commission, got a substantially reduced two-and-a-half years.
The pair were convicted May 5 after more than seven weeks of sometimes lurid testimony detailing sexual favors provided to Herrera in exchange for votes that helped Galardi’s topless taj mahals -- Jaguars and Cheetah’s -- while hampering his competitors.
The G-sting FBI surveillance operation also led to federal indictments against Galardi and the two other former Clark County commissioners, Lance Malone and Erin Kenny. Galardi, 44, testified in return for a promise that he will receive no more than five years in prison for bribing officials both here and in San Diego, where he operated additional lapdance palaces.
Kenny, 45, pleaded guilty and testified against her former colleagues. She is expected to be sentenced to no more than four years in prison, though it appears her plea deal allows her to keep much of her ill-gotten loot.
Malone, who became a Galardi lobbyist, was tried and found guilty in July 2005 in San Diego of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion for delivering Galardi cash to San Diego City Council members. Malone remains free on appeal; his Las Vegas trial begins Sept. 18.
The judge made it clear Herrera’s stiffer sentence reflected Herrera’s position as chairman of the commission at the time of the offenses, though in fact that honorary position rotates and also fell to Kincaid-Chauncey in her turn.
Kincaid-Chauncey daubed her eyes as she stood before the judge. “I regret all the pain this has caused my family and friends,” she said -- a statement consistent with her past utterances, in which she has declined to acknowledge or express remorse for any actual wrongdoing.
U.S, District Judge Larry Hicks cited Kincaid-Chauncey’s service to the community, her church and her family in explaining the shorter-than-recommended sentence.
Many may scoff that these sentences represent “easy time” at federal “country clubs.”
True, the settings won’t much resemble the scenes of prisoners scraping tin trays against their cell bars in the old “big house” movies. But prison is prison, and in the federal system most convicts serve 80 percent of their sentences. Many convicts find their spouses and families drifting away while they’re inside. Nor is job-hunting likely to be a piece of cake for Dario Herrera the next time he’s able to try and get a tan.
Nobody got “just probation,” here.
The larger question is whether these convictions and sentences will provide a sufficiently chilling example to discourage political corruption in Clark County, at least for the foreseeable future.
In other jurisdictions, site plans for drug stores, housing projects -- even topless clubs -- can be OK’d by salaried, low-level staffers who merely check for compliance with electrical and plumbing codes, providing such uses fit existing zoning codes.
Not in Clark County. Here, a loose “holding zone” system guarantees elected office-holders an up-or-down veto over every project, all the way down to “a kid’s tree fort,” in the famous words of one former Las Vegas city councilman.
And so long as every site plan for every proposed drug store, casino, topless club and housing development has to go before an elected body for approval, a simple mathematical formula will apply. Thanks to financing costs and property taxes alone, developers are “watching the meter run” to the tune of hundreds of thousands -- even millions -- of dollars per month as those projects work their way through the system.
All it takes to cost those developers millions more is for a city council member or county commissioner to say, “I think we need to postpone this for 90 days while we go out and ask what the neighbors think.”
If such a delay can be avoided by funneling a few tens of thousands in “campaign contributions” or “consulting fees” or “ski school tuition” -- or even sexual services -- to an officer-holder or his or her designee, many will opt to “buy the insurance.” It’s “just good business,” after all.
True, Americans used to sneer that if such expenditures constituted part of your routine cost of doing business, you knew you must be in some Third World hellhole. But we’ve had to get over a lot of cherished illusions about American exceptionalism in recent decades, haven’t we? (I’m put in mind of the straight-laced New England auditor of my acquaintance who was sent by her firm to check the books of an apartment complex they owned in New Jersey. She kept telling the local managers they were paying way too much for garbage services. They kept telling her, “It’s New Jersey.” She didn’t get it.)
The convicted commissioners were also free to tinker with ordinances that absurdly restricted club proximities and itemized allowed degrees of customer “touching” -- all designed to reward some club owners and punish others -- without a peep of public protest.
When I asked him what would happen if Clark County got rid of the “holding zone” system, instead firmly zoning vacant land and getting commissioners out of the loop for most site approvals, current County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury -- who raised more than $600,000 for his essentially uncontested re-election campaign two years ago, much of it from developers and casinos -- was still protesting, this month, that such a change would eliminate “needed flexibility.”
Le plus qui change ... .
For that matter, many wonder at the oddly limited scope of these prosecutions. As part of their plea deals, government witnesses Galardi and Kenny reportedly sang like birds, naming other politicians -- and, more significantly, principals in far larger development outfits -- as participating in similar “cash for favors” arrangements.
So who got to Justice Department officials in Washington, channeling Obie Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars movies, using “The Force” to convince prosecutors “The strip club bribes are the only ones that concern you. These bribes from other outfits are not the ones you’re looking for”?
No, only a Pollyanna could conclude Monday’s sentences close the book on corruption in Clark County.
That said, however, those sentenced sought positions of public trust, and then betrayed that trust for personal gain. Beyond that, they did so in ways so blatant and tawdry, so avaricious and pathetic and demeaning, as to leave those who voted for them feeling not merely betrayed, but in need of a hot shower.
Yet, to this day, these convicts seem to be in substantial denial that what they did was really all that out of the ordinary -- or all that wrong.
They’ll now have some time to think about that. And that’s exactly what they deserve.