Exclusive: Mayor John Lee says child porn allegations are ‘hack job’

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Steve Marcus

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee gives the North Las Vegas State of the City Address on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at Aliante in North Las Vegas.

Thu, Jun 18, 2015 (2 a.m.)

North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee emphatically denied viewing child pornography on his iPad and said he was trying to catch a "bad person" when he turned the device over to police for investigation last fall.

"I just want to put this to bed. John (Lee) doesn't do child pornography. John doesn't do pornography," Lee said in an interview Wednesday with the Sun. "I was thinking whoever sent this to me might be in that business of child pornography… maybe we can catch this bad person."

Although police cleared Lee of any wrongdoing after no child pornography was found on the device, Lee found himself at the center of controversy last month after former North Las Vegas Police Chief Joseph Chronister told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the mayor received special treatment during the investigation and that Chronister wishes the department had handled the case differently.

In his first extensive interview since the allegations surfaced last month, Lee laid out his version of events and said he had done nothing wrong, calling the controversy a "hack job by an unhappy employee."

The case dates to Oct. 9 of last year, when Lee said he clicked on an email while checking his messages on his personal iPad.

"I was right here at my office working. Some people had sent me some stuff, so I was just hitting the button," said Lee, who describes himself as "not tech savvy."

He says he uses the iPad mostly for its calendar function and to read emails. His office at City Hall does not have a computer in it; Lee says he prefers to do his business face to face or by phone.

"I hit this one (email) — I thought I knew the person, it sounded like a familiar name — and all of a sudden, bam, this whole page of pornography jumped up."

Lee said he told his secretary about the incident and made his way to see City Attorney Sandra Morgan, with whom he had a prior appointment. While there, Lee encountered an officer from the city's police department and asked whether the police could do anything to catch the person who'd sent him the pornographic email.

"I was doing my duty as anyone else would do: If you see a crime, say something. That's what I did," Lee said. "I don't even know if they were kids, I just know they were younger (women)."

The request was relayed to the police unit responsible for child sex crimes, and Lee turned his iPad over to the department on Oct. 20, according to a police report. The delay between Lee reporting the incident and police collecting the iPad was attributed to the investigating officer being on vacation and off duty until Oct. 20, according to the report.

Once police obtained the device, the officer investigating the incident reported that he did not find any images depicting child pornography on the iPad and could not locate the email Lee said was responsible for the images he saw.

The officer did find a link in the iPad's browser history for a site advertised as "Live Sex Cams: Free Live Porn" dated Oct. 20. Lee could not explain why the browser history didn’t show the link occurring on Oct. 9, and he also said he didn’t know why the email couldn’t be found.

"As I scrolled through this site, I did locate several possible photos that could be considered child pornography but since they were in a different country, I could not verify the ages of the people pictured," the officer wrote in the report. "Based on the fact that no illegal images were located and the email that sent the images was not located, no law enforcement action was taken."

Following the investigation, the officer took Lee's iPad to the Apple Store and had the device cleared before returning it to the mayor, although a copy of the device's contents was saved by police.

Lee said he was not questioned by police in the incident and forgot about it until Chronister's allegations in May, which came a day after the chief retired from the city. Chronister joined the department in 1989.

Lee said he couldn't think of a specific disagreement or dispute that could prompt Chronister to make the iPad investigation public, but admitted the two didn't always agree on the police department's budget and proposed changes.

"I think (Chronister's) attitude was, 'It's my police department. Get out of my way. I'll do my job and I don't need anybody,’" Lee said. "He was very resistant to working on solutions for the city."

In an interview following the initial allegation, Chronister told television station KLAS-TV he did not believe the mayor received special treatment from the department and that the police detective did a "thorough investigation."

Chronister did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Lee said he waited more than a month to discuss the iPad investigation because at first he didn't want to deal with it.

"I was like, 'I don't care what they say. I know I don't do that. My friends know I don't do that," he said. "If this is a cheap shot, I can take a cheap shot."

Lee said he also hoped that an ongoing FBI review into the police's handling of the incident would show he did nothing wrong, but so far the FBI has not produced a report. The FBI declined to comment for this story.

Eventually, he decided to talk about the incident because Chronister's allegations "crossed a line."

"When we decide to get elected, we expose things about our lives and we're responsible for answering those questions," Lee said. "This was a nefarious act that could happen to anyone who's elected and it shouldn't be allowed to happen."

Lee, who has hired an attorney, says he isn’t sure whether he will pursue legal action against Chronister.

"I haven't made that decision yet. I don't even know if we have a case," he said.

Lee says he mostly wants to put the incident behind him and get attention back on efforts to turn around the financially troubled city he leads.

"I'll weather it and move on," Lee said. "My personal conduct is of the highest level. I'm not worried about that."

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