Former lawmaker Atkinson pleads guilty to wire fraud

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Yasmina Chavez

From left, Ray Johnson, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI Las Vegas office, Nicholas A. Trutanich, U.S. Attorney for the Nevada, and Tara Sullivan, special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigations, discuss a wire fraud case against former state Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson during a news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Monday, March 11, 2019.

Published Mon, Mar 11, 2019 (10:24 a.m.)

Updated Mon, Mar 11, 2019 (6:45 p.m.)

Kelvin Atkinson

Kelvin Atkinson

Former state Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson has pleaded guilty to wire fraud after admitting to misusing about $250,000 in campaign funds to open a nightclub and lease a luxury SUV, among other personal expenses, federal authorities said this morning.

Atkinson, a Democrat from Clark County, resigned his seat in the Senate last week.

Atkinson used about $100,000 to pay on personal credit cards, about $75,000 to open and operate a nightclub in Las Vegas, $20,000 to lease a Jaguar SUV, and $8,600 to repay a personal loan, court records show.

Atkinson remains out of custody pending sentencing, which is scheduled for July 11. The statutory maximum term of imprisonment for wire fraud is 20 years. He has agreed to pay $249,900 in restitution, officials said.

Prosecutors say Atkinson filed false campaign finance reports for eight years starting in 2010 and admitted to spending at least $249,900 over that time on personal expenses. The way the money was withdrawn and spent and a lack of records, among other factors, make the precise amount indiscernible, officials said.

Atkinson and his lawyer Richard Wright declined to comment after a court hearing today.

“Public service is a public trust," said Nicholas Trutanich, the U.S. attorney for Nevada. "And when federal law enforcement learn of potential violations of that trust, justice requires us to do our level best to conduct a fair and dispassionate inquiry into the facts.”

The investigation into Atkinson started after the Nevada Secretary of State's Office tipped off the FBI a couple of years ago, Trutanich said.

In late January, authorities served a search warrant in at least one location, and soon after were contacted by Atkinson's attorney, Trutanich said. 

According to the agreement documents, Atkinson wired campaign funds using PayPal to pay a business consultant to help him obtain business licenses for a nightclub in Las Vegas. 

The following year,  Atkinson charged $20,000 to two personal credit cards to lease a 2018 Jaguar F-Pace SUV, but then used about $19,000 from his campaign funds to pay the debt, according to the documents.

The criminal complaint, which was unsealed today, but was immediately unavailable this morning, should shed a light on how authorities built the case.

“This is a message to anyone," said Tara Sullivan, special agent in charge of the IRS-Criminal Investigations. "When you violate the law, public official or not, you will be held accountable.” 

Aaron Rouse, special agent in charge of the FBI's Las Vegas office, said that "rooting out corruption is exceptionally difficult, but it is a top criminal priority for the FBI. Public corruption erodes public confidence and undermines the strength of our democracy."

Before his resignation, Atkinson, 49, represented District 4. He was elected to the state Senate in November 2012, having previously served in the Assembly since November 2002. He was named Senate majority leader in November.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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