Tag Archives: Las Vegas Constable

Reliance on Traffic Ticket Revenue Has Left Nevada Supreme Court Broke

Back in March, Nevada Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty warned state legislators that the NV Supreme Court coffers were bare, due to a drop in revenue from traffic tickets. A decrease in the amount of tickets being issued by law enforcement state-wide had left the courts $700k over budget this year and facing another $700k shortage next year, for a $1.4 million total shortfall. In Nevada and other states, the state supreme court is funded by assessment fees added onto the fines for traffic citations.

Hardesty made sure lawmakers knew he wasn’t fooling around with an ominous threat to take everyone’s ball and go home if they didn’t find some way for taxpayers to pay up:

NV Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty

Justice James Hardesty

“If this is not addressed by May 1, the court will not have sufficient cash to operate,” Hardesty said in his testimony to lawmakers, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “I believe the legislature has a constitutional obligation to fund the judicial branch of government. Do you want me to close the judicial branch of government at the state level on May 1?”

As you’ve probably noticed, it’s past May 1st and Nevada still has a functioning Supreme Court. That’s because the state legislature passed NV SB469, which provided $600k in “emergency” funds to hold them over for a little while longer. There are, of course, larger issues beyond an unpredictable budget that are created by the propensity for government agencies and courts to use traffic and other citations as a revenue generation source.

NV Courts Revenue GenerationThe first and most obvious being that it creates a perverse incentive for lawmakers to pass laws based solely for that purpose and for police to enforce laws based on that priority. The reliance on drug seizure funds for local police departments, the huge growth in the War on (Some) Drugs, and the resulting human rights violations that have resulted are well documented at this point.

The less apparent and visible result involves the continued erosion of the premise that cops are here to “protect and serve.” Hardesty himself states that the budget crunch is a result of a change in priorities by police across the state. The Las Vegas Review Journal takes it a step further stating:

“the number of tickets written by law enforcement agencies around the state has been declining steadily, partly because state troopers have focused on violations more likely to lead to crashes…

Part of the reason, police said, is the NHP Strategic Plan’s emphasis on violations that could cause crashes, including distracted driving and driving under the influence. Police also believe enforcement and the Zero Fatalities education program have changed drivers’ behavior, while completion of some major highway projects has made traffic move better.”

When an emphasis on safety over revenue generation and a perceived improvement in driver’s behavior and road conditions is seen as a problem, then that’s actually a problem. Further, when the general population’s interaction with the police and courts trends increasingly toward negative and unnecessary harassment, it doesn’t help the already battered reputations of departments, such as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

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Recently, the entire Las Vegas Constable’s Office was dissolved with one of the bigger reasons behind that being the corruption caused by tying revenue to citations. The biggest scheme consisted of an assessment fee attached to tickets issued to people that didn’t change their car registration within 30 days of moving from another state. A 2012 modification in that law increasing the amount of fines and decreasing the amount of time allowed to change registration, which was itself passed explicitly to increase revenue, also allowed constables to collect a commission on the assessment fee.

The fact that those ticketed had to pay the assessment fee even if they were actually within the allotted 30 days, led to constables spending the majority of their days trolling through parking lots and apartment complexes looking for anyone with an out of state license plate. As you might imagine, it didn’t exactly endear them to new residents or others within the community. Nor did the unauthorized traffic stops that they began making to bring in even more cash.

Revenue Generation Through CitationsAs already noted in a previous post, the Las Vegas Municipal Courts also recently came under fire for their “money hungry” ways. Among those criticisms was that the courts were putting revenue generation before safety by allowing people that were actually a threat and prone to violence to pay fees rather than go to jail. They also were accused of charging excessive fees to non-violent offenders with financial difficulties in order to keep them paying over long periods of time. (See the video below for an illustration of the loan-shark style scam that traffic tickets now represent.)

Not surprisingly, when you make the funding of government dependent on harassing and stealing from the citizens what you end up with is a government whose main function is to find new and worse ways to harass and steal from those citizens. The equally unsurprising aftereffect is to create a citizenry that sees government as nothing, but a den of thieves. When positive behavior is seen as a bad thing because it makes funding that government more difficult, then that assessment of them is pretty valid.

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Putting Revenue Generation Above Public Safety at Las Vegas’ “Money Hungry” Municipal Courts

The Las Vegas Review Journal is the latest media outlet to point out the already painfully obvious tendency toward revenue generation that law enforcement has degenerated into.  Citing current and ex-employees, as well as lawyers and people that have been defendants within the court, the LVRJ states in a recent article:

“It’s a question of priorities.

 

Should Las Vegas’ law enforcement officers arrest criminals, or feed city coffers…?

 

They contend the court’s “money hungry” approach to misdemeanor warrants prioritizes revenue collection above public safety and pressures marshals to take a credit card payment in lieu of locking up violent offenders.

 

Staffers say this collect-at-all-costs mentality tends to place a heightened emphasis on traffic ticket revenue — a practice that disproportionately harms poor, often minority defendants more likely to wind up in jail for failure to pay a speeding or fix-it ticket — all while leaving much more serious offenders on the street.

 

They blame those practices on a pair of top city managers, administrators they say have created a culture of “coercion” to better fund Las Vegas’ courts….

 

Law enforcement authorities…also have been accused of plundering vulnerable residents — most recently, in Las Vegas’ case, as part of a class action lawsuit that claims the now-disbanded Las Vegas constable’s office engaged in the ‘illegal shakedown’ of newcomers to the area.”

This is a photo I took of the Brinks truck that they drive up to the front door of the Regional Injustice Center in Las Vegas every morning.The reference to the “illegal shakedown” by the constable’s office (which was actually dissolved due to the constant scandals and corruption within it) refers to their practice of charging new residents a $100 fee as “compensation” when they issue tickets for having not changed their license plates, even if they later prove that they were within the 30-day window allotted to do so (a law which itself was modified to shorten the time allowed and quadruple associated fines, based purely on a desire to increase tax revenue). This led to constables (who personally received $65 of that fee) spending most of their time driving around apartment complexes searching for cars bearing out of state license plates.

(The photo to the left is one I took of the armored truck that they drive up to the front door of the Regional Injustice Center in Las Vegas every morning to haul away all the cash they take in.)

The Review Journal article also goes on to explain how the focus on collecting revenue creates an unofficial quota system and leads to favoritism toward those that pad the Las Vegas Municipal Court’s budget within the Las Vegas Marshal’s office:

“Former Las Vegas Marshal Richard Kilgore said a lot of the work of some of his former colleagues amounts to nothing short of ‘extortion.’

 

Kilgore said the court rewards those who bring in the most money, offering additional training and even promotions to marshals who negotiate court-ordered bail amounts with scofflaws in the field.

 

Those who don’t, he said, find themselves out in the cold.

 

‘Officers like myself would get denied training, get stuck in court more,’ Kil­gore added. ‘That’s where I thought (marshals) were supposed to be. I’ve always thought that we’re not there to generate revenue, we’re there to enforce court orders and uphold the decorum of the court.’”

These cash centric policies of the Las Vegas courts create a predatory nature among law enforcement and effect sentencing policies. Plus, the real danger is that actual criminals, who pose a true threat to local residents, are being allowed to run free, as long as they have a credit or debit card to swipe and some dollars in the bank:

“But the court does handle its share of DUI and domestic violence cases.

 

Lately, when a defendant in one of those cases skips a court date or violates a court order, records show marshals have been willing to let them off with a fine — even if the offender is violent and even if it is not that offender’s first brush with the law….

 

State and city audit records show the Las Vegas Municipal Court has implemented several ‘revenue enhancement’ tweaks in recent years, including at least one bail and fine schedule revision in 2003 and a 2012 change that ‘provides defendants options for settling their case in exchange for higher fines and a major bump in the court’s administrative assessment revenue.

 

The court’s fiscal 2012 revenue report notes a similar policy change requiring defendants to pay program fees before fines — a practice that could see defendants spend months or years paying the court hundreds or thousands of dollars in late fees before even starting to pay down an initial past-due fine….

 

City employees who spoke with the newspaper recall instances in which marshals collected as much as $1,500 on a $187 speeding ticket, or were called out to cuff a defendant facing multiple DUI charges, only to see those infractions washed away with one swipe of a credit card. Still others said marshals had been directed to collect hundreds of dollars in fines over a ticket for suspended vehicle registration.

 

They said the system is designed to ensure that defendants who owe the court money continue to owe the court, and that those same defendants never land in jail.

 

‘There are thousands of violent criminal warrants in the system to be worked,’ said one employee, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliation. ‘Instead, they’re putting more emphasis on traffic warrants or just letting these people go.'”

These type of tactics by Las Vegas revenue collectors can’t help but beg for a comparison to the NYPD’s famous unofficial strike, in which they vowed to only harass or arrest people “when necessary.” That didn’t quite work out how they had expected though, when everyone pointed (happily) to the enormous drop in “crime” and pretty much nobody missed them one bit. The biggest lesson learned during that exercise in cutting off your nose to spite your face was when reporters asked people in New York why they were less than brokenhearted over their absence. A good percentage of them explained, that while cops were constantly stopping them for minor, money based infractions or with thinly veiled excuses to harass people they didn’t like the looks of, when they called them for an actual violent crime or legitimate threat, they were often nowhere to be found.

And of course, no story about police or politicians in Las Vegas would be complete without a healthy dose of corruption and inappropriate behavior being involved:

“Three city staff members blamed marshal’s office management for most problems associated with that department’s renewed emphasis on revenue collection, particularly marshal’s office chief Lt. Manning.

 

They said the 20-year marshal’s office veteran has been named in no fewer than three formal workplace conduct and sexual harassment complaints, two of which are still pending.

 

The city wouldn’t say whether Manning has ever been investigated or disciplined in connection with those allegations. Manning’s wife, Cheryl, has served as the city’s chief internal affairs officer since 2007, a post officials say does not include investigative authority over Municipal Court marshals.

 

Las Vegas employees suspect City Hall is aware of some, if not all of the questions surrounding Manning’s workplace conduct, but chooses to ignore them because he generates “a lot of money” for Las Vegas in fines and fees.

 

Staffers contend that one way Manning manages to boost those returns is by manipulating warrants ‘ordered’ and ‘issued’ by the court.

 

A warrant ordered by one of Las Vegas’ 20 Municipal or Justice Court judges can still be voluntarily tidied up through a defendant’s court appearance before a set date.

 

Marshals can’t make an arrest or collect a fine on such a document until it is put into issued status — a designation that’s not supposed to be approved by anyone but a judge.

 

Multiple city employees said marshals have been instructed to seek out defendants with an ordered warrant and, if found, call the court clerk to have the warrant switched to issued status, effectively pre-empting a judge’s order on the matter and dangling the specter of jail time in front of defendants being served with a warrant.

 

Staffers likened the practice to coercion — the equivalent of treating Las Vegas’ most vulnerable residents like an ATM.

 

‘It’s pay or go to jail…’ one employee said.”

So the next time you see eight LVMPD cops arresting one elderly homeless woman on Fremont St., remember they’re keeping you safe and they need to raise your taxes, so they can hire more cops to keep you even more safe from the dangers of having too much money in your pocket.

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LV Constable John Bonaventura Ordered Cover-Up of Illegal Data Searches

Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura

Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura

With the amount of corruption that takes place on a regular basis within Las Vegas area governments, it can be hard to stand out. However, (soon to be former) Las Vegas Constable John Bonaventura and his deputy constables have actually managed to distinguish themselves among the roll call of corrupt officials in Clark County politics and even among the notoriously unaccountable members of Las Vegas law enforcement.

Bonaventura‘s latest scandal involves his cover up of the improper and illegal use of the Lexis Nexis “Accurint” database service to look up personal information on porn actresses by Deputy Chief Dean Lauer. Currently, Lauer serves as Bonaventura’s second in command within the troubled Constables office, which is scheduled to be eliminated in January after a rather extensive string of scandals.

The Accurint service, for which taxpayers are charged $800 a month for the required subscription fees, is intended to be used by law enforcement employees in order to conduct research on personal information during the course of an investigation. Instead, apparently Deputy Chief Lauer used it to conduct research on his favorite porn stars, including Traci Lords, Porche Lynne, Kayla Kleevage, Lisa Sparxxx and Gianna Michaels among the 16 current and former porn actresses accessed via his password and log-in info. A subsequent investigation was unable to find any legitimate law enforcement purpose for those searches.

According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, this incriminating information was presented to Constable Bonaventura by an internal affairs investigator:

Capt. Hadi Sadjadi, the office’s internal affairs investigator, presented the information at the meeting with Bonaventura, Lauer and other senior officers. On a recording of the meeting obtained by the Review-Journal, Bonaventura wasn’t interested in knowing anything at all about the unauthorized searches done between March and December 2012.

“I need you to pull out all that stuff you got on Dean for running the Accurint stuff because, you know, I believe in my heart that he didn’t do it because he’s addicted to porno or something like that,” Bonaventura is heard saying. “I know somebody mentioned it was 3 in the morning or whatever. … I don’t know. I don’t even want to know. I don’t want to f—-ing know. Whatever you got, I want you to bring it in here and put it in the pile.”

It soon went beyond a simple lack of interest in investigating a clearly improper use of department resources into an active cover up when Bonaventura ordered Capt Sadjadi to shred all of his evidence and reports relating to the unauthorized Accurint searches:

Instead of investigating the improper use of the police records database, Bonaventura ordered evidence shredded.

Instead of investigating the improper use of the police records database, Bonaventura ordered the evidence shredded.

On the recording, Sadjadi is heard responding to Bonaventura’s opening comment by asking that chairs in the office be rearranged so staffers could face each other and have a “friendly debate.”

“We’re not having a debate, Hadi,” Bonaventura responded. “We’re not having a debate. …”

“But what I want you guys to do is I’m going to leave the room,” Bonaventura said. “There’s all this stuff here. There’s a shredder right there. Take your own crap and put it in the f—-ing shredder, OK? And when I come back, I want every­body to shake hands and that’s it.”

Bonaventura’s orders were followed and his men shredded the records, current and former employees familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

Apparently, Bonaventura’s motive for sweeping this incident under the rug was, at least in some part, based on a desire to avoid yet another scandal for the Las Vegas Constable’s office, which at that point had already been abolished in a vote (which Bonaventura was attempting to contest at the time) by County Commissioners, as a result of a seemingly endless string of embarrassing and public scandals.

Bonaventura expressed concern for the future of his job, and for those of his staff.

“I don’t want no more of this infighting b—-s—-,” Bonaventura said. “We got too much at stake here. All of our jobs are on the line. Don’t you guys realize every one of our jobs are on the line?”

Bonaventura’s orders were followed and his men shredded the records, current and former employees familiar with the matter told the newspaper.

In the year since the shredding, Lauer has remained on the job. He is one of about two dozen sworn law enforcement officers in the Constable’s Office, which handles evictions and serves court papers.

This cover up shows the typical bias against accountability for law enforcement employees that is so prevalent throughout police departments across the nation and especially in Las Vegas. Further, it is a somewhat rare public glimpse into the aggressive nature with which police departments in the Las Vegas area don’t just look the other way, but actively work to ensure that their officers are never held accountable for their actions.

The improper use of the Accurint database by Lauer is, in and of itself, an illegal act that numerous cops across the country have been disciplined for committing (although usually not criminally, because laws obviously don’t apply to them). It has also become a huge potential invasion of the right to privacy with the ever increasing trend toward the collection of personal information by police and governmental agencies spurred by and justified with the September 11th terrorist attacks.

In fact, according to “Police Chief Magazine”:

Historically, officers have accessed police databases for myriad improper purposes, ranging from running the vehicle registration of an attractive motorist to seeking names and information in connection with a private investigation business.

Questions should be asked about why there aren’t better safeguards preventing unauthorized use of such a system. That is especially true in light of the growing number of reports of sexual misconduct among police officers, including those working in Las Vegas. Furthermore, the potential for the compromising of legitimate investigations and Las Vegas’ own rather long history of that type of corruption should make this type of cover-up a serious matter, worthy of its own investigation.

This shiny badge couldn't be more tarnished.

This shiny badge couldn’t be more tarnished.

The Las Vegas Constable’s Office: Corruption Defined

Of course, nobody in Las Vegas will be terribly surprised when hearing about corruption by local politicians, particularly when they are related to law enforcement. The completely nonexistent and shameful historic lack of accountability, including the recent rewarding of Jesus Arevalo, who was “fired” for murdering Stanley Gibson, with $30,000 a year in disability payments (because he is stressed out over being called a murderer after he murdered someone), has been covered pretty extensively, both here at nvcopblock.org and in the local corporate  media.

However, even in a city where cover ups, intimidation of, and retaliation against critics of the police are commonplace, Bonaventura’s Constables office has managed to outshine all of them. One of the many scandals involved a failed bid to sell a reality TV show based on their daily routines. The video, which Bonaventura proudly posted on his personal web page, was not as well received by state and county politicians, who oversee the Constables. Among other things, it featured deputies employed by the Constable’s Office cursing, pulling over and arresting motorists (technically they are allowed to do so, but it isn’t actually part of their job), and acting unprofessional, in general.

In an even worse example of the type of misconduct that has come to signify Las Vegas area police departments, Deputy Luis Rendon is being investigated for sexual harassment and animal cruelty. Rendon is accused of stalking and making unwanted sexual advances toward an 18 year old woman over the course of two months. When those attempts were rebuffed, he responded by shooting her dog. Deputy Rendon was hired in spite of several previous incidents in his background, which has been an ongoing point of criticism, along with questions about whether they are being trained properly, during Bonaventura’s term.

Of course, Constable Bonaventura has his own laundry list of incidents and controversies since taking office in 2010. This includes allegations of sexual harassment against a female deputy, demanding that deputies lie to County Commissioners about the reality TV video and then retaliating against them when they refused (which resulted in a $415,000 taxpayer funded settlement), turf wars over jurisdiction involving constables from nearby cities (in the process, he deputized two lawyers in order to avoid paying their fees after the County refused the bill), demanding kickbacks from deputies’ pay, and was himself arrested for DUI while driving home from his office. (District Attorney Steve Wolfson displayed his own well earned reputation of never holding public officials accountable by announcing he wouldn’t prosecute the case.)

Not surprisingly after all of that, Clark County Commissioners voted in March of 2013 to simply eliminate the Las Vegas Constable’s office, effective January 2015, once Bonaventura’s current term runs out. Bonaventura attempted an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the vote and then tried to run for a seat on the County Commission (which failed miserably during the primaries and resulted in a fraud investigation involving donations from none other than Dean Lauer, who’s illegal searches he covered-up). Even the pending dissolution of the LV Constable’s office hasn’t actually ended the constant stream of scandals, which for some reason have begun to revolve around secretly taped meetings between Boneventura and other elected officials.

Besides the one involving Bonaventura’s orders to destroy evidence of the illegal data searches, there are actually two other recorded conversations that have surfaced recently that are at best embarrassing and possibly criminal. In one, which resulted in a raid by the LVMPD on the Las Vegas Constable’s offices, Bonaventura can be heard in a phone conversation with Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins (who has his own extensive history of improprieties) in which Collins insults other commissioners and accuses several of them of being puppets controlled by Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak. In another, Bonaventura himself can be heard badmouthing Sisolak and discussing his desire to spend all of the money ($3.9 million) budgeted to the Constable’s office prior to it’s closing in retaliation for the vote.

The Las Vegas Constables office has a long and sordid history of corruption that predates even Bonaventura’s antics. It’s not likely that the constables will be missed and the fact that they could simply be voted out of existence during a time when Las Vegas leads the nation in foreclosures raises questions about whether they were needed in the first place or if it was just yet another unnecessary waste of money. However, the biggest potential drawback to the abolition of the Las Vegas Constable’s office is the fact that the LVMPD will be taking over their duties.

Outside of the slight increase in power and influence that it will give Metro, current Las Vegas Sheriff Doug Gillespie is already using it as an excuse to push for more funding and an increase in personnel within the department. In terms of potential effects on the residents of Las Vegas, having more “opportunities” to come into contact with members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department can be by itself a dangerous proposition. Constable Bonaventura’s corruption and lack of control over his employees are wasteful and embarrassing, but an encounter with Las Vegas police can be deadly and they have absolutely no reason to believe that they won’t get away with it, based on Metro’s history of accountability or more accurately, the lack thereof.

John Bonaventura, the Most Corrupt Man in Las Vegas

John Bonaventura, the Most Corrupt Man in Las Vegas!!!

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