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Former Assemblyman Morse Arberry accused of hiding campaign donations

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Sam Morris

Assemblyman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, left, confers with Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, D-Las Vegas, during a meeting of the Interim Finance Committee in Carson City Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2009.

Updated Friday, June 24, 2011 | 7:08 p.m.

CARSON CITY — Former Assemblyman Morse Arberry faces six felony counts related to his depositing $120,000 in campaign contributions into a personal account and not reporting the donations to the state, according to a criminal complaint filed today in Justice Court.

Arberry, a Las Vegas Democrat known to colleagues and lobbyists as “Moose,” was the longtime chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which plays a large role in spending state money.

The complaint details 101 contributions, ranging from $250 to $5,000, which Arberry deposited into a personal account at Wells Fargo in 2008. The contributions came from a who’s who of the state’s establishment, including gaming, mining, homebuilders, hospitals, lobbying firms and labor groups, including the AFL-CIO and Clark County Education Association.

The Arberry investigation began in October and was conducted by the Nevada secretary of state’s office, which got the information from an unnamed law enforcement agency, according to the complaint.

Arberry did not return calls for comment. He is head of Las Vegas Urban League, a nonprofit group.

The complaint was met in political circles with surprise over the substantial dollar value at issue, but not that it is alleged to have happened.

Lobbyists had noticed some campaign donations were never reported, but had been unwilling to bring the case forward. Lawmakers also said they had noted what they saw as low contribution totals reported by Arberry.

“This was widely suspected for years,” one legislative source said. “It’s shocking that it took so long.”

Arberry was prevented by term limits from running for re-election in 2010.

He resigned from the Assembly in August to pursue a lobbying career, including a $100,000 contract to lobby for the court system in Clark County.

He said, at the time, he didn’t believe in cooling-off periods.

“I think you have to hit things while the iron is hot,” Arberry said. “For 25 years I served in the Legislature and in public, and I bring relationships and a lot of knowledge to the table. A cooling-off period hinders an individual. Momentum you have is lost because then you’re not involved in the field.”

The contract was rejected by the Clark County Commission.

Arberry did occasionally appear in Carson City during the 2011 Legislature. He represented Frias Transportation, one of Southern Nevada’s largest cab companies.

The investigation included a grand jury subpoena of Arberry’s personal account at Wells Fargo Bank. It found checks made out to “Committee to Elect Morse Arberry” and “The Morse Arberry Campaign” had been deposited into Arberry’s personal checking account.

Later, he didn’t report that money on campaign contribution and expense reports, which politicians sign under penalty of perjury, according to the affidavit in support of the complaint.

According to a KLAS Channel 8 story in January 2010, Arberry had $500,000 in back taxes and debt on public record. Arberry acknowledged to the television station that his real estate company, Canyon Lake Mortgage, had problems over the past few years, including six homes in foreclosure.

Arberry was first elected to the Assembly in 1984.

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