Sunday, Nov. 14, 1999 | 9:34 a.m.
Amid questions that his lavish lifestyle seems out of whack with his modest salary, Las Vegas City Councilman Michael McDonald has decided to move out of his country club home.
McDonald concedes he has probably been living beyond his means but also told the Sun that three personal injury lawsuit settlements have allowed him to afford some luxuries. On the other hand, the 34-year-old politician, who recently opened his own consulting firm, believes he is entitled to earn a livelihood beyond his part-time council position.
His recent attempt to apply for a limousine service license prompted such criticism that McDonald claims he briefly considered leaving office in order to find a job that would pay the bills.
"I love the job, and I can't quit," McDonald said of the Ward 1 council seat he has held since 1995. "But it's frustrating sometimes."
Although McDonald said he could not afford to buy the house in Canyon Gate that he has been leasing since June on his $37,525 council salary, he is by no means strapped for cash.
McDonald's right knee, injured in two car accidents and two falls since 1991, has resulted in about $400,000 in settlements of separate lawsuits, he said.
He also is drawing income from his new consulting firm, Alpha-Omega Strategies, and is still eyeing a license to run a limousine service.
"I don't know what job I can have that won't cause a stir," said McDonald, who resigned in April after 10 years as a Metro Police officer. "If I got a shoeshine business, they'd say the reason I got clients is because I'm a City Councilman, or because I'm mayor pro tem."
In reality, McDonald draws more skepticism because of his lifestyle than his work choices.
Critics, who range from police officers to constituents and political opponents, believe McDonald has been living beyond his means.
McDonald is a member at the $2,500-a-year private House of Blues Foundation Room. He drives a 1989 Corvette and a newer model Chevrolet Suburban when he's not tooling around town in a rented Lexus. A Rolex watch and jewel-encrusted ring help round out the public image of wealth he likes to portray.
He also has made at least two trips this fall to Chicago for Notre Dame football games in nearby South Bend, Ind.
Ward 1 constituents have overwhelmingly supported McDonald, who won re-election this year in the primary with 64 percent of the vote.
He also has become one of the most powerful Clark County politicians, winning the coveted chairmanship of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, stumping for Texas Gov. George W. Bush's presidential bid and eyeing his own future in statewide office.
But McDonald's decision to move into a 2,300-square-foot house in Canyon Gate Country Club was met with criticism from constituents and opponents alike who questioned how he could afford to lease a house bought in 1995 for $282,000 on his salary.
Meanwhile, the woman who owns the house, Bobett Lee Taylor, is married to local businessman Tony Tegano.
Tegano's daughter from a previous marriage is married to Joseph Cusumano, once a reputed lieutenant of slain Chicago mob kingpin Anthony Spilotro, who oversaw street rackets in Las Vegas.
Cusumano also is a friend of Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo. Rizzolo, who also lives in Canyon Gate, is a friend of McDonald's.
McDonald downplays the connections and claims he plans to move out because he doesn't have the money to buy the house when the lease expires in December.
"I just can't afford it," McDonald said. "I can afford the lease payments, but when I looked at it, sitting down with a financial (advisor), there's no way I could buy it. I'd go broke."
The home is a single-story stucco building with a concrete tile roof and attached garage. It has a fireplace and a swimming pool. The gross assessed taxable value for 1999-2000 is $328,490, according to county assessor's records.
McDonald moved into the two-bedroom home in June. His six-month lease included an option to buy the home.
He said he could afford the rental payments because he and Taylor had worked out a good deal.
In a city-approved redistricting in August, McDonald's parents' home on Carmen Boulevard -- where he had previously lived -- was shifted from Ward 1 into the new Ward 5.
Since McDonald represents Ward 1, he can't move back to his parents' home when his Canyon Gate lease expires next month because Precinct 3069 is no longer in his ward.
"By Jan. 1, 2000, I have to have a new house," McDonald said. "I have a real estate agent, and I'm taking a look at a few options."
McDonald said he had made no public mention of being redistricted out of his ward because he didn't want to ask reapportionment expert Fred Kessler to "gerrymander" one precinct on his behalf.
"If I didn't move, I would've been redistricted out of my own ward," McDonald said. "(Taylor) gave me the opportunity to move in even though technically I have until Jan. 1 to find a house."
The home on Carmen Boulevard was only officially placed in the new Ward 5 in August -- two months after McDonald took out the Canyon Gate lease from Taylor. The actual redistricting takes effect Jan. 1.
McDonald shouldn't have trouble with a down payment on a new home in light of a jury verdict and two other out-of-court settlements decided in his favor since last year.
Court records show McDonald had three separate lawsuits resulting from injuries to his right knee, including a well-publicized $181,000 settlement in 1998 for a fall in a local movie theater in December 1991.
McDonald reinjured his right knee in March 1992 when he was on duty as a passenger in a police car that was involved in an accident. McDonald received $15,000 from the driver's insurance company, but sued for "pain and suffering and lost wages."
A court-appointed mediator predicted McDonald would win at least a $200,000 judgment if the case went to trial. Instead, it was settled out of court in September 1998.
Neither defense attorney Daniel Polsenberg nor McDonald would comment on the amount of the settlement.
McDonald was injured for a third time in June 1992 when he fell from a wall while on duty and pursuing a criminal suspect. McDonald rejected an insurance settlement offer of $17,000, and that case is still pending.
The last accident occurred in July 1992 when McDonald again was injured while on duty and riding as a passenger in a police car that was struck by another vehicle. McDonald sued the driver of that car, seeking more than $40,000 in damages.
That case was settled in May. Neither McDonald nor the defense attorney would comment on the settled amount.
McDonald said he is unable to specify exact settlements because of court orders prohibiting disclosures.
He did say that when the two undisclosed settlements are added to the $181,000 publicized settlement, he netted between $400,000 and $425,000 after legal fees.
When asked why he never mentioned the other lawsuit settlements as part of his income until the Sun uncovered the court records, McDonald said he did not want to be seen as someone living off an injury.
"I'd give back the $400,000 to have my knee back," he said.
McDonald has had two operations on his knee and claims he has never been able to regain his physical conditioning or the athletic abilities that made him a standout football player at Western High School.
While the physical limitations may have kept him from his dream of becoming a SWAT officer at Metro, McDonald will now focus on the mental aspect of police work in his new consulting business.
McDonald is president and 100 percent owner of the management/marketing service Alpha-Omega Strategies, which obtained a city business license on Aug. 24.
The company, which lists McDonald's parents' home as its address, is essentially a private investigative business without a private eye's license.
"It's a consulting firm," McDonald said. "I don't have a private eye's license, so I can't investigate. But if someone brings in a case, I tell them they should use this man as a private eye, or go to this lawyer."
McDonald's assistant at City Hall, Rick Henry, is listed as secretary of the company. McDonald said he currently has two active clients and has had eight cases since starting the company in early September.
He said he is paid a fee up front for his work and has done well so far despite not advertising.
"It's by word of mouth," McDonald said. "It's been pretty good."
McDonald declined to discuss who his clients are, who referred them or to whom he refers them for help. He also would not discuss how much he charges for his consulting service.
By law, McDonald will have to list financial records of the business when he files his next disclosure statement with the city in March.
He said if any of his clients came before the council on city business he would abstain from the vote.
"If it comes up, if it's ever before us, I'd say, 'I have represented this person in the past' " McDonald said. "At the time it is before us, I would disclose it."
Councilwoman Lynette Boggs McDonald, who has been the council's staunchest supporter of disclosure laws, said she didn't see anything specifically unethical about McDonald's decision not to disclose his clients.
"If the city were to somehow enter into a contractual agreement with his consulting firm, that would be one thing," she said. "Not really knowing the full nature of his business, the only thing I could say is that he would have to be careful about using his position as a councilman to get clients."