Monday, March 26, 2007 | 7:16 a.m.
The state attorney general's office and Community College of Southern Nevada administrators are investigating whether college construction chief Bob Gilbert used his position to help build his ranch home off Kyle Canyon Road.
Former and current employees, many speaking to the Sun on the condition of anonymity, allege that Gilbert directed college contracts to certain subcontractors - and that, in exchange, they are working for free or reduced cost on his 4-acre estate.
Employees also allege Gilbert used college material, equipment and employees while developing the estate over the past six years, and then intimidated employees who tried to speak out about those practices.
CCSN President Richard Carpenter told the Sun he is looking into whether there has been any wrongdoing. He dismisses allegations that Gilbert stole materials, but Gilbert's relationships with the contractors "raises a flag for me of, 'Is that all there is?'
"The fact that a contractor has worked for an employee on a private project and also works for the college in and of itself is not an issue," Carpenter said. "What would be an issue is if the employee is personally benefiting in some way because of that or if that contractor had an unfair advantage as a bidder for projects."
Carpenter said he has confirmed accounts of employee intimidation and has taken corrective action, removing a supervisor under Gilbert and issuing a stern warning to Gilbert and other supervisors to not ignore grievances. When asked whether Gilbert was still an associate vice president, Carpenter said, "He is, right now."
A spokeswoman for the state attorney general confirmed that the office has received complaints from several people at the college about Gilbert's conduct. Spokeswoman Nicole Moon would not confirm that an investigation is under way.
College employees interviewed by the Sun say they have been questioned by investigators from the attorney general's office.
Gilbert disputes any wrongdoing, saying the complaints were raised by disgruntled employees. He said that the theft allegations had been raised before, and that he had been cleared by the college.
Clark County and college documents show that Steve Swisher, former principal with Swisher and Hall Architecture, directed his firm in 2003 to help Gilbert obtain county building permits after Gilbert built most of the ranch estate without the required documents. The work included making and filing technical drawings of the structures to support the building permit applications.
The architecture firm had been performing contract work at CCSN since at least 2001.
In October 2005 Gilbert approved a $75,000 open-ended contract for the firm and in March 2006 Swisher's new development firm landed the exclusive rights to develop the first phase of the college's proposed Northwest campus. Details of how the 2006 agreement was reached were not disclosed by CCSN.
Three other companies that have CCSN contracts also are working on Gilbert's ranch, which includes an 8,200-square-foot main house now under construction, a completed 2,500-square-foot guest house, a lighted basketball court, stables, a carport and several storage units.
Those three companies are electrical contractor Inline Inc., Universal Paving and HVR Builders. They had done work earlier for a contracting company Gilbert operated, Arris Builders, before he was hired in 1997 by the community college to supervise renovation jobs.
Ron Peck, owner of Inline, acknowledged he cut Gilbert a deal because he was a "good customer."
Three former and current employees say Gilbert stole college construction materials and equipment.
Lester Belger, a recently retired employee and former facilities supervisor for the Henderson campus, says Gilbert asked him several years ago to load college construction materials into a truck to "go up the mountain," where employees knew Gilbert was building his residence.
For the next six years, Belger says, he saw an old dump truck, two palettes of copper plating, an old diesel generator, interlocking flooring and other material loaded onto vehicles that were to be taken "up the mountain." Gilbert stores construction material at his ranch, and several items were identical to missing college property, Belger said after viewing Sun photographs of the material.
Another college employee who has visited Gilbert's estate said he saw a partly repainted cherry picker, marked "CCSN" on the bottom, that appeared identical to one missing from the college.
Gilbert said all the materials on his ranch belong to him, and that what may appear to be CCSN property was his and was left over from when he was a private contractor doing work for CCSN. He said he bought the cherry picker at a college auction before he joined its staff.
John Momot, Gilbert's attorney, rejected a Sun request to examine serial numbers of equipment at his client's ranch.
Gilbert said that using the same contractors on his estate who do work for him at the college could appear to be a conflict, but that nothing about the relationship was untoward.
As associate vice president of facilities, operations and maintenance, with an annual salary of about $135,000, Gilbert supervises the work those companies do for the college, but he said he has no influence over who gets a contract. All contracts go through a bid or quote process.
"I don't handle that; purchasing does," Gilbert said. "I don't control any money."
But how much influence Gilbert has over the awarding of contracts is a point of contention. Employees say, as a matter of practice, Gilbert directs which contracts should be signed by the purchasing department. Purchasing requests obtained by the Sun on Swisher and Hall contracts show Gilbert's signature and identify him as the person signing off on all work and invoices. College administrators have not responded to the Sun's questions about what role Gilbert had in awarding contracts.
Although Gilbert confirms that Inline, Universal Paving and HVR Builders have done work at the college, CCSN officials have not produced for the Sun any documents to indicate what work those companies performed and how much they were paid.
Gilbert at first cooperated with the Sun by sitting for an interview, accompanied by his attorney. But Gilbert did not respond to later questions sent through his attorney asking how much he had paid those contractors for work on his estate.
Peck said his company, Inline, started working for the college 15 years ago - long before Gilbert was in charge. He said he bids each year for electrical work based on his hourly rates, and is hired by college departments as needed. He said his contracts are signed by Purchasing Director Jack Holland, not Gilbert. He said his total payments average $400,000 a year.
Peck said he is working on Gilbert's estate because Gilbert is a "big boss" at CCSN. Peck said he is getting paid $22,000 for his electrical work on the main house. He indicated that amount covered his costs but that it was not a big-profit job because he offered Gilbert the same "good deal" he offers other good customers.
"There's really no benefit for me, and the only benefit for Bob is that he gets quality work from someone he knows," Peck said of his work at Gilbert's ranch.
A woman at HVR Builders said the owner declined to comment. Calls to Universal Paving were not returned.
Steve Swisher did not return calls from the Sun. John Anderson, overseer of Swisher and Hall's government and higher education projects, said Swisher struck the deal with Gilbert to file the building permits for the estate because they had worked together before. Anderson did not know whether or how much the firm was paid.
In addition to its $75,000 open-ended contract for architecture work, Swisher and Hall designed the college's soccer field, the telecommunications building and two other smaller jobs, totaling $214,708 over six years. Gilbert or his secretaries signed the contracts for all those jobs. The college has not told the Sun, despite multiple requests, who, if anyone else, bid for those jobs.
In addition to Swisher's work on campus, his wife maintains a high profile at CCSN. Lisa Dove Swisher is a CCSN Foundation trustee, and lobbied the private fundraising group to cover a $50,000 annual stipend for Carpenter, the college's president, in January 2006.
Carpenter said he had not asked for the raise and it did not influence the decision to hire Swisher's development company. Carpenter delegated the negotiating authority for the Northwest development contract to Vice President Jeffery Foshee to avoid "the appearance of favoritism/undue influence" in a Jan. 18, 2006, memo to the university system chancellor. Foshee is Gilbert's boss.
College employees say Inline and Universal Paving are the only subcontractors regularly doing work for the college on electrical and paving jobs.
Complaints about misconduct in CCSN's maintenance and building department are not new.
Allegations that Inline was getting preferential contracting surfaced in a 2001 attorney general's investigation. Investigators found at the time that Inline was paid $186,990 in 1999 and $141,694 in 2000 for work that should have - but was not - put out for bid. One job was divided into three payments to avoid the $25,000 threshold that triggers bidding.
The investigation into the conduct of then-Vice President Orlando Sandoval found numerous instances of preferential contracting, including $1 million worth of construction projects and several hundred thousand dollars in furniture and equipment purchased without competitive bids.
The only criminal charge resulting from the investigation was against Sandoval, who was indicted on an allegation of nepotism by a grand jury for hiring his father-in-law. A District Court judge threw out the indictment because of faulty jury directions.
Sandoval resigned from CCSN to help start Nevada State College, then resigned from that job because the college couldn't pay him. Gilbert says Sandoval is now consulting for local architectural firms on college jobs. Sandoval declined to comment.
Sandoval hired Gilbert in 1997 after Gilbert's Arris Builders completed more than 250 jobs for the college, mostly renovation, paving and grading work. At that time, Gilbert sold his business, gave up his contractor's license and began working exclusively for the college.
Gilbert was promoted to director of construction in 2000 and took over most of Sandoval's duties when he resigned from the college in 2001.
Despite several reforms initiated by the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents to strengthen contract policies, CCSN has still stumbled. A 2004 Legislative Counsel Bureau audit noted that the same carpet company cited for receiving contracts without a bid in 2001 received a contract without a bid in 2004.
Gilbert's superiors have publicly praised his work at regents' meetings, where he often testifies on capital construction needs.
"Bob and I have butted heads more than once over issues, and he can be abrasive," Carpenter said. "My loyalties to him to this date have been on what gets done. Every building that we have built here has come in on or ahead of schedule, on or ahead of budget, and in my entire career I've never seen that."
But Gilbert's use of college architects and subcontractors to work on his ranch presents an ethical problem, Carpenter and other system officials said.
"For me it is naw naw," said Ray Moran, director of purchasing for UNR, Desert Research Institute and three of the state's four community colleges. "That violates the arms-length relationship with our contractors."