Las Vegas Sun

October 18, 2017

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FBI probe in ’94 mars candidacy

Though never charged, NLV mayoral candidate contending with onslaught


Tiffany Brown

North Las Vegas Councilman William Robinson was investigated by the FBI in 1994. Though the investigation went nowhere, it has become a hot-button issue in the city’s mayoral race, with Councilwoman Shari Buck sending out fliers centering on it and Robinson’s campaign issuing a rebuttal flier.

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  • Courtesy of the William Robinson campaign: Commissioner Tom Collins supports William Robinson in an automated call going out to voters.
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Shari Buck

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North Las Vegas Councilman William Robinson doesn’t want to talk about a 1994 FBI investigation that targeted him and now threatens to upend his campaign for mayor.

He said his innocence is supported by the fact that he was not prosecuted.

“We’ve put this behind us,” said Jim Ferrence, Robinson’s campaign manager. “We are no longer addressing 15-year-old things for which he was exonerated.”

But his mayoral opponent, Councilwoman Shari Buck, sure isn’t done talking about it.

Nor are voters, whose mailboxes are being filled with references to the investigation as the June 2 election draws nearer. Early voting begins Saturday.

The only details known about the investigation are contained in heavily redacted transcripts of some 30 conversations among a North Las Vegas businessman-turned-informant, Robinson and an undercover FBI agent posing as “Sonny,” a drug dealer from Detroit.

The informant has distributed copies of those transcripts in an effort to damage Robinson’s campaign. But with a few insignificant exceptions, they do not contain Robinson’s or the FBI agent’s remarks. A party to a conversation taped by the FBI can obtain transcripts only of his remarks.

On Thursday the Sun suggested that Robinson could put the controversy to rest by requesting, and publicly releasing, FBI transcripts of his side of the conversation during the undercover sting.

Ferrence said he took the Sun’s suggestion to Robinson and the candidate rejected it.

The 69-year-old Robinson will no longer discuss the investigation, period, Ferrence said.

After KLAS-TV reporter George Knapp shed light on the investigation last week, the mayoral race took a swan dive into the mud.

Within days, Buck’s campaign sent a flier to voters with the bold headline: “Councilman Robinson Caught on Tape by FBI.”

Robinson’s campaign responded with its own flier, saying Buck was “spreading 15-year-old rumors,” but is otherwise ducking the issue. He canceled a scheduled debate on Jon Ralston’s “Face to Face” public affairs television show and has made few public appearances.

“He is not going to subject himself to Shari Buck and her attack dogs,” Ferrence said.

Political consultants say Robinson should more aggressively deny the charges every time he can.

The scandal is highlighted by details, including remarks by the informant in the transcript that suggest Robinson asked for a car, a swimming pool and help paying his debt.

The 1994 allegations aren’t the only ones stirring questions about Robinson’s conduct while in office. Robinson, a retired high school counselor, was accused in February, by a county prosecutor during a murder trial, of taking a $500 bribe from a strip-club owner.

Robinson denied it.

The person who leaked news of the FBI investigation to KLAS-TV is known to many people in North Las Vegas, including Robinson.

He told the Sun he doesn’t think Robinson is fit for office, and began requesting the information from the FBI in 2007, about the time Robinson ran for his council seat for the seventh time.

“As a citizen I thought the people needed to know who he is,” he said. “They deserve it.”

Ferrence, the campaign manager, said the businessman had a beef with Robinson over liens placed on his business and business licensing inspections. He could not provide specifics, and the businessman denied any such motive.

The businessman said he contacted the FBI after Robinson continually asked him for campaign donations of $300 to $500 and insisted he would protect the business owner.

Assigned to the case was then-FBI Special Agent Herman Groman, now a security executive at the Orleans. He told the Sun that nondisclosure agreements he signed with the FBI prevent him from discussing the Robinson case.

Readers might try to infer the topics by reading the businessman’s side of the conversation, including this exchange, for example:

Source: Are you serious about that. You want a Land Rover?


Source: OK. Get him his Land Rover, get him his pool. Oh, you got his vote.

Many of the conversations appear to focus on winning Robinson’s vote for a zoning change. The trio also discuss comedian Andrew Dice Clay, water skiing and the attractiveness of women in restaurants.

The informant asks for Robinson’s help in meeting the mayor and the governor and, in another section, the subject turns to traffic tickets.

“William, I won’t ask you how, but they dismissed all those tickets,” the source tells Robinson, “I saved $6,000 in attorneys fees.”

Chad Wilkins, senior adviser to the Buck campaign, said the 1994 investigation “brings significant character questions.”

Responds Ferrence: “It’s just a minor speed bump.”

The businessman who triggered the controversy says he still remembers one meeting at Bob Taylor’s Original Ranch House in northwest Las Vegas.

Groman, Robinson and he drank bottles of Dom Perignon champagne, running up a $900 tab. Before the dinner meeting broke up, he said, Robinson ordered another lobster to take home.

Mike Trask can be reached at 259-8826 or at [email protected]

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