Published Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 | 10:49 a.m.
Updated Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 | 6:53 p.m.
The legal and PR team of former Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion held a news conference Monday afternoon to outline what they called “improper” behavior by Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak toward Vermillion’s teenage daughter.
The news conference, which featured video of the teenager calling the county commissioner a “scumbag,” capped a day of dueling accusations between Vermillion and Sisolak, who ended their five-year romantic relationship in October.
The feud became public last week, when Vermillion filed a lawsuit accusing Sisolak and Clark County of defamation and invasion of privacy for allegedly spreading the story that she had tested positive for a synthetic opiate. Vermillion also alleged that Sisolak had an “improper” relationship with at least two underage children, her daughter and her daughter’s friend.
All sides agree that the legal teams for Sisolak and Vermillion met Sunday to discuss the allegations, but differ on the nature of that meeting.
Sisolak filed a police report Monday morning and held a news conference where he accused Vermillion, her attorney Robert Martin and public relations expert Mark Fierro of criminal extortion. Sisolak said Martin and Fierro had during the Sunday meeting asked Sisolak for $3.9 million to make the lawsuit “go away.”
Sisolak said he and his attorney Stan Hunterton met with Vermillion’s legal team because he had heard they were planning a news conference and he wanted to discuss it. He claims that during the meeting Fierro, who represented the Clark County firefighters union during their contract fight with the county, said as a “side benefit,” he could guarantee no interference from firefighters in Sisolak’s re-election campaign this year.
In the police report, Sisolak names Vermillion, Martin and Fierro.
Vermillion’s team said it was, in fact, a settlement conference to discuss a payment because Vermillion will likely be forced to leave the area because her reputation has been damaged, Martin said. In a statement, Martin said: “For Sisolak to use a word like extortion is the act of a desperate man … To be clear, we are not alleging any criminal conduct on Sisolak’s part. We are alleging that he has injured Ms. Vermillion and her family by his wrongful conduct.”
But it was Sisolak’s reputation that Fierro and Martin questioned during their Monday afternoon news conference. The media were shown a highly edited video interview of Vermillion’s 15-year-old daughter.
In the video, the daughter said on two or three occasions Sisolak took her to the lingerie store Victoria’s Secret. She also said Sisolak would give her money and send her text messages after 11 p.m.
Fierro said the messages and money came even after Sisolak and Vermillion broke up in October.
“After 11 o’clock at night,” Fierro said. “Does that sound like the actions of a reasonable person?”
Fierro and Martin said nothing of a criminal nature had occurred between Sisolak and Vermillion’s daughter. But Fierro said as a public figure Sisolak is held to a higher standard. “It’s bad judgment on behalf of a public official,” he said.
(Fierro and Martin said the other child referenced in the lawsuit was the teen’s friend, who had not yet agreed to make her interview public.)
During his five-year relationship with Vermillion, Sisolak said he developed a paternal relationship with Vermillion’s two children. “They took normal, innocent gestures” and tried to turn them into something tawdry, Sisolak said.
Fierro and Martin were asked to provide the entire taped interview. The two said it might be released later. Asked if the girl was coached to provide answers, Fierro replied: “This is the extent of the coaching: ‘Tell us what happened.’ ”
Asked for copies of the texts, Fierro replied “that’s what the girl says. And maybe you don’t believe her. And if they’re there, we’ll bring them.”
Fierro said after the breakup Vermillion “doesn’t have any money,” and she tells Sisolak she is going to sell $100,000 worth of jewelry he bought her over the years. Fierro said Sisolak called Vermillion’s son and said he would buy it and give half of the money to the children.
“There’s a card that he sends. ‘I’m just a phone call away’ to a 15-year-old girl. ‘I love you,’ ” Fierro said.
But Sisolak explained the jewelry incident differently.
He said Vermillion’s son called him and said his mother was going to pawn the jewelry for $5,000 to $10,000. Instead, Sisolak told Vermillion’s son he would rather buy the jewelry, lock it up and when the two kids got old enough, they could split it between them.
“I’d hate to see $100,000 worth of jewelry sold for nothing,” he said.
As for the Victoria’s Secret trips, Sisolak said they never made specific trips to the store but stopped in on shopping trips to the mall because the teen wanted to buy some age-appropriate clothing known as Pink.
It’s apparent that the feud had been going on out of the public eye for weeks.
At his news conference, Sisolak produced copies of text messages from Vermillion dated Dec. 10, about two months after they had broken up. Vermillion’s anger is evident: “When you stop manipulating and using my children, like you have me, then I’ll stop. You are in over your head. I can, and will destroy you. I am the female version of you. But smarter. And my anger only motivates me. Back off. Or else. The Sisolak name will be a shame to them all. All I have to do after Jan. 3rd is make the ACCUSATION that you made advancements toward (her daughter), and you’re done.”
Vermillion filed her suit against Sisolak on Thursday, claiming he disseminated her personal health information, including that she had tested positive for a synthetic opiate and that he had “improper and secretive” relations with her daughter.
Sislolak had said there was “no merit” to Vermillion’s claims.
The day Vermillion filed suit news also broke that she had been accused of financial improprieties at the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, where she is CEO.
Vermillion, who has denied any wrongdoing involving the community organization, announced in November that she would resign from the Henderson City Council.
Her lawsuit shed light on turmoil at the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, which she founded. The suit says Vermillion's schedule as a member of the Henderson City Council was very demanding so she turned over many of her duties at the nonprofit group to Executive Director Arash Ghafoori.
But Ghafoori "had serious performance issues in the fall of 2011," and NPHY’s treasurer resigned "amid allegations there were some irregularities relating to NPHY finances," Vermillion's attorneys claim.
During a board meeting in late December, Vermillion and Ghafoori both agreed to take drug tests and Vermillion tested positive for a synthetic opiate, her lawsuit says.
Ghafoori has asked the Nevada Attorney General to investigate the charity’s operations and finances.
The suit says Vermillion had recently taken some pain relievers for a migraine headache and that she had obtained a pain reliever from Sisolak’s sister, Susan Sisolak. Her attorney said it’s believed the pain reliever from Sisolak’s sister caused Vermillion's drug test to be positive.
They further said an NPHY board member improperly disclosed Vermillion’s drug test results to Sisolak and that "Sisolak disseminated Mrs. Vermillion’s results to multiple individuals at the Clark County government offices."
Among other claims in Vermillion's suit:
• By disclosing her drug test results, Sisolak negligently disseminated private health records and invaded her privacy.
• "Sisolak in his role as Clark County Commissioner made defamatory statements about Mrs. Vermillion to other Clark County commissioners and department heads."
• Sisolak and Clark County, "acting under color of state law," violated Vermillion’s rights under the U.S. Constitution.
"I don't know anything about drugs, vacations, trips or anything else that's been mentioned," Sisolak said Friday.
Sisolak, who claims to have donated more than $200,000 to NPHY, later issued a statement: "It is a sad day for Las Vegas when an organization that does good work for kids has its effectiveness undermined and reputation blemished by a complaint such as this one. It is truly regrettable. It is sad that Ms. Vermillion and the organization have placed themselves in this situation."
Clark County also released a statement on the suit, which demands damages that are unspecified but that top $20,000. "The complaint is frivolous on its face, completely without merit, and is of questionable motivation since it acknowledges that people other than the defendants actually disseminated the information in question before it reached the county," the statement said.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to remove the identity of a minor. | (March 27, 2018)