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September 16, 2019

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State Senate leader resigns, says he took campaign funds

Kelvin Atkinson

Cathleen Allison / AP

In this May 22, 2013, file photo, state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, listens to debate on the Senate floor at the Legislative Building in Carson City.

Updated Tuesday, March 5, 2019 | 6:45 p.m.

CARSON CITY — Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson resigned today, saying he would plead guilty to charges he used campaign funds for personal use.

“Due to mistakes I have made, I will be vacating my seat immediately,” he said on the Senate floor. Atkinson thanked those who worked with him and listed accomplishments he was proud of during his time in the Legislature.

“In this most difficult of circumstances, I have been treated respectfully by the prosecutors and investigators,” he said. “And I have no one to blame for this but myself in this situation.”

Atkinson said he hoped the charges against him are not what defines his legacy.

“I do hope to have the opportunity to prove someday that this is not who I am, just something I did wrong,” he said.

Lawmakers exchanged hugs with the long-serving Democrat following the speech.

Court documents were not immediately available, and it wasn't clear when his plea will take place.

Atkinson's attorney, Richard Wright, said in an email Tuesday that his client would plead guilty to a federal wire fraud charge in Las Vegas. He did not offer further details.

Neither the FBI in Las Vegas nor the U.S. Attorney for Nevada commented about Atkinson, spokeswomen said.

Top Republicans in the Legislature seized on Atkinson's announcement to call for a full corruption probe.

"Senator Atkinson has violated the integrity of our elections and broken the trust of the voters and his colleagues," Minority Leader James Settelmeyer said in a statement. "We hope this is an exception, but we must get all of the facts and determine how far this corruption goes."

Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler called Atkinson's admissions "more than troubling."

Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement that he was "extremely disappointed" and that the alleged behavior "goes against the integrity every elected officer in the state of Nevada should uphold."

Senate Democratic Executive Director Cheryl Bruce called the resignation “appropriate” and said Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro would take over as acting leader.

The resignation leaves an open senate seat from Clark County, which will be filled by the county commission.

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson said in a statement he was unfamiliar with the details of the investigation but he was glad Atkinson was taking responsibility.

Atkinson, who owns The Urban Lounge bar in Las Vegas, was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and elected the state Senate in 2012. He was the first black, openly gay member of the Legislature when he came out in 2013 during a debate in the Senate on same-sex marriage.

Atkinson was named majority leader last November.

Cannizzarro will be the first woman to lead the Senate.

Las Vegas Sun reporter John Sadler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.