AG’s office explains Doyle charges

Even after the brief arraignment of Reno City Councilwoman Sherrie Doyle last week, questions remained unanswered regarding allegations of Doyle’s “theft” or misuse of campaign contributions. Like, why wasn’t the issue that launched the state’s investigation, “Making or Accepting Contributions in Excess of $10,000,” included in the indictment? Why did the investigation take so long? Was this a witch-hunt against Doyle?

Doyle sat silently Friday next to her attorney, Tom Viloria, as Washoe District Judge James Hardesty entered a not guilty plea for her and set a Dec. 16 trial date. Her long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail held in place with purple fabric. She wore a City of Reno pin on her navy blazer.

Doyle waived her right to a reading of the charges, 16 felony counts of theft of campaign money. And despite her frequent complaining about the length of time this investigation took, she also waived her right to a speedy trial. The case will be heard after the November elections, in which Doyle is running for a second term.

Earlier this month, the AG’s office would not address questions related to Doyle’s grand jury hearing. The grand jury transcript was released on Friday, though, and now the gag is off—at least that’s what an e-mail sent to the RN&R by Tom Sargent, public information officer for the Nevada attorney general, implies.

(The grand jury transcript is fascinating. The 365 pages of proceedings are available for public perusal at the Washoe County Clerk’s Office, Criminal Division. If you want to take a copy home, the price is $365.)

Sargent writes that the reason the state didn’t pursue the “Over $10,000” violation is because the state must prove a specific intent to break the law.

“The act must be done voluntarily, with specific intent to do something the law forbids,” Sargent says. “The investigation did not bear this out with regard to the ‘Excess Contribution’ statute; hence neither Ms. Doyle nor her contributor, Ms. [Beth] Miramon, was charged with a violation of that statute.”

In other words, even though Doyle has admitted she took more than $10,000 from an individual, it could not be proven that she knew it was wrong to do so. Doyle has said all along that she didn’t know the contributions were illegal. Factor into that the unpalatable idea of prosecuting Miramon, 75, the person who came forward with documents showing the extent of the loans and contributions, with the same crime—and you’ve got a rattlesnake of a case for a prosecutor.

As an aside, the theft case does not require the state prove “intent.” The state must prove only that Doyle used campaign contributions for things other than the campaign.

So, how did the campaign finance investigation evolve into an investigation of theft of campaign funds?

“Our preliminary investigation simply revealed too many irregularities to ignore with regard to Ms. Doyle’s handling of contributions, and so we could reasonably pursue no other course without being remiss in our duty to enforce the law,” Sargent writes. “There is no ‘witch-hunt,’ as has been suggested.”

It’s that “duty” thing. A law enforcement officer can’t legally ignore evidence of a crime, even if that evidence comes as a result of another investigation.

Finally, the question of whether the investigation took too long lies in the eye of the beholder. First, the Nevada Division of Investigation had the case for 11 months before turning it over the Secretary of State’s Office. That office sat on the results for four months before sending it to the Attorney General’s Office in May 2001.

The Attorney General’s Office first had to follow up on the initial investigation, the “Over $10,000” issue, which was dropped relatively quickly, and then pursue the evidence that arose as a result of the first investigation, then get on the grand jury docket—10 months total.

"We have had some 64 other cases to do with campaign finance and reporting laws," Sargent says in the e-mail. "We’d have been less than fair and even-handed had we ignored the results of the investigation. As the Attorney General said herself, ‘You don’t play politics with law enforcement.' To pursue some [allegations] and not others by legal means is either playing politics or incompetence. So, it wasn’t a matter of finding what would ‘stick,' but a matter of pursuing all allegations of misconduct that may have been violations of the law."