Doyle foible

The investigation of the councilwoman goes to the attorney general

Accusations of violating campaign finance laws in 1998 may not be Reno City Councilwoman Sherrie Doyle’s only problem, some say. But Doyle wouldn’t discuss, on the record, the rumors that the inquiry into her case has been used as political leverage.

Doyle’s case has been sent to the attorney general’s office for review of possible criminal wrongdoing and potential prosecution.

Doyle was first investigated after a Feb. 3, 2000, RN&R story revealed possible violations of Nevada law in Doyle’s election practices and financial disclosures. Documents showed that Doyle accepted more than $39,000 in campaign and personal loans from Verna (Beth) Miramon, a Reno political activist. A candidate can only accept a total of $5,000 in contributions—and loans are considered contributions—for the primary election and $5,000 for the general election from an individual.

Doyle may also have under-reported contributions on her financial disclosures, and Doyle did not declare any loans on her March 31, 1999, report with the Nevada Commission on Ethics, which requires the disclosure of loans of more than $5,000.

The last two alleged violations weren’t mentioned in the press release from Secretary of State Dean Heller announcing the decision, which also named Miramon. Both a candidate and a contributor can act in violation of the law, subjecting Doyle and Miramon to possible prosecution in the case.

Violation of campaign law, NRS 294A.100, is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and one to four years in state prison. Doyle would also lose her seat on the council if convicted.

The Nevada Division of Investigation began looking at the inquiry in March 2000.

In the past 14 months, questions have arisen about the length of time it took to move the case along. Some locals, who did not want to give their names, suspect back-room dealings.

The announcement that the inquiry would be turned over to the attorney general hit fax machines almost at the moment the City Council was to look at the Reno Police Department budget. Doyle has been an outspoken critic of some department policies, and it was the RPD that requested the investigation of her.

Susan Morandi, deputy secretary for elections for the secretary of state, says that she didn’t think that the investigation took any longer than it had to.

“We didn’t get the report from NDI until mid-January,” she says. “This is the first time we’ve been faced with this type of thing.”

Kateri Cavin, deputy attorney general, says she doesn’t know when the results of the investigation will be released to the public. Cavin would not give a timeline for the attorney general’s investigation. She says she didn’t expect it to take months.

As far as the rumors that the investigation has been used against Doyle to reap political hay, one political analyst says he doubts it. The councilwoman, a swing vote on the City Council, is probably just voting on an issue-to-issue basis as usual, says Eric Herzik, professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Herzik says that there are many reasons that an investigation like this could take so long to complete, and there is no reason to look for conspiracies.

“Everyone wants to move slowly on something like this,” he says. “Do state agencies really want to pursue local agencies? If I were the attorney general, I wouldn’t want to put this at the front of the parade.”

Herzik says the rumors are probably unfounded.

“I’m real skeptical,” he says. “That would require different agencies—the attorney general’s office, the Reno Police Department, the secretary of state—to act together. Like in most conspiracy theories, it would take a convoluted set of circumstances. On one level, if it were true, it would be in her interest to expose it, to take the light off her, but I’m real skeptical.”

Doyle, for her part, wants closure.

“I have never knowingly or unknowingly done anything to hurt this office or my constituents,” she says. “This has been hanging over my head for 15 months. I’ll be glad when it is over.”

Miramon says, in a recent written statement regarding the investigation, that Doyle and she were “politically naive but eager.”

“When we found we had done wrong, financially, we did everything Dean Heller, the Reno city attorney and the city clerk told us would right the situation,” Miramon says. “In 1999, we were [both] individually investigated by the Division of Investigation for the State of Nevada, a criminal investigator, and were cleared of intentional wrongdoing.”

Miramon’s statement further suggests that the powers that be may be threatened by the election of two new City Council members, which may have increased division on the council.

"I can see no reason for Chief Hoover’s original complaint to be resurrected at this time," she says, "and for Dean Heller to refer it to Frankie Sue Del Papa’s office for review."