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July 26, 2014

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State ethics panel clears Goodman on complaint

CARSON CITY -- Mayor Oscar Goodman withheld any comment after a panel of the state Ethics Commission cleared him Wednesday of a complaint that he used his office to help his lawyer-son in trying to buy downtown Las Vegas property near a redevelopment area.

The ethics panel, composed of commission Chairwoman Caren Jenkins and member Rick Hsu, found there was not "just and sufficient cause" to go forward to a hearing by the full commission.

Goodman's spokeswoman, Diana Paul, said the mayor had "no comment" on the decision, but Ross Goodman did.

"There's nothing unethical about having a father who's famous," the mayor's son said. He went on to say that the mayor is "as involved as he wants to be" with the law firm, and "always available."

Ross Goodman would not quantify how often he consults with his father on legal issues.

The complaint said Goodman violated the ethics law by allowing his name to be listed as "Of Counsel" on the stationery of his son's law firm.

By doing that, the complaint said, the mayor used his position to intimidate parties who received letters from Ross and that Ross used this letterhead, in part, to pressure 85-year-old Christina Von Sturm to sell her property in the downtown redevelopment area.

The panel found there was no ethical violation by the mayor putting his name on the letterhead of the law firm and there is nothing to prohibit Goodman from practicing law or from serving "of counsel" to any law firm.

The panel said it had no jurisdiction over an allegation that the mayor violated the law in exploiting or intimidating an elderly woman. Elderly abuse allegations were first leveled by Christina DeMusee, Von Sturm's daughter.

Police reportedly investigated the allegation but found no criminal activity.

The panel also said it had no jurisdiction whether Goodman may have violated a Nevada Supreme Court rule that says "the name of a lawyer holding public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively or regularly practicing with the firm."

This Supreme Court rule does not apply to members of the Legislature when they are in session.

An investigation into the complaint filed by Bob Rose of Las Vegas was conducted by Stacy Jennings, executive director of the Ethics Commission, who interviewed the mayor, his son, Goodman's former chief of staff Stephanie Boixo, city senior economic development director Bill Arent and city contracts specialist Denise Kaplan.

Jennings also said she conducted searches of corporate and property records of Goodman, his son, Boixo and Louis Palazzo, who was a business partner with Ross Goodman.

The mayor told Jennings he does not remember talking with his son or Palazzo about the purchase of the Von Sturm property. He did not talk with city staff about his son's involvement with any redevelopment property and he abstained from voting on city-owned redevelopment properties after he was advised of Ross Goodman's interest in purchasing the Boulevard Hotel, which is adjacent to city owned parcels and next to the Von Sturm property.

Boixo also abstained from taking part in these discussions after she became aware that the mayor's son was involved. Goodman also said the letter to Von Sturm with the notation "of counsel" was sent to her attorney, not to her.

The investigation said Ross Goodman, after starting his own law firm, put his father's name on the stationery but the mayor did not receive any compensation and had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation. Ross Goodman said he consulted with his father on criminal cases. Ross Goodman and Palazzo decided to buy the Boulevard Hotel that is next to the Von Sturm property that had been on the market for several years, Jennings said in her investigation report.

In August 2004, a dispute arose between Von Sturm and the two partners over the proposed purchase contract. Ross Goodman hired attorney John Netzorg, who then filed a suit against Von Sturm and the case is still pending.

The investigation said neither the Boulevard hotel nor the Von Sturm property is part of the city redevelopment efforts and neither has gone before the redevelopment agency.

Jennings said she found that Ross Goodman requested the list of bidders on the adjacent city redevelopment site four days after the publicly announced closing date for bids because he was curious what might be planned for the same block in which he was trying to buy property.

The investigation found he has no relationship with or connection to Cherry Development or The Related Group -- the developers of the city site. Ross Goodman said he never received any information that was not public record.

Jennings said there is an open question whether the mayor knew his name was on the letterhead of the law firm until he was served with the complaint. But she said his name on the letterhead does not, by itself, "establish an overt act which might potentially violate this statute."

There is no mention on the letterhead that Oscar Goodman is the mayor.

The investigation found there was "no credible evidence" to support the allegation that Goodman used chief of staff Boixo to advocate the sale of a parcel of city-owned land to a local developer. After Boixo discovered Ross Goodman's interest in the Boulevard, she immediately abstained from the selection process on the city redevelopment site.

Jennings said she there was no evidence to show how Mayor Goodman would personally benefit from using "his alleged influence."

Even if the mayor had used his influence on Boixo, "there is no indication of any benefit that would flow to Mayor Goodman," said the investigation report.

Rose wasn't happy.

"I think they (the panel) was intimidated by him (Goodman)."

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