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April 17, 2014

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New discrepancies in accounts from Gibbons, Mazzeo

New versions of what happened between Gov.-elect Jim Gibbons and Chrissy Mazzeo outside a Las Vegas restaurant Oct. 13 surfaced in law enforcement reports released Wednesday.

This came as District Attorney David Roger concluded that his review of a Metro Police investigation found insufficient evidence to prove criminal battery charges against Gibbons beyond a reasonable doubt. But Roger said there is reason to continue investigating allegations of attempts to silence Mazzeo after the incident.

As part of that investigation, the district attorney's office said it recently subpoenaed cell phone records of witnesses, including Gibbons' political consultant Sig Rogich and Mazzeo's friend Pennie Puhek, both of whom were drinking with Gibbons and Mazzeo at McCormick & Schmick's in the Hughes Center on Oct. 13 before the encounter.

Police did not provide those phone records for the district attorney. Sources close to Metro's investigation said last month that the department had intended to obtain those documents.

The district attorney also subpoenaed the cell phone records of private investigator David Groover, who attempted to contact Mazzeo on behalf of the Gibbons camp after the incident. Roger, however, said Wednesday that "based upon the evidence known to us at this time, we do not believe Mr. Gibbons was directly or indirectly involved with this activity."

Mazzeo, a 32-year-old single mother and cocktail waitress, declined to press charges Oct. 14, telling police she didn't want to take on a powerful political figure like Gibbons. Later, however, she told reporters she had done so after being pressured into keeping silent by Puhek and the Gibbons campaign.

Mazzeo telephoned Puhek minutes after her first of three 911 calls on the night of Oct. 13.

Over the next five days, police said, Puhek's phone number appeared on Mazzeo's cell phone records 16 times. Police said Mazzeo telephoned Puhek six times Oct. 14, but there is no record of Puhek calling Mazzeo that day. There were, however, three unidentified blocked calls to Mazzeo on Oct. 14.

Also Wednesday, Roger released a 25-page report, compiled by Metro Detective Mike Hnatuick, showing that both Gibbons and Mazzeo have changed their stories since their initial police interviews.

Mazzeo told police after the Oct. 13 encounter that Gibbons grabbed her arms near an elevator inside the Hughes Center parking garage, pushed her against a wall and tried to coerce her into having sex.

Gibbons said nothing of the kind occurred. The five-term Republican congressman, who will be sworn in as governor in January, said he walked briefly with Mazzeo to find his car in a garage across the street from the restaurant to drive her to her nearby truck. At that point, he said, Mazzeo slipped, and he grabbed her arms to break her fall.

In a summary of a second police interview Nov. 10, Hnatuick said Gibbons for the first time told officers that his encounter with Mazzeo may not have been fleeting. Beginning about 10 p.m., Gibbons said he spent about 15 minutes walking with Mazzeo through the McCormick & Schmick's parking lot looking for her truck.

The search, Gibbons told detectives, ended up across the street but not at the Hughes Center parking structure, which was equipped with video surveillance cameras. Instead, Gibbons said, the two were next door, at a two-story parking garage for the Marriott, where he was staying that night and would have parked his car.

There are no video cameras in the Marriott parking garage. Surveillance tapes from inside the Hughes Center garage show neither Gibbons nor Mazzeo the night of the incident.

"As they neared the two-story parking structure for the hotel, Mazzeo tripped and Gibbons caught her," Hnatuick wrote. "After this, Gibbons said he asked Mazzeo if she was OK and got no response. Mazzeo then walked away. Gibbons said he entered the hotel through the rear entrance by the pool, went straight to the elevator and up to his room."

The report said that Gibbons does not appear on surveillance tapes of the hotel lobby and that electronic hotel records show Gibbons didn't enter his room until 10:47 p.m., which would have been at least a half-hour after he says he parted ways with Mazzeo.

When detectives asked Gibbons to explain the time gap, Gibbons said that he couldn't open a rear gate to the hotel and walked around to the front of the property, only to realize that he had lost his key card.

Gibbons said he then retraced his steps to the rear of the hotel and found his card on the ground. He could not tell detectives how long that took.

Hnatuick said subsequent police interviews with Mazzeo found several inconsistencies in her original account of what happened the night of Oct. 13.

In two separate walk-throughs with police at the Hughes Center parking garage, she gave differing stories of where she was during the encounter, Hnatuick said. Eventually, one of her lawyers, Karen Winckler, told police that the incident might have happened at the Marriott parking garage - where Gibbons now says it occurred.

In a separate investigative report released Wednesday, Mike Karstedt, the chief investigator for the district attorney's office, also questioned Mazzeo's credibility as a witness.

Karstedt said he had trouble pinning her down about her whereabouts that evening as he took her through yet another visit to the Hughes Center parking structure.

"On almost every step of the way, Mazzeo changed her story and appeared totally confused about where she was or how it happened," Karstedt wrote.

Other witnesses interviewed by police add more twists to the evening. George Garcia, a parking attendant, told detectives he saw Gibbons and a woman believed to be Mazzeo walking through the restaurant's parking lot that evening, as Gibbons mentioned.

"According to Garcia," Hnatuick wrote, "Gibbons had his arm around the female, and she was leaning into him. Startled by this, Garcia stopped and asked Gibbons if he needed a car retrieved," the report said. "Gibbons, according to Garcia, shooed him away and, as Garcia continued on, he heard both Gibbons and the female laughing."

Brent Boynton, a spokesman for Gibbons, said the governor-elect is pleased that the district attorney has decided not to file charges.

"We're not surprised about this development today because anyone who knows Jim Gibbons knows he didn't do anything improper and expected this outcome eventually," Boynton said.

Richard Wright, another one of Mazzeo's attorneys, said Mazzeo is disappointed but appreciates Roger's efforts, which are continuing.

"This wasn't unanticipated," Wright said. "We met with Roger, and he explained to her the burden of proof in difficult cases like this when there are inconsistencies with all of the parties.

"In her words, she knows what happened, and he knows what happened." Rogich was on vacation and not available for comment Wednesday. Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy, who oversaw the police investigation, also was unavailable.

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