Las Vegas Sun

October 1, 2014

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Issue turns to possible cover-up

At a news conference Friday, Richard Wright, attorney for Chrissy Mazzeo, vigorously criticized Metro Police, the media and the circle of advisers and attorneys around Rep. Jim Gibbons.

1) THE VIDEOTAPES

Wright said he could not understand why Sheriff Bill Young and District Attorney David Roger had not disclosed at a news conference last week that police had obtained the missing videotapes from Oct. 13.

"Did all of you believe when you left that press conference that they had the tapes - that the tapes were recovered and were being looked at? Why does this type of deception occur? Why can't they be forthright in an investigation?"

2) THE INTERVIEWS

Wright wondered why police hadn't interviewed Gibbons a second time, specifically to question him on such things as his different accounts of where he and Mazzeo were at the time of the incident.

"This is not rocket science. Professional investigators can figure this out."

3) DISTORTIONS

Wright said Gibbons' staff and attorneys had engaged in distortions or outright lies about what happened.

"I understand what they're doing," Wright said. "I don't fault them for it. They've got an election coming up and they're trying to run out the clock. My client is the roadkill in his zeal to get re-elected."

4) EVIDENCE-GATHERING

Wright said he has pushed police to look for evidence to substantiate Mazzeo's claims.

"To do a thorough investigation, you go to the Starbucks, you go to the La Quinta, you go to the Residence Inn (by Marriott), you go to all the buildings around there. At the Residence Inn you get the key, the door entrance system is computerized, when did the congressman go in and go out Did I request it all? Yes."

5) THE MEDIA

Wright scolded the press for printing whatever the Gibbons campaign has told them. It started, he said, with the initial Oct. 15 Las Vegas Review-Journal story on the incident, in which a Gibbons aide said the incident Mazzeo alleged "didn't happen" and the only three people quoted in the story were Young, Gibbons' campaign manager Robert Uithoven and adviser Sig Rogich.

"He lied to the press. He covered it up. They were in complicity. It went on for four days. In the Wednesday paper and thereafter, you have a lieutenant for the police department stating that they had investigated this and that it happened the way the congressman said. "And now the same people come out, a week or two later, they want to tell you something and you just gobble it up."

6) THE INVESTIGATION

Wright was asked whether, after voicing his concerns to Young and Roger, he felt comfortable that Metro Police could conduct a fair investigation.

"No, I wouldn't say I feel comfortable. I don't feel comfortable when they bring the attorney of the suspect down for an interview and don't tell us about it. I don't feel comfortable when all of the misleading information that has taken place in this case has come from the Gibbons camp and the police department."

7) PROCEDURES

Wright said police ignored proper procedures by not allowing an attorney to accompany Mazzeo into her initial interview with police.

"The interview then almost did not take place, because my partner Karen Winckler was going to be present with her," Wright said. "They called upstairs to get approval for this, and then after the interview took place by Chrissy of these, I think they're homicide-robbery detectives. The interview was accusatory, it was unpleasant, unfriendly, in contrast to the way they treated Congressman Gibbons."

Chrissy Mazzeo's attorney Richard Wright says he has seen cell phone records corroborating Mazzeo's allegations that she was coerced into dropping assault charges against Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Gibbons.

Those records, which document calls Mazzeo made and received after her late-night parking garage encounter with Gibbons on Oct. 13, point to possible obstruction of justice in the case, Wright said in an interview with the Sun on Friday.

Wright consented to the interview after a news conference in which he strongly criticized how the Metro Police Department has handled the investigation.

Mazzeo has alleged that Rep. Jim Gibbons assaulted her and tried to force her into having sex after she had drinks with him and four others, including his high-powered campaign strategist Sig Rogich, at McCormick & Schmick's restaurant in the Hughes Center.

Gibbons said he was helping Mazzeo to her truck when she slipped and he grabbed her to keep her from falling. The encounter took place on a Friday night at a parking garage across the street.

Over the next five days, Mazzeo has said, another woman who had been drinking with her that night, Pennie Puhek, the wife of a prominent Republican dentist, called her repeatedly to urge her to recant her story.

Those calls had not been corroborated. Wright told the Sun that he had seen records of about 50 minutes worth of calls between Mazzeo and Puhek.

They occurred Sunday through Wednesday after the incident. Wright said he expects to see additional calls once he receives printed copies of Mazzeo's phone records from the evening of the incident and the following Saturday morning.

Mazzeo has said the calls from Puhek began Saturday. In those calls, Mazzeo said, Puhek urged her to recant and told her that the Gibbons camp was willing to offer money if she would sign a "silence agreement."

Responding to questions from the Sun , Wright said he had been led to believe by Metro Police and the district attorney that investigators, at his insistence, were subpoenaing Mazzeo's phone records, as well as the records of others who could be involved in any efforts to silence his client, including Gibbons and Rogich.

The "silence agreement" that Mazzeo said Puhek requested adds a curious element to the case.

Despite the alleged efforts to get her to change her story, Mazzeo, a 32-year-old single mother, student and cocktail waitress, did not recant her allegations and she refused the alleged financial overtures.

She did, however, decline to press charges, telling police on Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the incident, that she did not want to move forward with the case against Gibbons because he was a powerful politician.

Puhek's alleged attempt to obtain the "silence agreement" came as the Nevada media began calling for the release of all police records of the incident - including the identity of the alleged victim, which still had not been made public.

The police records also included Mazzeo's and Gibbons' versions of what occurred in or near the five-story Hughes Center parking garage, just northwest of the intersection of Paradise and Flamingo roads.

By Mazzeo's account, after Puhek's efforts to silence her failed, a private investigator working for Gibbons' attorney Don Campbell entered the picture. Mazzeo and the Gibbons camp agree that by Tuesday, with media pressure to release the records intensifying, investigator David Groover repeatedly attempted to meet with Mazzeo.

At that point, Mazzeo called a friend in California, an attorney, who telephoned Groover to ask him to stay away. The attorney then put Mazzeo in touch with Wright in Las Vegas.

At the news conference Friday, in which Wright charged that Gibbons was still being given favorable treatment by police , the attorney said he gave detectives names and telephone numbers to help them subpoena the records that could corroborate his client's claims.

After police told him they were only investigating the case as a battery misdemeanor and could not subpoena the records, Wright said, he became upset and telephoned Clark County Sheriff Bill Young and District Attorney David Roger to voice his displeasure at the lack of objectivity by investigators.

"This is absolutely ridiculous," Wright told reporters. "People talk while investigations go on. Chrissy talked to people between the sequence of 911 calls. She talked to people who are identified on the telephone calls ... She talked about the threats she had received. She talked to people about offers of payments.

"She identified the investigator who called her - the one, for some reason, this innocent accused (person) needed to hire to meet with her and make his (Gibbons') statement fit her statement, which intimidated her."

"These things can be investigated and these statements can either be corroborated or they can't."

Metro Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy defended the investigation Friday: "We gave Mazzeo the same considerations as everybody else.

"We are conducting this investigation appropriately. She has been interviewed appropriately, we are going to finish this investigation and hand it over to the district attorney's office."

McCurdy said police intend to call Gibbons back for an interview.

Puhek issued a statement last week saying that she never suggested that Mazzeo "not press charges for any reason, including money."

In that statement, which Puhek signed at the request of the Gibbons campaign, she said: "While I have been an acquaintance of Chrissy Mazzeo for five years, I have seen her socially only a few times, the last time being nearly two years ago."

Mazzeo worked in Puhek's husband's dental office five years ago.

Puhek has not mentioned her phone calls to Mazzeo in the days after the incident .

In Puhek's statement, however, she said that she "did not speak with anyone associated with the Gibbons campaign until Wednesday, Oct. 18," when she was asked to provide the written statement.

Sun reporters Abigail Goldman and Mary Manning contributed to this report.

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