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October 25, 2014

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Gibbons and Mazzeo step up dispute: He issues denial, she hires attorney

Six Questions

WE WERE HOPING TO HAVE ANSWERED THURSDAY

1. Why did the Gibbons campaign insist for five days that the incident occurred just outside the restaurant, rather than while Gibbons was walking Mazzeo to her truck in a nearby parking garage?

2. Why did Gibbons think it was a good idea to walk an intoxicated woman to her truck?

3. Gibbons says he was helping Mazzeo find her truck. Then, Gibbons says she stumbled and he grabbed her to keep her from falling. Why did he then suddenly walk away and not continue helping her find her truck?

4. After the incident, did the Gibbons campaign have any conversations with Sheriff Bill Young, who has endorsed Gibbons?

5. Has the Gibbons campaign attempted to contact Mazzeo in the days since the incident?

6. Mazzeo told police that Gibbons invited her to his hotel by noting they were so close they could "crawl to his hotel." Gibbons told police the next day he wasn't worried about driving drunk because his hotel was so close he "could have crawled here." Is that phrasing a coincidence?

Rep. Jim Gibbons and attorney Don Campbell gave the news media three affidavits from women who were with Gibbons inside the bar of McCormick & Schmick's restaurant last Friday night. Below are excerpts:

Pennie Puhek FRIEND OF CHRISSY MAZZEO

"The restaurant was very busy that night and we were all crowded together. I am not aware of anything inappropriate happening at the table that evening and Mr. Gibbons did not appear to be in any way intoxicated."

Michelle Diegel AT THE TABLE WITH MAZZEO AND REP. JIM GIBBONS

"I understand that there have been some allegations regarding Congressman Gibbons' conduct that evening. I can only say that he was a perfect gentleman, I was impressed with his character and I enjoyed meeting him. The booths at McCormick & Schmick are small enough that I would have seen or heard if anything was said or done by anyone that was improper or inappropriate, and there was nothing that occurred that could be construed as such. I was shocked to learn that one of the women that had joined our table had made the allegations that she did, and witnessed nothing that supports her allegations."

Georganne W. Bradley AT THE TABLE WITH MAZZEO AND GIBBONS

"On Sunday, I read the newspaper and learned that Chrissy had made some allegations regarding Congressman Gibbons. I was shocked, to say the least. The congressman's behavior was above reproach all evening. He was a gentleman, and behaved in the manner I would hope and expect a man in his position to behave. We were all sitting in close proximity; the booths are not large. I never heard anything or saw anything that was inappropriate. I remember thinking how impressed I was with the congressman, and was grateful for having had the opportunity to spend time with him. I did not see or hear anything that supports the allegations I've been told Chrissy has made."

The woman who accused Rep. Jim Gibbons of assaulting her and making unwanted sexual advances last week has hired a lawyer, which means the case may not quietly go away in the final weeks of his campaign for governor.

Gibbons spoke publicly about the incident for the first time Thursday, issuing a broad and unequivocal denial. But on the advice of his attorney, Gibbons refused to answer questions because his accuser, Chrissy Mazzeo, had hired counsel earlier in the day.

Mazzeo is represented by high-profile attorney Richard Wright, who said he was hired to protect Mazzeo's interests.

"She retained me for legal advice because she's being victimized," Wright said. He would not comment further.

Wright's involvement is a blow to Gibbons' campaign, which had hoped to put the issue to rest Thursday by introducing sworn statements taken from three women who had been drinking with Mazzeo, Gibbons and campaign adviser Sig Rogich at McCormick & Schmick's restaurant near the intersection of Paradise and Flamingo roads on Friday.

Those statements support Gibbons' version of events inside the restaurant bar, but do not address what happened after the five-term congressmen left about 10 p.m.

Mazzeo, a single mother, told police that the Republican from Reno assaulted her inside a parking garage minutes after he offered to help the admittedly intoxicated woman find her parked truck. Gibbons, too, had been drinking.

The one-time fighter pilot entered the press conference smiling and holding hands with his wife, Dawn.

"I categorically deny that I ever engaged in any inappropriate behavior," the 61-year-old lawmaker said. "As a nearly 30-year member of our military, I conducted myself as an officer and a gentleman, and my actions that night were consistent with that practice."

Standing alongside Gibbons at the podium was another high-profile Las Vegas attorney, Don Campbell, whom Gibbons has retained. After Gibbons spoke, Campbell turned to the trio of 911 calls Mazzeo made between 10:26 p.m. and 11:14 p.m. Friday.

"Would any of you, any of you, rely on such incoherent, inconsistent allegations if they had been made about your husband, your father, your grandfather?" he said. "I respectfully suggest that none of you would do so."

On the first two of those calls, Mazzeo was short of breath, difficult to understand and slurring her words. By the final call, however, she seemed more articulate and her statements were consistent with the detailed account she gave to police about two hours later.

Campbell, like Gibbons, refused to take questions. By doing so, they failed to resolve questions that remain about what happened in a parking garage across the street from the restaurant at Hughes Center near the Las Vegas Strip.

Gibbons said he walked with Mazzeo to the parking garage to help her find her truck. Once in the parking garage, he said, she slipped and he caught her as she fell.

His account is consistent with what he told police last Saturday, although his version has differed in some ways from what his campaign said previously. Most significantly, the campaign has said the incident occurred just outside the restaurant, not in a parking garage.

Mazzeo says she didn't slip, but rather, he pushed her against a wall and threatened her.

Campbell, who has several news media clients, has hired private investigator David Groover to contact witnesses in the case on behalf of Gibbons. Groover was at the news conference.

Wright, Mazzeo's attorney, is also gathering information about the incident.

In the affidavits of the three women who had been drinking with Gibbons and Rogich, all said that Gibbons did nothing inappropriate and that he did not appear intoxicated.

Mazzeo told police Gibbons began making inappropriate sexual advances in the restaurant, which was the genesis of the incident in the garage. Their waitress, Julie Vick, told police she considered the atmosphere "flirty."

The three statements are silent, however, on the issue of the time that Mazzeo left the bar, which is an important conflict between her account and Gibbons'. Mazzeo told police that he left 15 to 20 minutes before she did and was waiting when she came outside.

Gibbons said she came outside almost immediately after he did and that their chance encounter led to his offer to help her find her truck.

Vick, however, said Mazzeo remained inside perhaps as long as 30 minutes after Gibbons left.

Mazzeo says that after the two entered the parking garage, Gibbons pushed her against a wall and pressured her to have sex.

Video surveillance cameras in the garage almost certainly would have captured the incident - whether it was a stumble or an assault - and in one of Mazzeo's 911 calls to police, she says she hopes the cameras captured the incident.

But police said the cameras were switched off that night. Asked about the video system Thursday, Metro Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy said, "We try to encourage businesses to keep the equipment in operating condition. But we can't make anyone do anything."

He declined to comment further and referred questions about the security system in the garage to the Hughes Center, which is owned and managed by Crescent Real Estate Equities, a real estate investment trust based in Fort Worth, Texas.

Leslie Balko, director of property management for Hughes Center, said Crescent hires its own security guards, but declined to comment further, citing company policy that bars employees from speaking to the press without corporate approval.

A spokeswoman for Crescent, Jennifer Terrell, said: "We do not comment on security matters. We are cooperating with authorities."

Mazzeo, 32, was known as Chrissy Israel Freteluco before getting married. She lived for a period in Flagstaff, Ariz., before moving to Las Vegas.

She has held jobs in at least three of the bigger and better-known Las Vegas casinos and is currently a cocktail waitress at Wynn Las Vegas.

On Aug. 31, 2005, she filed for bankruptcy. On the bankruptcy forms, Mazzeo reported a total monthly income of $1,817, including $1,400 in monthly child support from Eric Rockey, the father of her 3-year-old daughter.

Mazzeo was $105,000 in debt when the papers were filed. Her bankruptcy debts show several unpaid doctor's office visits and hospital bills totaling more than $8,000. Those include payments to radiologists and a bone and joint specialist. She said in her statement to police that she had survived cancer.

She also owed money to the Community College of Southern Nevada and a large chunk - $23,458 - to the student loan provider Sallie Mae.

Political consultants say Gibbons made the right political move Thursday by issuing a forceful statement of his innocence and refusing to take questions. "The less you say, the better," said Pete Ernaut, a longtime Republican consultant.

Ernaut said the true political impact hasn't been felt yet. "It's not the incident itself, it's the opposition and what they do with it," he said, referring to Gibbons' opponent, state Sen. Dina Titus. In other words, voters can expect 30-second ads with a distinct theme.

Sun reporter Michael J. Mishak contributed to this report.

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