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August 27, 2014

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Raid sweeps through CCSN offices

Nevada attorney general investigators and other law enforcement officers raided the Community College of Southern Nevada business and construction offices Thursday, looking for documentation relating to construction, maintenance and renovation activities at the college.

Sources familiar with the attorney general's investigation said the raid was prompted by a criminal investigation of campus construction chief Bob Gilbert, whose home also has been searched.

The raid comes after the Sun on March 26 reported employee accusations against Gilbert. More than a dozen former and current employees told the Sun they witnessed Gilbert misuse his position at the college to build his house off Kyle Canyon Road near Mount Charleston.

Employees accused Gilbert of directing multiple $400,000 college contracts to certain subcontractors in exchange for their working on his 4-acre estate for free or at reduced cost. Employees also said Gilbert was using college material, equipment and employees at the property. Gilbert then intimidated employees who tried to speak out about those practices, they said.

Gilbert, who was not reachable for comment Wednesday because of the attorney general's takeover of his office, has denied the allegations. His attorney did not return requests for comment.

Attorney general spokeswoman Nicole Moon said her office could not comment.

Investigators on Wednesday searched Gilbert's office at the Cheyenne campus, as well all other construction and business offices on site and offices at the West Charleston campus.

The broad search warrant allows the attorney general's office to search and seize computers, files and records that pertain to construction, maintenance and renovation activities, college spokeswoman Helen Clougherty said in a statement. Depending on how long the search takes, employees may not have access to their computers to finish fiscal year-end work, she said.

"We had no advance notice of this , but they are on campus, and we are fully cooperating," President Richard Carpenter said. "Everything is open to them . Anything the attorney general's office needs, it will get."

The attorney general's office also served a warrant on a private construction business, WGDL, which has reportedly supplied construction workers for the community college in the past, sources familiar with the investigation said.

A former WGDL worker, Patrick B. O'Donnell, told the Sun on Wednesday that he started working for the college as a temporary CCSN worker in July 2004 and, a month later, was told by college officials he was going to work for WGDL. He said he spent the next four months painting and doing other work at Gilbert's ranch.

O'Donnell said his paychecks were from WGDL, but were delivered to the ranch by a college employee, a relative of Gilbert's, who also spent most of his time working at the estate. His last month at the college was spent doing work at the Cheyenne campus, again through WGDL.

O'Donnell's hours were submitted and billed through the college, according to a CCSN employee with direct knowledge of Gilbert's office dealings and who spoke to the Sun on condition of anonymity.

The employee said college administrators were provided documents in 2004 supporting claims that Gilbert was using WGDL employees, hired for college work, at his estate. The office worker said nothing came of it.

There was no answer at WGDL's Las Vegas office Thursday.

At the Cheyenne campus student center, two campus police officers stood guard in the lobby, preventing reporters from accessing the second floor. Officers blocked other entrances to the business and construction offices as well.

Most of the students passing through the building appeared largely uninterested in the modest hubbub of law enforcement activity.

But employees said it was the talk of campus.

One employee, who asked that her name not be used, said word was traveling quickly. There were reports of employees being told to step away from their computers and not to touch any of the keys. Workers were ordered out of the building empty-handed, although women were allowed to take their purses, the employee said.

Other CCSN employees said they had been told not to talk to reporters .

Clougherty said some employees were sent home because they could not use their computers. For the time being, Gilbert will stay in his position as associate vice president for facilities, operations and maintenance, Carpenter said.

Carpenter said he launched an internal CCSN investigation after the Sun story surfaced. That investigation included having campus police compare any serial numbers on materials and equipment on Gilbert's ranch with purchase records at the college. There was no match, Carpenter said.

And although it might look bad that Gilbert hired some of the same contractors who work at the college, there was no evidence of wrongdoing, Carpenter said.

"I have nothing in my possession to take any legal action against Mr. Gilbert," Carpenter said.

According to a two-page campus police report released Wednesday to the Sun, CCSN Deputy Police Chief Daniel Bennet and Sgt. Michael Corbisiero inspected the machinery on Gilbert's property at Gilbert's request on April 2. They noted that most of the equipment looked old and inoperable, and that no identifying numbers were linked to stolen property based on a national database.

According to CCSN employees, the missing property was not reported stolen. Campus police cross-referenced serial numbers of items at Gilbert's estate against college purchasing invoices by Purchasing Director Jack Holland and found no matches, Clougherty said.

Other than a CCSN parking sign Gilbert said was made with his own money, campus police officers said , they saw no indication that any materials on Gilbert's ranch belonged to the college.

The college has not responded to numerous public information requests from the Sun relating to purchasing and construction issues at the college dating back six months. Carpenter said Wednesday that he had been ordered by Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Jim Rogers to refuse the Sun's information requests because they would take too many man-hours to complete.

The documents that have been released by the college have contradicted Gilbert's explanations to the Sun. In a February interview with his attorney present, Gilbert said there was no conflict of interest inherent in his hiring college contractors because he had no authority over their contracts.

But contracts with Swisher and Hall Architecture, Inline Inc. and Universal Paving/Southern Nevada Construction showed that Gilbert not only had approval over those contracts, but that he signed off on every expenditure, including approving time sheets . All three have done work on Gilbert's ranch .

And although Carpenter and other college officials continued to defend Gilbert on the basis that he brought in all projects on time and under budget, a Sun story in May on the Cheyenne campus' telecommunications building documented numerous problems in the facility that caused it to fall short of its academic mission.

Regents and system officials received two updates about Wednesday's raid from system lawyer Bart Patterson, who said the search was limited to construction services and was at least in part related to allegations that had appeared in newspaper articles this year.

The Sun is the only newspaper that has reported concerns about Gilbert's conduct and management.

"We do not believe that the actions of any of the senior administration of CCSN is in question in connection with the investigation," Patterson wrote in one update, which was published Wednesday afternoon by Sun columnist Jon Ralston.

Patterson also expresses his disappoint ment in the second update that the attorney general's office secured a warrant rather than just asking the system for its cooperation.

Although the attorney general's office investigated construction policies at the college at the system's request in 2001, this is believed to be the first time it has raided a Nevada college or university.

"I'm not sure what the issue is," Regent Chairman Bret Whipple said, "but I am very concerned."

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