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April 17, 2014

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Tensions simmer over intersecting state probes

Krolicki, evidence-vault cases put agencies at odds

The lengthy criminal investigation of Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki finally came to fruition last month, but it has chilled relations between the state’s top two law enforcement agencies.

Days after veteran lawman Jerry Hafen took the reins of the Nevada Public Safety Department in February, he questioned why the Investigations Division, now under his command, had gotten involved in the attorney general’s investigation of Krolicki.

Hafen said he was concerned about how Nevadans would view Public Safety’s role because the agency is in the executive branch — along with the lieutenant governor. To avoid any conflicts of interest, Hafen suggested, the attorney general’s office should have used its own investigators.

His criticism miffed Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who has spoken very little to Hafen since then.

Relations soured further over the involvement of the Public Safety Department’s lead investigator, Lt. John Drew, in the Krolicki case.

At the time, Drew was under investigation in connection with allegations that large quantities of drugs and weapons had not been properly accounted for at an evidence vault in Fallon. Hafen made it clear he had no confidence in Drew and placed him on administrative leave.

But the attorney general’s office had been relying on Drew’s investigation of Krolicki for months.

Ron Cuzze, president of the Nevada State Law enforcement Officers’ Association, said the tension between the two agencies damages the state’s law enforcement mission. “It’s not good for everyone’s morale,” Cuzze said.

Drew retired in July, but Public Safety remained involved in the Krolicki investigation. The agency’s internal review of the Fallon evidence vault matter criticized the shoddy way in which evidence was kept and destroyed, but it did not find any evidence of theft or criminal wrongdoing by Drew or anyone else.

The attorney general’s office, however, was obligated under a previous request from Hafen’s predecessor, Phil Galeoto, to continue its criminal investigation of the Fallon vault allegations. That led to another clash with Hafen, who didn’t see the need to continue that investigation.

Hafen also has been unhappy with the attorney general’s approach to the vault case.

The Public Safety review of the Fallon vault matter put about 50 employees under oath, compelling them to speak on the condition, as provided by federal law, that none of their statements could be used against them in a criminal proceeding. (The law is designed to allow officials to respond quickly and thoroughly to misconduct on an administrative level while protecting the right of government workers not to incriminate themselves.)

But providing the employees immunity effectively rendered their statements useless to the attorney general’s investigation of the Fallon matter. The attorney general’s investigators would have to conduct their own questioning of Public Safety employees.

Cortez Masto, however, has appeared reluctant to do that. Her investigators have asked the Public Safety employees to sign waivers allowing the investigators access to their statements in the internal probe.

Cuzze called that an end run around the law.

Hafen didn’t want to comment, but has refused to turn over the statements of anyone who signs the waiver to the attorney general’s office.

The Drew factor also promises to further roil the Krolicki case.

Krolicki’s lawyers are sure to try to discredit the evidence-gathering process against the lieutenant governor because of Drew’s unrelated indiscretions.

Within Public Safety are worries that the attorney general’s office didn’t do enough to insulate the criminal case against Krolicki from Drew’s conduct.

In the words of one insider: “This whole thing just smells bad.”

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