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January 26, 2015

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Tarkanian testifies he was target of false campaign ads

Tarkanian v. Schneider

Danny Tarkanian, right, and his attorney, Gus Flangas, listen to testimony from state Sen. Mike Schneider (D-Las Vegas). Tuesday was the first day of a civil trial resulting from a lawsuit filed by Tarkanian against Schneider claiming defamation during the 2004 senate campaign. Launch slideshow »

Danny Tarkanian said he expected his opponent in the 2004 state Senate race, Mike Schneider, would use campaign rhetoric and spin the facts.

“What I never expected was for my opponent to call me a criminal and say I was knowingly involved in criminal activity,” Tarkanian said.

Schneider won the election by nearly 2,000 votes, or about 7 percentage points.

Following that election, Tarkanian sued Schneider, alleging defamation regarding campaign fliers and television interviews that alleged Tarkanian was linked to telemarketing scams that bilked senior citizens.

Tarkanian testified at trial today that he helped set up 75 to 100 businesses when he worked as a civil attorney in his private practice in the early 1990s.

At least four of those companies were indicted by the U.S. attorney general, and some of their officers were convicted of telemarketing scams.

One of those officers convicted was Cole Cloninger, whom Tarkanian knew as a ball boy during his time on the basketball team at UNLV. Tarkanian said Cloninger asked him to incorporate a number of nonprofit groups.

Cloninger, along with several others, was later indicted and convicted for wire fraud and money laundering in connection with the businesses Tarkanian incorporated.

Tarkanian said he set up the companies’ incorporating documents and served as the resident agent but had no involvement in the day-to-day operations of any of them.

He said he was not aware that any of the companies were engaged in illegal activity at the time he helped set them up.

Leif Reid, a former prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas, testified today that Tarkanian was not part of any of his investigations into the telemarketing companies in Nevada.

Danny Tarkanian quit practicing law in 1995 when he became an assistant basketball coach for his father, Jerry Tarkanian, at Fresno State.

Danny Tarkanian returned to Las Vegas in 2002 and founded the Tarkanian Basketball Academy, a nonprofit group that runs basketball camps and mentoring programs for youths. He also started a real estate development company.

He moved into District 11 shortly before declaring his candidacy because he believed Schneider’s seat was vulnerable, he said.

The negative mailers started arriving in voters’ homes shortly after the two candidates appeared on a local television talk show, Tarkanian said.

Along with accusing him of associating with criminals, the ads from Schneider’s camp accused Tarkanian of being under investigation by two grand juries and alleged that he cooperated with investigators of the telemarketing scams to secure a deal for himself.

Tarkanian said those allegations are false and he can’t “quantify the damage that is done” to his reputation because of those allegations.

Tarkanian’s campaign also mailed negative fliers about Schneider, but Tarkanian said they were aimed at Schneider’s policies and were not personal.

Tarkanian’s testimony will continue Thursday afternoon.

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