Waitress Speaks

A woman who says she was assaulted and propositioned by Jim Gibbons said Wednesday she was physically threatened, pressured - and even offered money - to drop her allegations and change her

Chrissy Mazzeo, 32, a Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino cocktail waitress, said at an hour-long news conference that the money offer came soon after the alleged Oct. 13 incident from a friend who said she had connections to Rep. Jim Gibbons' gubernatorial campaign.

The friend, Pennie Puhek, told Mazzeo to drop the charges against Gibbons, 61, and said she would be paid if she signed a statement changing her account, according to Mazzeo's lawyer Richard Wright.

"There's money in this, you will get money for signing this," Wright quoted Puhek as saying on Oct. 16, adding that a specific amount wasn't mentioned but it was clear the payment would be coming from "the Gibbons party."

Mazzeo said Puhek also stated that her life was in danger and "if you don't drop this, Chrissy, they will kill you, your baby and your family."

Gibbons issued a statement saying he did nothing inappropriate and calling the statements by Mazzeo and Wright defamatory and outrageous. He added it was a fabrication to suggest that he or anyone in his campaign "threatened violence or offered money to anyone in an attempt to cover up these allegations."

Sig Rogich, Gibbons' top adviser, also denied Mazzeo's claims, saying, "All I can say is, these are just absurd charges." He added that he would cooperate in any investigation - and would even take a polygraph test - "to show this to be what it is - a fabrication."

Puhek, reached by telephone, declined to comment.

Mazzeo accused Gibbons of pushing her up against a wall and propositioning her in a parking garage near a restaurant-bar where
they had met earlier in the night. Gibbons, in statements to police and at a news conference with his wife last week, said he walked Mazzeo the garage, caught her when she tripped and walked away.

Both Mazzeo and Gibbons, a five-term congressman from Reno, told
police they had been drinking. Gibbons had been with Rogich and other supporters and Mazzeo had been with Puhek at the bar. Puhek bought drinks for the Gibbons party and the two women then joined the group.

Mazzeo chose not to press charges the next day, shortly after Gibbons was interviewed by police for the first time. She did not recant her story, but told police she did not want to "go up against" a congressman.

Mazzeo, nervous and at times teary, told reporters Wednesday that she called Puhek immediately after calling police immedidately after the alleged incident. She said Puhek said "I believe you," but then urged Mazzeo to take back the accusation because she was dealing with powerful people.

Mazzeo said she dropped the matter because she wanted it to "go away." She added that Puhek told her she was in touch with Gibbons
through a legal secretary who shares office space with Rogich and
had been at the restaurant with Gibbons, Rogich and Mazzeo.

Mazzeo also said she had been frustrated by the congressman's denials, and by the investigation conducted by Las Vegas police.

"I want the truth to come out," Mazzeo, a single mother, said.

Gibbons, a former combat pilot, had said he behaved like "an officer and a gentleman." But Mazzeo said Wednesday that Gibbons was "definitely drinking and definitely aggressive" toward her and "definitely not an officer and a gentleman."

Wright criticized the statements made by Clark County Sheriff Bill Young describing Mazzeo as "inebriated" the night of the incident, and characterizing the alleged assault as a misdemeanor. Young, a Republican, has endorsed Gibbons in his race against Democratic state Sen. Dina Titus.

Wright said he hoped the Clark County district attorney would pursue an investigation. He noted that Rogich, Puhek and others at the restaurant were never interviewed by police, although a dozen officers were called to the scene. Surveillance cameras that Mazzeo
believed would have shown what occurred were turned off, according
to police.

Police broke the law when they released Mazzeo's name to the media, Wright said, adding that he had been unable to get copies of police photographs showing bruises and scrapes that Mazzeo says she suffered in the alleged attack.

"There are laws and procedures in place in our state which are supposed to prevent a spectacle a like this from taking place," Wright said. "If they had worked, we would not have to be here today to answer questions and defend herself. She is not supposed to be in this position."

Titus, who had been trailing in the polls in the governor's race, said following Mazzeo's news conference that she didn't want to comment on the matter.

"It's not appropriate to comment on it. I'm just staying out of it," said Titus, who on Tuesday had said the allegations reflect poorly on Gibbons' judgment and could be a key factor in their race.