FBI Looking Into Improper Lobbying

Nevada Legislature 2003
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The FBI is reviewing allegations of improper lobbying activity at the Nevada Legislature to determine whether a formal investigation is warranted, a state senator and an FBI spokesman confirmed Thursday.

Sen. Mark Amodei, R-Carson City, confirmed that he was questioned for about 40 minutes Tuesday by an FBI agent about lobbying practices during the regular 2003 session and two special sessions that followed as lawmakers wrangled over higher taxes.

Jim Stern, an FBI spokesman in Las Vegas, said the review had not advanced to a formal probe.

"We are evaluating information and trying to determine if there is any violations of federal law and if it meets the criteria to initiate an FBI investigation," Stern told The Associated Press.

"There is not an open investigation at this time," he said.

The often bitter tax debate ended this summer with approval of a record $836 million tax plan. Missing from the final package was a proposed gross receipts tax favored by Nevada's casino industry. In its place, among other taxes, was a payroll tax paid by employers.

The gross receipts tax also was endorsed by a special study panel that held lengthy hearings on Nevada's tax structure in advance of the 2003 Legislature, and by Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Amodei confirmed in a Thursday interview on KRNV-TV's "Nevada News Makers" that he had been questioned by the FBI. While Amodei declined to give details, one reported area of concern was the loss of big beer contracts that a distributor who backed the payroll tax had with casinos that backed the gross receipts tax.

Distributor Kurt Brown of Capital Beverages in Carson City, who lost Budweiser contracts at Harrah's, Harveys and Caesars hotel-casinos at Lake Tahoe, wasn't immediately available for comment.

Gary Thompson, representing Harveys and Harrah's, said those casinos did drop the contracts, but the reason was "we got a better deal from Coors. That's why we're not using Capital Beverages."

Thompson said the resorts disagreed with opponents of the gross profits tax - including Amodei - but to suggest there was some sort of economic retaliation is "flat-out false."

"The last time I checked, we have the right to do business with whomever we please," he added.

A Caesars representative didn't immediately return calls.

Bill Bible, head of the Nevada Resort Association and a key member of the gambling industry lobbying team at the Legislature, didn't immediately return calls.

While Amodei didn't want to comment on the FBI's questions, he said he welcomed the inquiry.

"I think it is a healthy thing to have a law enforcement agency that is not affiliated with state government in the state just asking some questions. That doesn't mean anything is wrong. That doesn't mean anybody has broken the law, but it means that they are doing their job and watching," he said.

"I think that provides a view that is more objective and not tied into - you know, Nevada is still a relatively small state, so I think it is healthy for the process to have investigative folks just asking some questions."

Ray Bacon, a lobbyist for the Nevada Manufacturer's Association, said he, too, was aware of the inquiry.

"It took place relatively shortly after the session. I think there are a bunch of people who have been interviewed at this stage of the game and I agree with Mark - I think it is a healthy thing," he said.