No Charges In NHP Radio Fiasco

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Improper spending of millions of dollars on the wrong communications equipment for the Nevada Highway Patrol won't result in any criminal charges, the state attorney general's office says.

Gerald Gardner, chief deputy of the criminal division, said the four-month review of an investigation by the patrol found there were "certain improprieties" by former communications supervisor Mel Pennington involving the purchase of radios.

"But there was no evidence of any intent on his part to further his own personal gain or benefit any other person," Gardner said Monday.

Because of Pennington's actions, the highway patrol was operating on 150-megahertz frequencies for which it lacked authorization from the Federal Communication Commission. The federal agency told the patrol to get off those frequencies, which were licensed to others.

Gardner said Pennington originally discovered there were frequencies that weren't used. He said Pennington decided to use them and try to get authorization later.

Pennington then bought the equipment to operate on the 150-megahertz frequencies in 1996. He didn't get permission from the Legislature until 1997. That failure to follow proper procedure was one of the "improprieties," Gardner said.

Motorola built the system for $11 million.

Gardner said spending the money for the equipment before legislative approval was "probably a violation of the administrative code. But it was eight years ago. And the Legislature approved it."

He said Pennington has retired and left the state and "any criminal prosecution would be barred by the statute of limitation."

Pennington has said he received temporary permits from the FCC to allow the patrol to use the frequencies, but they expired in December 2002. He said he sought approval from his superiors to seek an extension but they never took any action.

Using these frequencies, the patrol's radio transmissions interfered with the frequencies' licensed users such as railroads and emergency units as far away as the San Francisco area for three years before the FCC stepped in, transportation officials said.

Gardner said it will be up to the FCC to determine what, if any, penalties will be imposed on the state for communicating over these frequencies.

After being told by the FCC to get off the 150-megahertz frequencies, the state spent $17 million to buy new radios and other equipment to allow it to transfer to an 800-megahertz system for the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Robert D. Chisel, assistant director for administration in the state Transportation Department, said the switch to the 800-megahertz system has been completed in Washoe County for the patrol, and the change in Clark County should be finished by the end of this month. He said the rural counties could be finished by Oct. 1.