State ethics officials are seeking to discipline an embattled rural Nevada sheriff for allegedly using his office during off-hours to host a child visitation between his wife and her ex-husband.
Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro, who won re-election to another four-year term earlier this month, is facing a potential $8,000 fine amid a third publicized complaint in five years submitted to the Nevada Commission on Ethics.
Members of the commission held a hearing last week over allegations raised in the complaint, and ordered another evidentiary hearing — and where a decision on whether or not Antinoro willfully violated state ethics rules will probably be made — to be held sometime in August or October. Commission Executive Director Yvonne Nevarez-Goodson said an order setting the future hearing would be published later this week.
The complaint was filed in June 2017 by the ex-husband of Antinoro’s current wife, who said a planned visitation with the couple’s daughter was at the last minute moved from a Virginia City park to the Storey County Sheriff’s office. The complaint stated that Antinoro greeted the man and his wife at the sheriff’s office on Saturday while wearing a “soft” uniform and holstered firearm, on a day the office isn’t normally open to the public. He said in the complaint a sheriff’s deputy later called him after the visitation to glean any “personal information I know about Antinoro.”
Ethics officials said holding the child visitation at the sheriff’s office when it would normally be closed constituted a violation of state ethics law prohibiting “unwarranted privilege” for a spouse and use of “a government facility for private family purposes.”
“When Antinoro uses government property that is inextricably associated with his public position as the elected Sheriff for a private matter, it creates confusion for the public about the nature of his role with regard to that matter and blurs the line between Antinoro’s personal family interests and his public duties as Sheriff,” Nevarez-Goodson wrote in a filing.
Nevarez-Goodson also requested that the commission levy an $8,000 fine against Antinoro — just $2,000 less than the maximum amount allowed in state law for a public official who has been found to “willfully” violate ethics law at least once before.
An attorney for Antinoro wrote in a filing that the sheriff’s wife asked to hold the visitation in the sheriff’s office out of an “abundance of caution,” and that no ethical rules were broken because any member of the public could request to hold a visitation in the office.
“Contrary to any arguments otherwise, Sheriff Antinoro did not confer an unwarranted privilege or advantage on his spouse by permitting her to do what any member of the general public has the right to do,” the attorney wrote.
Antinoro did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Nevarez-Goodson said the commission ordered the hearing last week to hear additional information as to how and when child custody visits could occur at the sheriff’s office on weekends.
She also declined to say if it was unusual for a public official to have at least three complaints filed against him to the ethics commission. State law prevents the publication of any complaints submitted against an official filed with the ethics commission until a three-member review panel reviews the complaints and determines whether or not to move forward with any disciplinary action, at which point the complaint is made public.
Antinoro was fined $1,000 by state ethics officials in 2016 when he used official sheriff’s department letterhead as part of an endorsement letter to former congressional candidate Michele Fiore. That decision was appealed and is currently before the Nevada Supreme Court.
He was also required to update the department’s policies after the commission investigated a complaint that he prohibited a deputy running against him for sheriff from attending a nonprofit event in 2014, but the commission did not find he committed a “willful violation” of ethics rules.
Antinoro is currently being sued by a former deputy, Melanie Keener, and a Storey County official testified that Antinoro has faced at least ten complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment or inappropriate workplace behavior since 2010.
Nevada Democrats have highlighted the sheriff’s legal challenges as a way to cudgel Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt and attorney general candidate Wes Duncan, both of whom were endorsed by Antinoro.