LAS VEGAS (AP) — A former top Nevada Democratic lawmaker was sentenced Thursday to more than two years in federal prison and fined almost $250,000 for misusing campaign funds to pay personal bills and open a downtown Las Vegas nightclub where he hosted political fundraisers.
Ex-Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson told U.S. District Judge James Mahan in Las Vegas he was embarrassed, and called his fall from grace after 17 years in elected office “regrettable” and “unfortunate.”
“I have spent a long time building my life up to be the person I am today. The fall has been quite daunting,” Atkinson said. He wore a characteristic bowtie and dark suit as he stood with his attorney Richard Wright backed by more than 25 supporters in the courtroom a gallery.
“This is an unhappy day,” Mahan responded after Wright acknowledged that Atkinson co-mingled, misappropriated, embezzled, stole and improperly used at least $195,000 in contributions while he was in the state Assembly and Senate.
“We entrusted you as a public servant and you violated that trust,” the judge told Atkinson.
Atkinson, 50, of North Las Vegas, served 10 years in the Assembly before being elected to the Senate in 2012.
He became the first openly gay member of the Legislature when he came out in 2013 during a Senate same-sex marriage debate. He and his husband, Sherwood Howard, became the first same-sex couple to marry in Las Vegas in October 2014.
Atkinson tearfully resigned from the Senate in March and pleaded guilty less than a week later to federal wire fraud.
U.S. Attorney Nicholas Trutanich said poor record keeping kept the FBI from determining how the more than $1.1 million Atkinson reported receiving in campaign contributions from 2010 to 2017 was spent. But he said investigators found a discrepancy of more than $450,000.
Court documents said he used $75,000 in campaign money to open and operate the nightclub called The Urban Lounge; $20,000 to lease a Jaguar SUV; $8,600 to repay a personal loan and at least $100,000 to pay off credit card charges.
Mahan rejected Wright’s plea for probation, his attempt to minimize the amount of money Atkinson stole and the number of victims of Atkinson’s fraud.
With more than 800 political contributors, the judge said it was not practical to order restitution and repayment.
However, the judge shortened Atkinson’s prison sentence from the 30 months that prosecutors sought to 27 months, and allowed Atkinson to remain free pending his surrender to federal prison authorities Oct. 18.
Wright argued in court filings that Atkinson didn’t deserve prison time because he accepted responsibility for his crimes, agreed to pay a fine, lost the lease on his nightclub and “now bears the stigma of a felony conviction.”
At the request of prosecutor Daniel Schiess, Mahan froze Atkinson’s campaign accounts pending a decision whether that money could be used to pay his fine.
Outside court, Atkinson hugged friends. He declined to comment to The Associated Press.
“The vast majority of public officials serve with honesty,” Trutanich said outside court on Thursday. “But if they lose their way, federal prosecutors stand ready to see that justice is done.”