(Amy Alonzo | Mason Valley News) – Former Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil was the largest campaign contributor to the End Trafficking and Prostitution political action committee before the 2018 election, campaign finance records show.
McNeil made contributions totaling $1,499. Each of McNeil’s two contributions were under $1,000, which avoided mandatory reporting before the election under state campaign finance law. He contributed $500 on April 13 and $999 on Aug. 30.
The Nevada Secretary of State’s office requires PACs and political candidates to periodically report financial donations they receive. For the 2018 election season, reports were due May 22, June 8, Oct. 16 and Nov. 2, 2018, and Jan. 15, 2019.
While individual contributions under $1,000 do not need to be reported, when a series of contributions combined exceed $1,000 they must be disclosed in the final report, said Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections. That final report came out in January. No other donors contributed more than $1,000 to the anti-brothel PAC.
That means during the election season, people looking at End Trafficking and Prostitution’s donations were unable to see that McNeil had contributed.
“They aren’t cumulative until they do this annual report,” Thorley said. But, “people are smart, and they know what the threshold is.”
McNeil, who retired from the sheriff’s office at the end of the year after losing the 2018 election to Frank Hunewill, said he doesn’t remember why he wrote a check for $999, one dollar under the amount that would have been reported during that period’s financial statement.
“I look at that number and said, ‘Why did I write $999?’ In all fairness, I look at that number, and I don’t know,” he said.
McNeil said he was never questioned during his campaign about his donations to ETAP, but, “I would have said ‘yes’ if somebody had asked me. … I look at those campaign contributions as exercising my First Amendment rights.”
In April, an anti-brothel and anti-prostitution group, No Little Girl, filed a referendum with Lyon County asking voters to choose between shuttering the brothels or freezing the county’s ability to regulate them.
In response, Lyon County commissioners placed an advisory question on the November ballot asking voters if they supported closing the county’s brothels. In exchange, No Little Girl withdrew its referendum. No Little Girl was a grassroots effort that later united with ETAP.
When asked during the campaign whether he was affiliated with the No Little Girl group or if he had a stance on the referendum or advisory questions, McNeil declined to answer.
Lyon County overwhelmingly voted in support of the brothels.
Sheriff-backed compliance check of brothels ahead of election
In October, the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Department of Homeland Security investigators, conducted a work card compliance check on the brothels.
The compliance check followed a four-month internal investigation into the prostitutes’ registration procedures, and McNeil gave a presentation on the investigation to Lyon County Commissioners just weeks before the November election.
The audit said nearly one-third of the brothel workers showed indicators of human trafficking, and in his report to the commissioners, McNeil said there should be “an in-depth, thorough, detective-led investigation to determine if they were being trafficked.”
Complaint filed against McNeil
A complaint was filed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office regarding McNeil’s campaign contributions by Chuck Muth, a conservative blogger who also served as campaign manager for Lyon County brothel owner Dennis Hof.
Hof ran for state Assembly before he died in October. Muth filed his complaint the first week of February, alleging the PAC didn’t disclose the donations in a timely manner and that the lack of timeliness could have impacted the election.
Muth claims ETAP, which is spearheaded by Reno attorney Jason Guinasso, should have reported those contributions in the third and fourth reports that were filed with the secretary of state’s office.
The Nevada Secretary of State’s office is reviewing Muth’s claims, according to Thorley.
Guinasso, who also served as legal counsel for No Little Girl, declined to comment to the Mason Valley News.
“Because of … Mr. Guinasso’s experience as a lawyer and a candidate for public office in Nevada, I would suggest this omission was both knowing and willful – especially in light of the fact that Mr. Guinasso himself previously reported similar ‘cumulative’ donations for his Assembly race in 2016 that exceeded the disclosure threshold,” Muth wrote in his complaint.
Guinasso ran for state assembly in 2016.
“I would further suggest that the unusual amount of the second donation of $999 — exactly one dollar under the disclosure ‘trigger’ amount – that both the donor and the PAC colluded in an intentional effort to hide the donor’s identity from the public before the election on November 6, 2018 due to the donor’s elected position as sheriff of Lyon County and his duties in regulating and enforcing the county’s brothel ordinances,” Muth said in the complaint.
“Most people knew where I stood,” he said. “When you put that uniform and badge on, you put those biases aside and have to enforce the law. I really take offense to Chuck Muth, who is acting like a thug.”