Former IVGID trustees exonerated of ethics charges
September 23, 2013
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A pair of former IVGID trustees will not face additional ethics charges regarding what turned out to be $7.40 in meal discounts they enjoyed in 2011 and 2012.
Pointing to "undisputed evidence," the five-member Nevada Commission on Ethics ruled to dismiss allegations that Bea Epstein and Ted Fuller violated Nevada law by allegedly failing to disclose conflicts of interest and accepting improper gifts.
"I'm very pleased that they were able to come to that conclusion," Fuller said this week.
According to previous reports, the Incline Village General Improvement District board (including Fuller and Epstein) voted 4-0 on Sept. 14, 2011, to approve a $40,000-max purchase order with Crosby's Pub for catered meals between Oct. 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, for The Incliners. The former trustees are members of the group.
The vote allowed club members to avoid paying a 7.725 percent Washoe County sales tax on the monthly meals due to IVGID's status as a tax-exempt public entity. The way the deal worked, The Incliners issued a check at the discounted rate to IVGID, which then paid Crosby's.
The Incliners saved roughly $3,000 by not paying sales tax, according to the investigation, equating to about $19 annually per member.
Crystal Bay resident Frank Wright, a former IVGID trustee candidate and frequent critic of the district, filed requests for opinion of the commission on Dec. 24, 2012, regarding the issue.
According to Wright's filings, the former trustees' votes were an attempt to use their governmental position for their own financial interest.
The commission disagreed, saying in an Aug. 27 order that Fuller and Epstein "had neither a significant pecuniary interest nor a commitment in a private capacity to the interests of The Incliners."
Fuller and Epstein stood to save $16.65 each if they attended every dinner during the time frame. According to the commission, Fuller attended three dinners, for a benefit of $5.55; Epstein attended one dinner, saving $1.85 —totalling $7.40.
In an interview this week, the former trustees' attorney, Thomas P. Beko — with the Reno firm Erickson, Thorpe & Swainston — called the commission's ruling a "common-sense decision."
"It's something that quite frankly should have never been filed in this instance … it makes you question the motivation of the people who file the complaints," Beko said. "It's really unfortunate IVGID is forced to incur the costs that they do for our services in responding to these types of complaints.
"It's unfortunate for all the citizens who end up having to pay for these."
Wright provided a written statement to the Bonanza, voicing displeasure toward the commission's decision.
"A public official according to (the commission's) ruling can give away the farm as long as he/she only takes a small amount personally," Wright wrote.
In the ruling, commissioners made clear they were ruling on charges of unethical behavior among public officials, and that they have no jurisdiction regarding the "propriety of IVGID's decision…"
"The Commission has no position regarding whether IVGID's determination to share its tax exempt status with The Incliners, a government-sponsored program, was unwarranted," commissioners found.
According to previous reports, the Incliners is considered an IVGID senior program, as is the Conversation Café and other clubs and groups.