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A North Las Vegas City Councilman, who is the favorite to become that city's next mayor, says there is no substance to allegations that he accepted bribes from undercover FBI agents.
Councilman William Robinson says the bribery allegations were created by a crooked businessman and are being exploited by his campaign rival. And Robinson is right about one thing -- it is political.
For two years in the mid 1990's, the FBI ran an undercover operation with Robinson as their target. Agents posing as criminals met with him dozens of times and all of the meetings were taped.
A civilian operative who was working with the FBI spent nine months getting transcripts of those taped meetings. Even though a lot of the material has been censored, it will be hard for Mr. Robinson to explain what was going on in his neighborhood.
"He kept coming back for more and more donations, and it was to the point where it was ridiculous," said Skip, a North Las Vegas businessman who asked not to be identified.
In the early 90's, Skip says he was repeatedly approached by Councilman Robinson for cash, supposedly for Robinson's future campaigns. Skip told the FBI, who had just started a new political corruption unit. "I said pretty much the worst person I've seen in office is William Robinson," he said.
Using Skip as a liaison to Robinson, the Bureau began a two year corruption probe. The investigation is laid out in hundreds of pages of transcripts obtained by Skip through the Freedom of Information Act. Much of the material was redacted, including most of Robinson's remarks, which were recorded at dozens of meetings with the undercover operatives. Still, there is no doubt who was at the table and what they were discussing.
Skip says he introduced Robinson to Sonny, an agent posing as a mob-connected drug dealer from Detroit. In the transcripts, there are numerous references to cash payments being made to Robinson and what was expected of Robinson in return. "We were sitting there having lunch and the agent said to William Robinson, ‘It's important for you to know that what we are doing here is illegal,' and I started to choke on my food because I was thinking anybody in their right mind would have ran to the authorities and made a report on this," he said.
Robinson didn't report the conversations to anyone and told the agents he didn't care where the money was from. In exchange for cash and other goodies, the FBI team wanted Robinson's help in, among other things, rezoning residential land so they could build a casino.
At several points in the transcripts, the FBI team thanks Robinson for helping them out. The FBI repeatedly made sure there was no misunderstanding about the relationship. "The FBI wanted it clear that in exchange for the money he was being paid, that they bought his vote, which he admitted, ‘You have my vote," said Skip.
In the transcripts, it appears Robinson discussed other types of compensation. He allegedly discussed getting a new Range Rover, a pool in his backyard, new furniture for his house, and what it would take to get out of debt altogether.
Skip says he personally handed cash to the councilman.
"You handed him the envelope?" asked Knapp.
"Yeah," said Skip.
"With $1,000 dollars in it?" asked Knapp.
"That was the FBI agent's money," said Skip.
"So he had given it to you to hand over?" asked Knapp.
"Right," said Skip.
"And you did and he took it?" asked Knapp.
"Yes," said Skip.
But if the FBI's case was so strong, what happened to it? Then U.S. Attorney Kathryn Landreth, whose office worked closely with the political corruption team, reportedly told the Bureau she was troubled that the first target for the team was an African American. The U.S. Attorneys Office declined to comment for this story and news of the FBI investigation never surfaced.
Skip says he decided to go public because he was disgusted that Robinson might become the next mayor. "When I saw other politicians being prosecuted for something minimal and this man walking for taking drug money, to me something was wrong. I was upset and I felt it was time things comes to an end," he said.
On the advice of his campaign advisors, Councilman Robinson declined to appear on-camera to talk about this, but he sent a statement saying:
"These false allegations are 15-years-old and I have never been questioned about them by anyone. And, apparently, the FBI spent months looking into the claims and no charges were ever filed. That is vindication enough.
"Since 1994, I have stood for re-election four times and this has never come up. These false claims surfacing now that I'm running for Mayor point to the dirty tactics of my opponent, who has been trying to use them against me for months.
"This is the work of one, dishonest businessman who will do and say anything to impugn my integrity. I am confident the voters will remember my 26 years fighting our community's most powerful forces and look past these false claims."
Skip filed requests for the FBI records long before Robinson's name was mentioned a potential candidate for mayor. Skip says he continued to work with the same FBI agents on other investigations, including one of the last mafia cases in Las Vegas.
When first contacted for this story, Robinson initially said that he could not remember any of these events, nor did he remember that the FBI called him in and questioned him about the agent posing as the drug dealer Sonny. But he knows the identity of Skip.
Just Monday, someone paid a visit to Skip's business and threatened him to keep his mouth shut, so he filed a police report. There is no information to link that incident to William Robinson.
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