NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- An elected official who failed to disclose his ownership of more than $1 million worth of real estate says it was a "boneheaded mistake" but wasn't done intentionally.
North Las Vegas City Councilman Richard Cherchio says he didn't list three of the four homes he owns because a clerk advised him to do so. That omission is now the subject of a formal ethics complaint. The councilman says it was a rookie mistake, not an intentional omission. However, he will have to convince the state ethics commission now that a formal complaint has been filed.
It's not exactly clear who is behind the complaint but there is little question that the first term councilman was required by law to disclose what he owns and how much he makes. He didn't.
"Again, I'm not making any excuses," said Cherchio. He says he accepts full responsibility for failing to disclose his real estate holdings but he did give us an excuse. He says someone in the North Las Vegas City Clerk's office told him he didn't have to list his properties or his income from those properties so he left it blank on the form all elected officials are required to fill out and sign.
George Knapp: "Someone in the clerk's office told you it didn't need to be done?"
Cherchio: "Right. I wish I could remember. At the time, I was new on board and if a mistake was made, I take that responsibility."
The disclosure form is not all that complicated. Section B asks officials to list all their sources of income, which could include rental income and section C asks for a list of all real estate holdings worth more than $2,500. Cherchio's form listed no income other than his council salary and it listed no real estate other than his personal residence inside The Parks, a gated community.
Cherchio and his wife own not only the house inside The Parks, but also the one next door and the one across the street. The first house was purchased in 2001, the second two in 2004. When Cherchio ran for the city council in 2007, he listed the two other properties on his disclosure form. He lost but was then appointed to the council seat.
His most recent disclosure form not only omitted the two homes in The Parks but also did not mention the 2007 purchase of an $800,000 condominium in Turnberry Towers, which he sold earlier this year at a considerable loss.
It's an impressive real estate portfolio for a retired postal worker from New York.
George Knapp: "I can see someone asking how can you afford a million dollars worth of real estate?
Cherchio: "I would hope it's a million dollars in real estate but I never purchased any property for the purpose of making money. I bought them for the reasons I mentioned."
He says he bought the house next door as a place for his wife's sister after she retires, and the one across the street for his granddaughter. The luxury condo was to be for his wife in their later years. Cherchio knows he has ruffled feathers at North Las Vegas City Hall and finds himself at odds with both the firefighters and police officers unions though he would not speculate who was behind the ethics complaint.
After being informed of the complaint by the I-Team, he filed an amended form with the state, one which lists the properties and the fact that they produce rental income.
"In hindsight, I should have said I should list it any way. There's no reason not to list it. I'm happy someone brought it to my attention because I intend to correct it now," said Cherchio.
As a matter of policy, the ethics commission does not confirm the receipt of a complaint, not until after an investigator checks into it, then a panel reviews the case file. In general, the commission has been lenient with elected officials if it can't be proven that a violation is willful. The damage for Cherchio could come later when his political opponents raise the issue again and ask how a retiree can afford so much property in the first place.