I-Team: Whistle-Blower Files Complaint Against SNWA - 8 News NOW

I-Team: Whistle-Blower Files Complaint Against SNWA

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Debra Rivero Debra Rivero
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LAS VEGAS -- A whistle-blower who once worked for the Southern Nevada Water Authority at a string of ranches in White Pine County claims SNWA is woefully inept when it comes to overseeing the properties.

SNWA spent $80 million to acquire the ranches, but for one longtime employee who worked there, it was a terrifying experience. The former employee has filed a scathing complaint with federal authorities.

The allegations involving the public agency are severe. Former SNWA employee Debra Rivero said, she and other employees at the SNWA ranches were abused and terrorized by their manager on a regular basis.

Rivero said she nearly died on the job, which happened after her boss threatened her with an electronic cattle prod. The sordid allegations have now been brought to federal authorities.

"I could get no one to listen to me, no one to help me. I was up there, completely alone with this person I considered a lunatic," Rivero said.

The final year of Rivero's long career with Nevada water agencies was a time of humiliation and fear, she said.

For 17 years, her evaluations show, she was an exemplary employee at the water district's main office in Las Vegas. All that changed when she left to work for the water authority as office manager for SNWA's string of ranches in White Pine County. The agency spends more than $800,000 a year to run the ranches.

Problems surfaced, Rivero said, when former ranch manager Brandon Humphries was replaced by Bernard Peterson.

"I heard a lot of talk from the manager who told me himself that there was a lot of inappropriate things that happened out at the ranch. A lot of materials and equipment that ended up missing," she said.

Read the EEOC Complaint

Rivero said she tried to let the bosses in Las Vegas know there were serious problems with the ranches.

"I kept bringing up, 'Hey, there is unethical stuff going on up here' and the Vegas office didn't seem to want to hear it. They didn't want to talk to me about it," Rivero said.

In particular, she said, SNWA didn't want derogatory information about the ranches to be leaked to the I-Team, especially to reporter George Knapp.

Rivero said the lack of oversight by SNWA meant the ranches operated as a world unto themselves. The result, for Rivero, was horrific. In a blistering complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she described an extremely hostile work environment in which she was harassed, humiliated, and demeaned.

An earlier letter to SNWA general manager Pat Mulroy, Rivero complained that Peterson was oppressive, malicious, and abusive to employees, and that he often boasted he would kill anyone who messed with him or his family.

"He came and stood toe to toe with me and asked if I was afraid of him. I mean, his nose almost touching mine," Rivero said.

One incident was a turning point. She alleges that Peterson tried to intimidate her with an electronic cattle prod.

"It was a live cattle prod, a live cattle prod, and he held it within inches of my face. When I didn't jump out of the way, I just froze out of fear, he shocked the light bar above me and sparks went flying all over. He just chuckled and laughed and walked away."

She said she reported the incident to SNWA Human Resources director Pat Maxwell.

"And she did nothing. Her answer to me was, 'Well, you need to sit down and figure out what you did to make him so mean to you.'"

Disheartened and fearful every day at work, Rivero suffered a stroke last June. The ranch is a 30 minute drive from Ely. A doctor told her, by phone, to get help right away. She couldn't drive, so she called Peterson.

"I finally contacted Bernard, said I needed to go to the hospital. The doctor thought I was having a stroke. He said, 'Okay,' then finished cleaning out his truck, and then he took me. When we got to the hospital, he dropped me at the curb and left."

Lawyer's Letter to Pat Mulroy

Doctors in Ely had her airlifted to a Las Vegas hospital. She survived, but didn't get much sympathy when she asked for time off to recuperate.

"It says on my paperwork, if I don't go back to work by this date, I will be terminated. And it was like, a week-and-a-half after the stroke."

Rivero decided there was no way she could go back to work for the same boss so she resigned, and it cost her plenty. Instead of retiring with full benefits after 20 years, her medical coverage and retirement pay are only a fraction of what they would have been. SNWA agreed to pay her $30,000 to settle her claims but she says she should not have to make such a big sacrifice because of someone else's bad behavior.

 Response Letter to the I-Team

SNWA would not comment about this specific case but told the I-Team it follows strict policies to protect workers from harassment and abuse.


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