Sisolak, Vermillion, and the Importance of History

Anyone who has been in a relationship from hell can appreciate the end of the one between Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and former Henderson Councilwoman and Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth founder Kathleen Vermillion.

To summarize, Vermillion’s management of her charity had come under question, and she sued Sisolak for defamation after their relationship ended. She said he said nasty things about her, which often happens in such a situation, but also that he said them to county officials and other important people. Sisolak claims Vermillion and her representatives tried to blackmail him. Otherwise, they would release politically damaging information related to his relationship with Vermillion’s teenaged daughter.

This emerged at a meeting held at the office of public relations executive Mark Fierro, hired by Robert Martin, who is Vermillion’s attorney. Sisolak attended with his attorney, Stan Hunterton—according to Sisolak, to discuss the news conference Vermillion’s representatives planned to have. At the meeting, Sisolak says, Martin and Fierro told him that Vermillion’s defamation lawsuit would “go away” in return for $3.9 million, and Fierro, who has done similar work for the Clark County Firefighters Union (which has been going at it hammer and tongs with Sisolak), added that the union wouldn’t try to defeat the commissioner for re-election next year.

Making this all the more interesting, Sisolak apparently taped the meeting.  That may have been a wise move to protect himself. It also was ironic.

First, Sisolak’s attorney, Hunterton, made his name in Las Vegas as a federal organized-crime strike-force prosecutor. Hunterton is a heroic figure in eliminating the worst of the mob from power in Las Vegas. FBI wiretaps and other surreptitious recordings had a lot to do with that success.

For his part, Fierro was around then, too. He has come a long way from being a cameraman and fill-in weatherman at Channel 8. As his website says, “As a beat reporter covering rampant organized crime in Las Vegas in the 1980s, Mark generated stories that were subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations probing the infiltration of organized crime into the city.”

So, Fierro covered stories involving people being secretly taped. Later, having moved into public relations, “In 1999, Mark was instrumental in Oscar Goodman’s come-from-behind mayoral election victory.”

A little more than a year later, Goodman was in a public tangle with Las Vegas Councilman Michael McDonald over the latter secretly taping their conversation over the city’s ethics review process. And Goodman wasn’t exactly unfamiliar with wiretaps and secret tapes, given his long and successful career as a defense attorney, often for the very figures on whom Fierro reported.

All of which is a reminder of how easily we—not just as Las Vegans, but as human beings—forget the lessons of history. For example, Sisolak is a member of a County Commission that, just before he arrived there, included four politicians who eventually went to prison in Operation G-String for taking payoffs from a strip club owner. The tapes of those conversations were really interesting, too.  Maybe if everybody involved remembered this history, they might be more careful about what they say and do. But then the media would be out of business, wouldn’t we?