Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleads guilty to federal election charges
Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson on Tuesday resigned that office and his Senate seat effective immediately after pleading guilty to federal charges of misappropriating campaign funds.
Atkinson told fellow senators and a packed gallery “it has been discovered I used campaign funds for personal use.” He reportedly converted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to personal use.
In a tearful speech, Atkinson, said he takes full responsibility for his actions.
“I have no one to blame but myself,” he said. “I’m embarrassed. I’m ashamed and I’m truly, truly sorry.”
He will be replaced by Assistant Majority Leader, Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, as acting majority leader making her the first woman majority leader in Nevada Senate history.
Atkinson is the third African American to hold the position of majority leader. Steven Horsford, now a member of Congress, and Aaron Ford, now Attorney General, were his predecessors. All are Democrats.
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, issued a statement essentially confirming Atkinson’s situation, saying, “I am unfamiliar with the details of his particular circumstances.”
“While I’m disappointed by his actions, he appears to be taking full responsibility as he should,” said Frierson. “Our job is to focus on passing meaningful legislation that helps all Nevadans. We cannot be distracted from doing the work that voters elected us to do.”
Gov. Steve Sisolak, also a Democrat, said he was extremely disappointed in the news.
“This admitted violation of the law goes against the integrity every elected officer in the state of Nevada should uphold,” he said. “By doing so, he betrayed the trust of the public and therefore should be held accountable.”
Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer and Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler, both R-Gardnerville, issued statements condemning Atkinson’s conduct.
“Senator Atkinson has violated the integrity of our elections and broken the trust of the voters and his colleagues,” said Settelmeyer. “We hope this is an exception but we must get all of the facts and determine how far this corruption goes. We must preserve the integrity of this institution.”
Wheeler said the case is more than troubling: “Criminal behavior has no place in our Legislature.”
Both said they’re waiting for the details of the investigation.
Sisolak said he looks forward to working with the Legislature “to ensure our state government operates with the high standards of transparency and integrity that Nevadans deserve.”
Atkinson, who represents Senate District 4 in North Las Vegas, was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and served there until his election to the Senate in 2012. He was named Assistant Majority Leader in 2017 and Majority Leader this year. He was the first black, openly gay member of the Legislature when he came out in 2013 during a debate in the Senate on same-sex marriage.
Court documents were not immediately available, and it wasn’t clear when his plea will take place.
Atkinson’s attorney, Richard Wright, said in an email Tuesday that his client would plead guilty to a federal wire fraud charge in Las Vegas. He did not offer further details.
Neither the FBI in Las Vegas nor the U.S. Attorney for Nevada commented about Atkinson, spokeswomen said.
His replacement will be chosen by the Clark County Commission and that person will have to run for the seat in 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.