State Sen. Tiffany faces ethics hearing | NevadaAppeal.com
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State Sen. Tiffany faces ethics hearing

Nevada Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, will face ethics charges that she used her official position to benefit her private business. The charges could lead to impeachment. She is seen here during a committee hearing at the Legislature on May 24. Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal file photo
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State Sen. Sandra Tiffany, R-Henderson, will face an Ethics Commission hearing on 20 allegations she used her position in government to further her private business, Stockdales Auctions.

The accusations were levied Tuesday by a panel of the Ethics Commission and will be heard by the full commission Sept. 13. The commission could fine her up to $5,000 for a first violation, $10,000 for a second and $25,000 for subsequent violations.

If her actions are ruled willful, the commission would send its evidence and findings to the Legislature to consider whether the violations warrant impeachment proceedings. The case would also be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office to consider possible criminal charges.

The allegations include that Tiffany, in the 2005 legislative session, introduced Senate Bill 55, making it legal for her to sell surplus vehicles owned by the state without getting a broker or dealer’s license. It would also have allowed a company such as hers to do business with the state without a contract and to receive a percentage of any sales instead of a flat fee. She said at the time the bill wouldn’t benefit her any more than other similar businesses.

“However, within the same week surrounding the introduction of SB55, Senator Tiffany signed a sole-source, noncompetitive-bid contract with the Nevada State Purchasing Division to be the sole source for her services within the state of Nevada,” the ethics panel wrote in its opinion. That, the panel said, raises the question whether she would have been the sole beneficiary of the legislation which died in the Assembly.

In her defense, Tiffany presented a Legislative Counsel’s opinion saying her introduction of the bill violated no laws.

Reached in Reno where she is attending a fundraiser for her re-election campaign, she said she couldn’t comment on the allegations until she reviews the documentation. She said the original allegation – that she illegally got contracts without going through a bid process from the state and North Las Vegas – was dismissed by the panel.

“But the panel investigator presented all those new allegations related to out-of-state activities I hadn’t heard about,” she said. “This totally blindsided me.”

The panel wrote that Tiffany used her position to secure unwarranted privileges for herself and her company by visiting and contacting surplus property officials in eight different states from Pennsylvania to Nebraska to California about the handling of online auctions. The accusation is that she did so in her capacity as a state senator but then used that information to get the sole-source Nevada state contract and to solicit those other states for their business.

Ted Irwin, of the California Controller’s Office, said it was his understanding Tiffany visited their unclaimed property section “in her official capacity as a Nevada state senator.” Only after receiving detailed information about that state’s online auction system “did she reveal that she was the one interested in the online contract.” He said she gained information beyond what he would normally provide other bidders because of her position.

“It is my opinion that Senator Tiffany clearly misrepresented her intentions pretending to be gathering information on Nevada’s behalf,” Irwin wrote in an affidavit.

Stuart Thronson, of Washington state, made similar comments, saying Tiffany presented her Senate business card and gave the impression she was there in an official capacity – later presenting a business proposal for her private company, Stockdales Auctions.

When told Washington law barred hiring out of state auctioneers, she offered to speak with legislators in that state to try to change the law, Thronson said in his affidavit.

Similar comments came in affidavits from officials in Utah, Idaho and Colorado, among others.

The ethics panel stated Tiffany also used her position as a state senator to get information from Nevada purchasing, the Nevada Treasurer’s Office and the state of California, “which by law or practice was not, at the time, available to people generally,” then used that information to further her company’s interests.

Tiffany said she never received any proprietary information.

“Anything that would have been given to me would have been given to anybody,” she said. “I mean, nothing in state business is that top secret – especially if it’s something they’re doing on eBay.”

She said she is comfortable once she and a lawyer review the allegations they’ll be able to defend against the charges.

“Whenever I do business, I do that in very good faith so I feel pretty comfortable. But I’m kind of numbed by this thing,” she said, pointing out she was not allowed to question or testify at the panel meeting. “It’s very unnerving when they list some pretty strident allegations against you without being able to defend yourself.”

She also said she expected the allegations to “pretty much be the topic of discussion” at her fundraising event in Reno on Tuesday night.

— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.