Nevada lawmaker stole money collected from Ethiopians, witnesses say

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Witnesses said a Nevada lawmaker lied about his residency and embezzled campaign funds he raised from the Ethiopian community in Las Vegas, according to new court documents.

Former Assemblyman Alexander Assefa, D-Las Vegas, was charged in March with five counts of providing false information for a filing or filing, three counts of making false statements under perjury, four counts of felony theft and two counts of felony misdemeanor of submitting false declarations of residence on a public charge filing.

Assefa pleaded not guilty to the charges at a hearing on Thursday and is due to appear in court again in August.

According to grand jury transcripts released this month, Assefa received thousands of dollars in donations that were not reflected in his campaign finance reports. Much of the money was raised through fundraising events held in the “Little Ethiopia” community of Las Vegas in the West Valley.

Assefa is also accused of saying he lived in the community, in an apartment complex near Flamingo Road and Decatur Boulevard, when he actually resided in a house north of Las Vegas.

“Mr. Assefa’s actions were directly inconsistent with the conduct we both expect and demand of those in public office,” Attorney General Aaron Ford said in an emailed statement in March. “No one is above the law, and my office will pursue this matter fairly and hold Mr. Assefa accountable.”

Assefa’s defense attorney, Ozzie Fumo, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Search for Assefa’s house

Assefa was first elected in 2018 from Assembly District 42 in the Spring Valley area and won re-election in 2020. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly in January 2021 amid an investigation that has leads to accusations.

Prosecutors accused Assefa of lying about his residency in declaration of candidacy forms filed in 2018 and 2020, and in voter registration forms filed in 2017 and 2020. At various points during his candidacy, Assefa claimed live in one of two apartments at the Bella Vita Complex, near Decatur Road and Harmon Avenue.

But Assefa’s cellphone data showed that from April 2018 to May 2020 he spent the majority of his nighttime hours in the area of ​​a house at 1612 Sweet Jenny Court, near Losee Road and Centennial Parkway. in North Las Vegas, according to testimony given during the secret grand jury hearing.

Metro investigators executed a search warrant at the North Las Vegas home in March 2020, after filling out election forms showing his Spring Valley residence.

“We showed up spontaneously,” retired subway detective Aaron Stanton said during the grand jury hearing in February. “He was actually standing in front of his house and we made contact with him there.”

Inside the house office were various credit cards and identification in Assefa’s name, the detective said. The grand jury also heard testimony from two people who said they rented a room in the north Las Vegas house when Assefa lived there with his wife. A woman lived there during the summer of 2018, while an air force captain said he rented a room from October 2019 to July 2020.

Investigators also searched a Bella Vita apartment in March 2020, where they found Assefa’s mother living with another woman and a young child.

Police found no men’s clothing or toiletries in the apartment, according to court records.

An employee of a property management company testified that in February 2020, Assefa asked for help finding a house to rent, but specified that it had to be in postcodes 89103 or 89147 in the west. from Vegas.

Money missing

A Metro financial analyst who testified said he found thousands of dollars from fundraising events that were not accounted for in Assefa’s campaign finance reports.

In April 2018, Assefa raised over $10,000 at an event at St. Simeon’s Serbian Orthodox Church west of Las Vegas, but the majority of the event’s expenses were not documented in campaign finance reports. Another event in November 2019 raised over $3,100, and bank statements showed that Assefa made a deposit of $2,905 into his personal account the next day.

In February 2020, Assefa raised about $27,000 during and before a campaign event, but about $16,000 went unaccounted for in his campaign bank account, according to grand jury transcripts. Assefa is said to have made more than $11,000 in deposits into his personal account in the days surrounding the event.

Investigators also determined that at one point Assefa transferred approximately $5,000 from his campaign account between his personal account and an account for his transportation company, KIP Transports.

“It was moved between these accounts and used for payments and bills that were related to business or individuals, but were definitely not campaign expenses,” said senior financial intelligence analyst Colin Haynes. at Metro.

Six months after police questioned Assefa and searched the north Las Vegas home, $30,000 was transferred from Assefa’s personal account to his campaign bank account, but was not documented on fundraising forms of the campaign, according to court records.

Several people who worked on Assefa’s campaign testified that Assefa would tell potential voters that he wanted to represent the Ethiopian community in state government.

Girma Zaid, a business owner in Little Ethiopia, testified that he helped gather up to 150 people in the community for a fundraising event during Assefa’s re-election campaign. The event was aimed at raising funds for office space for Assefa, who told attendees he was struggling financially due to his commitments as a legislator.

But when Assefa and Zaid later met a landlord, Assefa didn’t want to rent the office space.

“A few days later I had him in my office and told him it was public money and we had to show results,” Zaid said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at [email protected] or 702-383-0240. To follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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