LAS VEGAS — Give notorious Nevada political trickster Tony Dane credit for this much: For years his campaign robocalling service set a standard for innuendo, half truth, and outright low blows. And that’s no mean feat in the Silver State.
Now the longtime Nevada conservative Christian firebrand has finally talked himself into real trouble. Dane was indicted in late May on 11 felony counts linked to strong-arming a vote to replace a moderate Republican assembly speaker with a rock-ribbed conservative anti-taxer of the sort so popular with the state’s far-right wing. The charges include extortion, wiretapping, filing a false document, and perjury.
Understand, the Republicans already held a majority in the state assembly, but some legislative members weren’t considered conservative enough. The few that strayed toward the center were berated on an almost daily basis by Nevada political operatives whose goal was to hold the line against a $1 billion tax-increase proposed by popular Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Assemblyman Chris Edwards was one of those unfortunate souls the right wingers began to suspect was a RINO (Republican in Name Only), and not long after the election Dane used his robocalling enterprise to start squeezing the freshman. According to a police affidavit, Dane told Edwards he knew someone was willing to sign an affidavit claiming Edwards had solicited a $10,000 bribe in exchange for a vote against moderate Speaker John Hambrick. Dane added that he would bury the affidavit if Edwards remembered to vote like a conservative.
Whether out of a sense of self-preservation or that rarest of political traits, an actual conscience, Edwards reported exchange to police. Cops used court-authorized wiretaps and served search warrants in Virginia, Utah, and Nevada to collect evidence associated with Dane’s auto-dialing operation and Dane & Associates consulting business.
It’s difficult to tell so far whether Dane enjoyed contributions from an array of monied donors, as he told Edwards, or was just trying to scare him. “Dane told Edwards that if he tells his employer that Edwards is ‘one of us,’ his employer will trust Dane and not fund a recall effort against Edwards,” the affidavit said.
Back when he was speaking publicly, Dane alleged it was Edwards who came sleazing around looking for money to pay off campaign debts and at one point raised the issue of selling his vote. Dane said he was willing to go after the assemblyman because Edwards had misled voters. But Dane offered Edwards $40,000 to help eliminate campaign debt and more than $100,000 toward his next election if he helped oust Hambick, according to one affidavit.
Edwards, who has referred to himself as a “whistleblower” in press reports, wore a wire that captured Republican Assemblyman Brent Jones. A conservative follower of the Church of Scientology, Jones was suspected of funding Dane’s auto-dialing call operation. Jones has not been charged in the investigation.
And the Governor’s tax increase? It focused most on reforming and repairing the state’s tattered public education system. It passed in the 2015 Legislature with Edwards casting an important vote.
After receiving a grand jury target letter seeking business records in December 2015, Dane declined to exercise his right to remain silent. And when a county grand jury convened on the matter in February, Dane’s attorney David Otto called the police investigation “Gestapo tactics” and argued that an affidavit made public “shows no evidence of any crime whatsoever. All Metro did was interfere in the political process. These kinds of conversations take place all the time in politics.” The attorney later barked that he wouldn’t be surprised “if the grand jury indicts Mr. Dane only because they’ll do anything the prosecutor tells them to do. The burden of proof is extremely low in a grand jury.”
For his part, Dane has embraced his image as anti-liberal and anti-gay purveyor of political shenanigans and practitioner of the last-minute campaign scare tactic. In interviews, Dane and his attorney accused Edwards of playing the role of conservative during his campaign before moving to the middle once the election was over. And there are signs he did just that, and for that Dane admits Edwards received some very pointed threats—the sort suspected RINOs commonly receive in Nevada.
Contacted this past week, Otto increased the volume in defense of his client.
“We’re going to challenge the state’s evidence—to the extent they have any,” Otto jabbed. “We’re going to challenge the validity of the warrant the the validity of all the evidence, because it’s the fruit of the poisonous tree. He had no intent to wiretape anybody.… As for the extortion, I don’t think you’ll find any threat. It was simple political bargaining of the kind that occurs all the time.”
But it’s hardly the first time Dane has made news in Las Vegas.
In an unsuccessful 1996 race against state legislator David Parks, Nevada’s first openly gay lawmaker, Dane circulated “a collage of newspaper reprints including a story about a 10 year-old boy accused of raping two younger boys,” as the Las Vegas Sun reported. The articles were accompanied by an endorsement of Parks by the Bugle, a Las Vegas gay community weekly. Parks would later deadpan, “They were kind of hate-filled messages. They were very homophobic.”
Openly critical of homosexuality, Dane once recruited a person to run against Parks. The unsuccessful challenger’s name? David Parks.
Dane was also embroiled in a protracted dispute with GEICO insurance over a stolen and damaged vehicle and at one point was accused of stealing his own truck. Representing himself, in 2013 he won a jury decision against the insurance giant and invoked his conservative Christian beliefs.
“God put me in this position for a reason; the reason is not to run away and allow this corporation to take advantage of the poor,” Dane said in a press release.
In a slightly more reflective tone following the public revelations of the extortion probe in 2015, Dane said, “I do irritate people. My tactics are controversial, but they’re legal. I’m careful not to cross any lines. A lot of people, Republicans and Democrats, really don’t care for me, and I really don’t care.”
Turns out authorities do care, and they allege talkative Tony Dane went too far this time.