Justice for sale? Billionaire’s plea deal prompts outrage

nicholas
Henry Nicholas. (Photo courtesy David Chesnoff).

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson is declining to discuss a plea deal that will allow billionaire Henry Nicholas to skate on felony drug trafficking charges and avoid prison, prompting outrage from lawmakers, civil libertarians, and on social media.

“This is disgusting,” Assemblyman William McCurdy tweeted Wednesday about the plea deal. McCurdy is also chair of the Nevada Democratic Party.

Nicholas and his friend, Ashley Fargo, were arrested last August in a Las Vegas hotel room where police found nearly 96 grams of methamphetamine, 4.24 grams of heroin, 15.13 grams of cocaine, and 17.1 grams of psilocin, a psychedelic, according to the complaint.

“DA Wolfson will not be commenting on this case until the defendants actually enter their pleas in District Court,” Wolfson’s assistant, Audrie Locke, told the Current. 

Nicholas and Fargo are expected to enter Alford pleas August 26 on a single count of possession of a controlled substance.  An Alford plea is a guilty plea by a defendant who asserts his innocence but acknowledges evidence exists that would likely lead to conviction. 

The case has been assigned to newly-appointed Clark County Judge Jacqueline Bluth, who was a chief deputy district attorney in Wolfson’s office until Gov. Steve Sisolak appointed her to the bench in March. 

Nevada law gives judges the discretion to reject plea agreements. 

“By no stretch of the imagination would anyone consider Dr. Nicholas or Ms. Fargo to be traffickers distributing drugs into the community,” their attorneys David Chesnoff and David Brown said in a statement. “This positive agreement allows them to help people grappling with addiction by providing substantial financial support to programs in Clark County for treatment and rehabilitation, which have been shown to be an effective tool for combating addiction.”

Rather than attend drug court, which requires intensive treatment and drug testing, the deal calls for Nicholas and Fargo to participate in two drug counseling sessions a month, perform 250 hours of community service during the course of a year, and pay $500,000 each to a yet undetermined drug treatment facility in Las Vegas. 

Failure to comply will result in a finding of guilt on one count of possession, a probationary charge, meaning the two will avoid prison regardless of their compliance. 

“They are paying their way out of jail,” said one courthouse insider who asked not to be named. 

Nicholas is the founder and primary funder of Marsy’s Law,  a victim rights ballot measure named for his sister, who was a murder victim.  Nevada voters overwhelmingly passed Marsy’s Law last November. 

Wolfson appeared in campaign ads supporting Marsy’s Law but says his support did not compromise his independence in the case against Nicholas because the ads were produced prior to Nicholas’ arrest. 

R&R Partners served as the lobbyist for Marsy’s Law during the 2019 legislative session.

“We work with their government affairs people,” Billy Vassiliadis of R&R Partners told the Current. “We had no contact with him (Nicholas).” 

Vassiliadis says Nicholas’ legal problems could be an albatross as advocates seek to pass the ballot measure nationwide. 

“I suppose it could be made to look that way, but it’s not about one person.  If it is, it’s about victims like Marsy,” Vassiliadis said. 

Vassiliadis, a public relations guru, says it’s unlikely the public makes any connection between Nicholas and Marsy’s Law. 

“It’s not like Bloomberg used a gun,” Vassiliadis said, referring to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun control activist.

“What it shows is that we have two systems of justice in our state,” McCurdy told the Current on Thursday. “We have a system for those who have wealth and one for those who do not.  As long as we have two tiers of the criminal justice system, people will never get fair and equal treatment under the law. If you look at the amount he was caught with that should be a trafficking case.”

The amount of drugs Nicholas and Fargo allegedly possessed constitutes a trafficking crime under an amendment supported by the Nevada District Attorneys Association to a criminal justice reform measure passed by the Legislature this year. 

Assembly Bill 236 says a person possessing “100 grams or more, but less than 400 grams, is guilty of low level trafficking and shall be punished for a category B felony by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 2 years and a maximum term of not more than 20 years and a fine of $100,000.” 

“We wanted to increase those thresholds to allow higher weights to carry lesser penalties, but law enforcement and the District Attorneys wanted stricter penalties for smaller amounts of narcotics,” Assemblyman Howard Watts said in an interview.

“During the last session, on a variety of criminal justice reform bills, we saw District Attorneys, not just from Clark County but from Washoe and the statewide District Attorneys Association consistently ask for more discretion and power in the process and for their offices to preserve the power they already have in filing charges, having options for leniency and for referrals to specialty courts,” says Watts.  “This case kind of illustrates when the discretion and leniency is applied in a regressive and inequitable manner.” 

“The Henry Nicholas’ plea deal is what is wrong with the criminal justice system. How many of the people passing through the Clark County Detention Center will get the same plea offer?” ACLU Nevada Executive Director Tod Story asked rhetorically.  “If money buys privileges and opportunities not available to those without it, then justice is not blind or fair, and our system must be reformed.”

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Justice isn’t for sale here. The poor get good deals too. Why, just Tuesday the 20 year old gypsy woman that sex trafficked the 11 year old got probation on one count of child neglect/endangerment. They dropped all her felony charges. And she even had the public defender. Sounds fair to me.

  2. There is no victim, what are you all looking for? To bring up Marcy’s Law is irrelevant. It was not for sale, but for personal use only. I’m sure this is not the first time this has happened, he wanted to party in excess. He is paying to help and he is paying to get help. THAT’S IT.

  3. Ozzie Fumo was on the tube saying it was unheard of.

    The Weygant open murder case of alleged drug informant was plead down to battery with deadly weapon. Guy bailed out for $3000. (Case that William Gamage was linked to in his evidence harboring case – was a no show and it looks like a bench warrant is out on him). Prosecutor said informant was using Gamage’s car to deliver drugs for 2 gangs.
    Maybe Metro should be more careful before signing up people- it takes a special person to work undercover not just someone who wants to save themselves from arrest and prosecution. Gamage theft case is continued to 10/30

    The dog lady who abandoned 164 dogs in a locked uhaul. bailed out for $3k.

    I wonder if wolfeson (into restorative justice) will be tagged as a wimp? Wolf Defended 113 mph NHP officer who killed 4 people- got 2 yrs and pot user 100 mph wreck that killed one boy got 26 years.?? Who you know and how much $$$ you have?

  4. The Christopher Weygant murder case is very interesting. There was all this bluster from Metro, the DA’s office, etc. in the media and elsewhere. Like the Benny Binion “burking” case, the Bundy’s, the the Laughlin Biker fight case, it fizzled out big time. They has a witness list of almost 50 people, half cops and 25% inmates and gang members?? The DA had about 5 prosecutors on it. It made Metro look bad that they signed up an informant and saw her dead in two weeks.
    Defendant plead Alford down to Battery and bailed out for $3k. Faces 2-7 years and already served on year waiting for trial. Prosecutor claimed the victim was using “local attorney, William Gamage’s” car to transport drugs for Aryan Warriors and United Samoans Organization gangs. (some coalition?) Busted by the cops, victim signed up to be informant to avoid arrest?? Who wouldn’t, but what do you do when you might start craving drugs?? Back to the old network?

    So big money, lots of attorney time, lab work, evidence gathering and case fizzles out to nothing with little media attention. It happens, but the pattern repeats itself. I can’t see why someone committed and competent does not run against Wolfeson – who has money for their campaign.

  5. Justice has always been a commodity. We are now witnessing the wealthy, so well protected from accountability
    finally strutting the immunity in public. Rubbing our nose in their contempt.

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