Judge approves plea deal for billionaire backer of Marsy’s Law
Ashley Fargo and Henry Nicholas in court in Las Vegas, October 2, 2019. (Photo: Dana Gentry)
Victims’ rights advocate Henry Nicholas will avoid prison and the possibility of a felony conviction by agreeing to the terms of a plea deal approved Wednesday in Clark County District Court.
Nicholas, 59, who finances ballot measures throughout the nation named for his murdered sister Marsy, entered an Alford plea on one count of possession of a controlled substance, a felony count that will be reduced upon successful completion of the terms. An Alford plea allows defendants to avoid admitting guilt while acknowledging that evidence presented by the prosecution would likely persuade a judge or jury to enter a finding of guilt.
The District Attorney agreed not to prosecute on two felony charges, in accordance with a plea deal negotiated with Nicholas’ lawyer, David Chesnoff. Nicholas and his companion, Ashley Fargo, 38, who was also charged, have made $500,000 donations to local drug counseling organizations.
Asked about criticism that his client is a billionaire buying justice, Chesnoff said Nicholas, who faced an initial “Draconian sentence” of ten years to life in prison, is actually helping others facing charges involving controlled substances.
“Other people in drug cases should receive similar treatment. If they have no criminal record, if there’s little proof in the case, they should be extended the same kind of justice Dr. Nicholas was given,” Chesnoff said. “What Dr. Nicholas has done is help more people, not only because the contributions to these drug programs are remarkable and are going to have an incredible impact in Clark County, but he’s also brought to the attention of everybody in the justice system, in drug cases incarceration isn’t the answer.”
Nicholas and Fargo were arrested in August 2018 on drug trafficking charges, when security at the Encore discovered 96 grams of methamphetamine, 4.24 grams of heroin, 15.13 grams of cocaine, and 17.1 grams of psilocin in the couple’s suite.
Judge Jacqueline Bluth, a longtime prosecutor appointed to the bench earlier this year by Gov. Steve Sisolak, approved the plea agreement but asked the District Attorney’s office to justify the agreement.
“I think these negotiations came from the top,” Bluth said to prosecutor Bradford Turner, referring to District Attorney Steve Wolfson.
Wolfson supported the Nicholas-funded campaign for the Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment Nevada voters passed in 2018. Wolfson also appeared in ads for the campaign.
“Obviously, for multiple reasons, I think that this case has gotten a lot of attention. And I know there are cases that have been brought in to my court in regards to making sure that other defendants are being treated the same way,” Bluth said. “And while I’m trying to walk a fine line of not getting involved in negotiations, I do think in order to effectuate trust in our system, whether it be in the district attorney’s office or defendants, I do think justice requires the reasons why these negotiations were appropriate be put on the record.”
Turner told Bluth prosecutors were concerned they’d be unable to prove “constructive possession,” or immediate and exclusive access to the drugs, the standard required by Justice Court.
“Given the facts of this case we had multiple individuals, both identified and unidentified, who had access to the common area of the suite where the controlled substances were recovered, I believe we had a real issue with being able to prove that at the lower level justice court,” Turner said.
Under new guidelines passed by the Nevada Legislature, the amount of drugs the two allegedly possessed exceeds the threshold for a felony. Defense attorneys noted the Legislature also passed a bill minimizing some penalties involving controlled substances.
Rather than attend drug court, which requires screening and intense supervision, the two will be required to attend 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 drug recovery facility approved by the court. Failure to comply with the provisions of the misdemeanor conviction could result in probation.
Chesnoff told the court that the $500,000 each Nicholas and Fargo have donated as part of their deal has already been distributed among three organizations – the PACT Coalition, Foundation for Recovery and the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Nevada.
A status check of Nicholas’ and Fargo’s compliance with the terms of their plea agreement is set for six months.
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