Challenger hopes to unseat Wolfson

By: - October 21, 2022 4:39 pm

Steve Wolfson, Timothy Treffinger

Republican candidate for District Attorney Tim Treffinger may not be as well known as his opponent, Steve Wolfson, who has served two terms as D.A. and eight years as a Las Vegas councilman. But Treffinger says he expects the race to “be more of a referendum on the current D.A.” than a test of his own name recognition. 

In November, for the first time, Wolfson will face a Republican opponent in the general election. 

Wolfson has benefitted from the power of incumbency via appointment twice, as a city councilman appointed in 2004, and as D.A., a position the Clark County Commission appointed him to in 2012. 

In 2014, he handily defeated a Libertarian challenger, and won re-election when he defeated defense attorney Robert Langford in the 2018 Democratic primary. Attorney and former state lawmaker Ozzie Fumo lost to Wolfson in this year’s primary race. Republican voters have not had a candidate in the D.A.’s race since 2008.

“It’s not just the Democrat registered voters who are deciding this race,” says Treffinger. “I think that will make a huge difference.”

Treffinger is a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney specializing in family law. He has worked for the Storey County D.A., the Nevada Attorney General’s office, and in private practice.

The political newcomer has raised $34,901 this year and spent $34,519. 

Wolfson has added $745,762 so far this year to a $1.2 million fund balance from 2021. But Treffinger says he doesn’t think the race will come down to money. 

Treffinger says he’s done “a good bit” of advertising, “but we have a lot of negative stuff coming out about the current administration, as well.” 

Playing favorites

Wolfson, according to his critics, has long gone the extra mile for the rich and famous

“I don’t have direct evidence that he’s been paid or that he’s been bribed,” says Treffinger.”But there’s certainly circumstantial evidence.”

Wolfson did not respond to the Current’s request for an interview. 

“I take extreme exception to the accusation that wealthy people are getting special treatment,” Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. 

Former gaming magnate Steve Wynn, for example, described by Wolfson as “a friend for many, many years… [and]… a supporter of my campaigns for many, many years,” is accused by former employees of sexual harassment, coercion, indecent exposure and rape.

Wynn, according to the Wall Street Journal, paid a $7.5 million settlement to end a civil suit filed by a manicurist who says Wynn impregnated her during a rape. Wynn claims the sex was consensual.

Nevada law has no statute of limitations to bring rape charges when the suspect is identified by DNA evidence and/or a police report is filed within 20 years of the alleged incident, but Wolfson has made no effort to bring charges against Wynn and continues to accept Wynn’s contributions.

Companies associated with Wynn contributed $30,000 to Wolfson on the same day last year. In July of this year, Wynn contributed $10,000 under his own name. 

Billionaire Henry Nicholas skated on felony drug trafficking charges and avoided prison thanks to a plea deal crafted by Wolfson, sparking outrage from lawmakers, civil libertarians, and on social media.

Nicholas is the man behind the Marsy’s Law ballot question that overwhelmingly passed in Nevada. Wolfson campaigned for the victims’ rights measure.   

Nicholas and his girlfriend were represented by attorney David Chesnoff, a longtime contributor to Wolfson’s campaigns. Chesnoff, his wife, law partner, and legal practice, have contributed $35,000 to Wolfson this cycle.

Wolfson dismisses such claims of favoritism.

“I take exception to the accusation that certain lawyers get special deals,” Wolfson said during an interview on KLAS-TV. “We evaluate cases on a case-by-case basis.” 

Treffinger also points to the case of a pro football player, Alvin Kamara, the suspect in an assault at a Las Vegas nightclub two days before he played in the Pro Bowl. 

“They knew where he was at, and they allowed him to stay free so that he could play in the game,” Treffinger says.  

Wolfson’s detractors say people in the DA’s personal sphere also receive special treatment, including his former assistant, Audrie Locke, who admits she stole more than $40,000 from Wolfson’s campaign fund but was never charged. 

Inconsistent charging 

Treffinger criticized Wolfson’s “consistency and quality of charging decisions.” 

In 2019, bicyclist Byron Williams was detained by police and died in their custody. Evidence revealed he said “I can’t breathe” more than 20 times while being restrained. Wolfson declined to charge the police.

In 2018, Wolfson took different approaches to two cases rejected by grand juries within weeks of each other when he declined to further pursue charges against Kenneth Lopera, a former Las Vegas Metro Police officer charged with two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and oppression under the color of office, in connection with the death of Tashi Brown.

But Wolfson opted to prosecute Nick Diaz, a self-proclaimed bad boy star of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, after a grand jury failed to indict him on felony domestic violence.

“The message to the community is if we don’t agree with the grand jury’s decision we can still move forward. Not good policy,” Diaz’s attorney, Ross Goodman told the Current at the time. 

A judge ultimately dismissed the charges against Diaz.

Jesus Carvajal, who was wrongfully jailed for impersonating a police officer and demanding sex from prostitutes, attempted to recoup more than $10,000 in attorney’s fees after police arrested another suspect and Wolfson dropped the charges against him.  

“I’ve lost my job, my car, my girlfriend,” Carvajal told the Current. “My life has been like one of those Denzel Washington movies but I haven’t gotten to the point where everyone knows the truth and I get my life back.”

Wolfson agreed not to object to Carvajal’s efforts to seal his records, but only if Carvajal agreed to drop the motion for attorney’s fees. 

Carvajal ultimately took his own life.  

‘Shrouded in secrecy’

Treffinger pledged to be accountable and transparent. He said the DA’s office “should not be something shrouded in secrecy. That’s what makes people not trust law enforcement.” 

In 2018, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo enlisted Wolfson in an effort to remove then-Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson from cases involving Metro’s vice detail after she publicly criticized Metro and the District Attorney, according to audio recordings obtained by the Current of Judicial Discipline Commission interviews with Lombardo and Wolfson. 

“It’s a complete violation of separation of powers,” Treffinger said. “The executive branch should not be interfering with the judicial branch. If you want to take a judge off a case, there’s a clear protocol for that.”

‘Smart reforms’

Treffinger has firsthand knowledge of the justice system. He was arrested in Nye County for possessing heroin. He said it “had mainly to do” with an ex-girlfriend he was trying to get “clean.” He says his successful completion of a diversion program allowed him to keep his law license.  

Wolfson has advertised “smart reforms” such as diversion programs as part of his campaign, but Treffinger says the D.A.’s office does not consistently make them available to defendants. Instead, the potential to take part depends on which prosecutor has the case. 

The Current reported Wolfson is unable to provide basic data or results for the diversion programs he has designed. 

Wolfson has also been criticized for using prosecutors who serve as legislators and lobbyists to thwart meaningful criminal justice reform.

“We were supportive of some bail reform matters. We were supportive of decriminalizing traffic tickets. We were supportive of reducing probationary terms,” Wolfson told the Current last year when he announced his re-election bid. “So, I don’t think it’s fair to say we were against so many things.”

Among the reforms Wolfson opposed was abolishing the death penalty. He said the legislative session doesn’t offer time for debate. 

Treffinger, like Wolfson, says the death penalty should be reserved for particularly heinous cases. 

Racial tensions

This year, Wolfson backed out of a candidate forum with Treffinger and primary opponent Ozzie Fumo, sponsored by civil rights and Black advocacy organizations, because he and his staff didn’t feel safe participating, according to Yvette Williams, chairperson of the Clark County Black Caucus. 

“There have been several events that NAACP has hosted where they’ve had protesters attend and disrupt the meeting,” Williams says. “And so he felt, and this is his campaign saying this, that their team feels unsafe.”

ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said in a statement. “I am mostly confused as to why someone would be seeking public office if they want to avoid the public entirely.”

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Dana Gentry
Dana Gentry

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.