By Katelyn Newberg
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Witnesses testified that a Nevada lawmaker lied about his residency and misused campaign funds that he had raised from Las Vegas’ Ethiopian community, according to new court documents.
Former Assemblyman Alexander Assefa, D-Las Vegas, was indicted in March on five felony counts of offering false information for a filing or record, three felony counts of making false statements under perjury, four felony theft counts and two gross misdemeanor counts of submitting false residency statements on a filing for public office.
Assefa pleaded not guilty to the charges during a court hearing on Thursday and is scheduled to appear in court again in August.
According to grand jury transcripts released this month, Assefa took thousands of dollars in donations that were not accounted for in his campaign finance reports. Much of the money was collected during fundraising events held in Las Vegas’ “Little Ethiopia” community in the west valley.
Assefa also is accused of saying he lived in the community, in an apartment complex near Flamingo Road and Decatur Boulevard, while actually residing in a house in North Las Vegas.
“Mr. Assefa’s actions ran directly against the conduct that we both expect and demand of those in public office,” Attorney General Aaron Ford said in March in an emailed statement. “Nobody is above the law, and my office will prosecute this case fairly and hold Mr. Assefa accountable.”
Assefa’s defense attorney, Ozzie Fumo, did not reply to a request for comment on Friday.
Assefa was first elected in 2018 to Assembly District 42 in the Spring Valley area and was re-elected in 2020. He resigned from the Legislature in January 2021 amid an investigation that led to the charges.
Prosecutors have 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 while running for office, Assefa claimed to live in one of two apartments in the Bella Vita complex, near Decatur Road and Harmon Avenue.
But data from Assefa’s cellphone showed that from April 2018 through May 2020, he spent the majority of his nighttime hours in the area of a home 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 he had filled out election forms listing his residence in Spring Valley.
“We spontaneously showed up,” retired Metro Detective Aaron Stanton testified 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 home’s office were various credit cards and IDs in Assefa’s name, the detective testified. The grand jury also heard testimony from two people who said they rented a room in the North Las Vegas house while Assefa was living there with his wife. One woman lived there during the summer of 2018, while a captain in the Air Force said he rented a room from October 2019 to July 2020.
Investigators also conducted a search of 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 clothes or grooming products in the apartment, court records show.
An employee with a property management company testified that in February 2020, Assefa asked for help finding a home to rent but specified that it had to be in the 89103 or 89147 ZIP codes in west Las Vegas.
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 more than $10,000 at an event at the St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church in west Las Vegas, but the majority of the event’s expenses were not documented in the campaign finance reports. Another event in November 2019 raised more than $3,100, and bank records showed that Assefa made a $2,905 deposit to his personal account the following day.
In February 2020, Assefa raised about $27,000 during and leading up to a campaign event, but about $16,000 was not accounted for in his campaign bank account, according to the grand jury transcripts. Assefa allegedly made more than $11,000 in deposits to his personal account in the days surrounding the event.
Investigators also determined that at one point, Assefa moved about $5,000 from his campaign account between his personal account and an account for his transportation business, KIP Transports.
“It was moved between these accounts and utilized for payments and bills that were business or personal related but were certainly not campaign expenses,” testified Colin Haynes, a senior financial intelligence analyst with Metro.
Six months after police interviewed 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 the campaign finance forms, court records state.
Several people who worked on Assefa’s campaign testified that Assefa would tell potential voters that he wanted to represent the Ethiopian community in the 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 to raise money for office space for Assefa, who told attendees that he was struggling financially because of his commitments as a legislator.
But when Assefa and Zaid later met with a landlord, Assefa did not want to rent the office space.
“A couple of days later I had him in my office, and I did tell him this is public money and we need to show results,” Zaid testified.