DA responds to Tiregate criticism
In the midst of prosecuting a death penalty case against a man accused of shooting two Gardnerville Ranchos women, District Attorney Mark Jackson bristled at the accusation he could have headed off the theft of $1 million in tires by a county employee.
Foothill resident Virginia Starrett called for his resignation at a March 7 county commission over the handling of an inquiry into the activities of motor pool manager Chris Oakden in 2012.
Jackson countered county officials never asked for a formal investigation and said he wasn’t going to resign.
State investigators concluded neither Jackson nor his office attempted to hide unlawful activity.
“It is important to note that there is no evidence or other information, and it is not suggested, that the district attorney or any member of the district attorney staff attempted to protect Oakden … or otherwise ‘cover up’ unlawful activity,” according to a 99-page report summary produced by the Nevada Division of Investigation. “Jackson properly forwarded the limited information he received for appropriate action.”
Jackson said Investigator Steve Schultz, who he credited with cracking the Ranchos shooting case, was the best investigator he’d ever worked with to that time.
“If there is any part of that report that says he did something wrong, I will argue with that to my dying day,” Jackson told county commissioners on March 7.
At issue are two weeks between May 31 and June 12, 2012.
Jackson turned emails over to investigators that confirm the county never sought a formal probe into Oakden’s activities.
The specific accusation was an anonymous tip in an email that Oakden had been using the county discount and tools to install tires for an employee and he’d put chrome wheels on his county vehicle, according to a May 31 email to Human Resources Director Darcy Worms.
Worms forwarded the email to Jackson and County Manager Steve Mokrohisky within 15 minutes, saying she felt there was sufficient information to start an informal investigation.
Jackson forwarded the email to Schultz who opened a case and called the original sender of the email.
Jackson said Worms confirmed she was only seeking an informal inquiry instead of an investigation.
On the morning of June 1, a Friday, Worms emailed Schultz saying she saw Oakden driving a pickup with chrome wheels.
That day Schultz asked the originator of the email to contact the confidential source to see if the man would be willing to talk to him.
On June 5, Schultz asked Oakden about installing tires on a county employee’s personal vehicle.
According to an email to Jackson, Schultz said Oakden told him he noticed the county employee’s tires were bald and Oakden offered to contact some shops to see if he could find tires she could afford.
Oakden denied the tires were purchased using county funds, but said the employee picked up the tires from him at the county yard, and he offered to mount them for her at the county shop.
Oakden explained away the chrome wheels saying they’d come on a sport utility vehicle for Search and Rescue and instead of ordering new wheels, he swapped them with the ones on his county vehicle.
Schultz said Oakden appeared cooperative and forthright during the conversation and didn’t hesitate in his answers.
Jackson said Oakden clearly lied to Schultz. Schultz’ email was forwarded to Mokrohisky who said he would handle the matter administratively.
Mokrohisky told Jackson there was nothing negative in Oakden’s personnel file, and the matter would be handled with counseling or a written reprimand.
“There is no doubt that Schultz was lied to,” Jackson told county commissioners last week. “Chris Oakden conned a lot of people.”
Jackson said he was shocked to learn there was material in Oakden’s personnel file that would have been red flags.
On Thursday night, Commission Chairman Barry Penzel reiterated his support for Jackson, saying he believed Douglas County has one of the best district attorneys in the state.
“I haven’t lost confidence in him,” Penzel said at the March 7 commission meeting. “He will follow what is required in the internal investigation to its natural conclusion.”
Oakden was the principal in the theft of more than $1 million in tires and vehicle parts over six years. While a handful of county employees admitted buying tires from Oakden, most of the stolen money came from the sale of an estimated 400 semi-truck tires Oakden sold in California that didn’t fit any county vehicle.
Douglas County grand jurors concluded it was the close call in 2012 that caused Oakden to move his operation out of state.
Jackson said that because the thefts were ongoing when they were uncovered in March 2017 his office took on an internal investigation, while turning the criminal investigation over to the state.
Oakden was killed April 24, 2017, when his vehicle veered into the path of an oncoming semi-truck while on his way to speak with state investigators.
The Nevada Division of Investigation report was completed in August 2018 and forwarded to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office, which on Dec. 21, 2018, declined to prosecute anyone else involved in the case, deciding Oakden’s death rendered the issue moot.
County commissioners propose asking state and federal attorneys to reopen the prosecution.