Michael Winters, former General Manager of the Virgin Valley Water District, was back in Court Wednesday, Dec. 14, facing new criminal charges for allegedly participating in a bribery scandal while he was employed by the Water District. He's charged with 48 felony counts and three gross misdemeanor counts, ranging from extortion to money laundering.
According to court documents, Winters allegedly received $15,000 in August 2008 from Michael 'Boomer' Johnson, formerly the VVWD Chief Hydrologist, under a scheme that transferred millions of dollars worth of water rights away from the Virgin Valley Water District.
Johnson and Robert Coache, formerly the Deputy State Engineer in the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources, were previously charged in the bribery case in May.
Winters' lawyer, T. Augustine Claus told District Judge Linda Bell in Wednesday's hearing that the $15,000 was a loan Winters had repaid. However, Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo told the Judge that Winters only paid $10,000 back once Winters found out that the DA's office was pursuing a criminal indictment against him.
Claus also told Bell that Winters had been declared indigent by District Judge Michael Villani and that he had lost his job. Winters was fired by the VVWD Board of Directors in February 2010 after 16 years as the first and only General Manager for the District.
Bell set bail at $50,000 for Winters and gave him until 5:00 pm today, Dec. 16, to post it or be arrested.
Bo Bingham, legal counsel for the Water District responded, "absolutely not," when asked if he believed the money was a loan to Winters.
Winters was previously charged in a separate criminal case in June 2010 alleging Misconduct of a Public Officer, for his role in the Water District's purchase of land for a new arsenic treatment plant located on Hardy Way in Mesquite. The case charges that Winters recommended purchasing the land from Cresent Hardy even though he knew it was highly overpriced. Hardy was not charged in the case. Winters' trial in that case has been postponed four times and is now set for Apr. 2, 2012.
In July of this year, Winters, along with Johnson, Coache, and wealthy landowner John Lonetti, Jr. were named in a civil suit filed by the Water District seeking restitution from the bribery scheme that dates all the way back to 2002.
Both the criminal complaint and civil complaint allege that the four men conspired together to trade or sell water rights that Lonetti owned to the detriment of VVWD. Both complaints allege that Lonetti paid Johnson and Coache $1.3 million dollars for their part in a water right deal in which Lonetti received $8,416,506.
Johnson then allegedly gave Winters $15,000 of the $1.3 million.
No charges have been filed against Lonetti in the criminal case.
For a more complete history and explanation of the original criminal and civil complaints in the bribery scheme, see these Mesquite Citizen Journal stories:
Former VVWD Officials and Business Owner Face Mounting Legal Woes
Former VVWD Officials Corruption Scandal Widens - Part II
Civil Court Documents Reveal Corruption in VVWD - Part III
VVWD Corruption Case: How They Allegedly Spent the Money-Part IV