Forget the Firefighters
Insider Pols Got Special Treatment
On Spike Wilson's Ethics Commission

  by Tim Findley

State Wildlife helicopter pilot Jon Remlinger and his three passengers were at about 5,000 feet, out of Winnemucca, when they received a radio call from a twin-engine BLM Otter.
The Otter was flying a posting mission over two wildfires raging within 20 miles of the helicopter and casting a line of brown smoke along the near horizon over the Humboldt Range.
Three firefighters, one of them a woman, had been caught by a shift in the blaze and were now lying in the field, urgently in need of rescue. The BLM pilot in the Otter asked Remlinger if he could divert his Bell Jet Ranger into the area to pick up the firefighters down from the second degree burns and smoke inhalation.
Remlinger confirmed his Loran directional equipment and began edging the stick in the direction of the distress call. Next to him, in the left seat, he noticed his boss and passenger, Nevada Division of Wildlife Administrator Will Molini, turning as if to seek advice from another passenger in the back seat.
"No," Molini's voice crackled over the intercom, "Go on to King's River."
Molini's order to ignore the call for help began a process of cover-up that extends today, some five years later, into the working of Nevada's Democrat machine politics and its chief manipulator, U.S. Senator Harry Reid.
The passenger in the back seat was a Republican, State Senate Majority Leader William Raggio of Reno, who later events seemed designed to protect and perhaps influence.
At the time of that flight in August of 1991, helicopter pilot Remlinger was a 20-year veteran of the Las Vegas police department, launching what seemed a promising new career in flying the state chopper meant to keep track of wildlife.
Molini would later argue that a Careflight Medical helicopter was already en route and only 30 minutes away from the injured firefighters when the Otter asked for their assistance. The Careflight helicopter, the Wildlife boss argued, was better equipped to deal with the situation.
But Remlinger's own instincts and training as a police officer told him that the quickest response possible could make a life or death difference to the injured firefighers. He heard that in the Otter pilot's voice, and he would learn later that the crew on the twin-engine plane desperately considered attempting to land on a dirt road themselves to reach their people.
Even after he set the Jet Ranger down at King's Ranch, Remlinger was still in closer range than the in the printed edition September 26 helicopter pounding the sky out of Reno. The urgent call for help from the BLM Otter and his own reluctant answer, "Unable to respond," pulled at Remlinger. He told Molini he could reach the firefighters in 10 minutes and have them to the hospital in Winnemucca within another half hour.
"No, turn it off," Molini told him.
Remlinger was troubled by what he had been made to do. He knew his mission that day was little more than a joy ride for the Senate Majority Leader and lobbyist John Sande to visit Raggio's private club at King's River Ranch to get a jump on the hunting season by spotting where the chukkar were congregating. They spent the night there at the Humboldt Hunting Club where Senator Raggio maintains a trailer of his own.
Remlinger reported the incident to his own direct supervisor, another pilot, who felt the same concerns, but decided to let the matter drop.
Later, with the knowledge and permission of his employers, Remlinger agreed to tell the troubling story to Dr. Gerald Lent, President of the Nevada Hunter's Association, and along with many other sportsmen in the state, a critic of Nevada's wildlife administration.
When Molini realized what Remlinger had
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told Dr. Lent, he summoned the helicopter pilot into a meeting in which Molini pointedly asked why the former police officer couldn't remember the flight "the way I do."
Remlinger remembers hearing Molini say at the end of that meeting something about "knowing what I have to do." Before reports of the incident would go further, Molini fired Remlinger, claiming it was part of a consolidation move with the Division of Forestry. The ex-policeman, put out in the cold by his left-seat boss, began a long legal process against wrongful termination.
He had been on vacation, and was just 16 days short of earning 26 years toward retirement when he received the letter telling him he was terminated.
In the meantime, hunter's groups, including Lent's association, were urging new legislation on the state legislature to change the make-up of the Board of Directors of the Nevada Division of Wildlife and give it more authority over the budget being administered by state appointees.
The state's Democrat administration wanted to protect its appointees, but the hunters had growing support among Republicans in the legislature.
By the time it came to a vote, the bill had been watered down more than hunters wanted, but it did pass, with only one Republican voting against it -- Senate Majority Leader William Raggio.
Remlinger's story was also getting around the halls of the legislature, so much so that it was brought to the attention of the state Ethics Commission, supposedly an independent body of appointed state leaders capable of keeping an eye on the many temptations offered to Nevada lawmakers.
The case lingered without action for years. When it was heard, only Remlinger was called to testify against Molini and Raggio's claims that the trip had been a legitimate legislative function -- to examine wildlife department operations.
Remlinger told his story while his former boss and the State Senator both listened along with the Commission. When he finished testifying, Remlinger was asked to leave the room, but the other two stayed for the decision.
The decision, finding no impropriety by Raggio in the trip, brushed aside the incident with a statement that the Senator was justified in taking the ride to learn more about activities of the Division of Wildlife.
It was signed and released just last month, five years after the incident, by the former Chairman of the Ethics Commission -- now Democratic candidate for Congress -- Thomas "Spike" Wilson.
Wilson, ironically, touts himself in his campaign as not only an independent thinker capable of such fair decisions as those from the Ethics Commission, but a proponent of law and order supported by the same Las Vegas Police Department where Jon Remlinger put in 20 years before that politically-heavy helicopter flight.
Wilson's vaunted independence has been questioned by some of the same sportsmen and rural residents of Nevada who worry about the wheeling and dealing in Vegas and Reno politics.
The former state legislator insists he carries no party baggage and owes no machine obligations. His chief handler in the media campaign he is waging, however, is Larry Werner, on loan from his job as administrative assistant to U.S. Senator Harry Reid. Few doubt who is really behind Wilson's well-financed campaign.
Remlinger's case for wrongful termination is awaiting trial in federal court. He has been offered a cash settlement to forget the whole thing, but turned the offer down.


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