Nevada Governor's Race Gets 'Flirty and Dirty'

"What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas." Right? Not if you're a politician running for the highest office in the state.

That's what Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons, who is campaigning for governor of Nevada, has learned.

In a classic case of "he said, she said," Nevada newspapers and television stations have embarked on a political feeding frenzy. And it's getting nasty. Or as one individual described the events leading up to an emerging scandal in the race, "flirty and dirty."

Here's the background. It's a little complicated.

For Gibbons, Friday the 13th proved an unlucky day. That was the day when Gibbons and his campaign adviser stopped by McCormick and Schmick's restaurant to get out of the rain and down a nightcap or two.

Somehow the two of them ended up at a table with a couple of women who were later joined by two other women, Chrissy Mazzeo and her friend Penny Puhek.

What happens from that point on depends on whether you believe Gibbons or Mazzeo, a 32-year-old cocktail waitress and student.

Mazzeo said she called Las Vegas police later that night and told them that Gibbons forced her up against the wall of a parking garage and threatened her after he'd made unwanted advances over drinks earlier in the restaurant bar.

Gibbons denies it. He told reporters at a news conference that he was walking Mazzeo to the parking garage to find her vehicle when she slipped and he grabbed her arm to keep her from falling. He said she only looked at him, said nothing, and walked away.

"I was not stumbling. I did not trip. I did not need help off a wet pavement," Mazzeo said in a news conference she called Wednesday.

The two also disagree over how much each imbibed on the evening in question. Both have claimed they each had only a couple glasses wine; each has accused the other of drinking much more.

Had enough, yet?

It gets seamier.

Remember Mazzeo's friend and companion at the bar on the night of the incident, Pennie Puhek? Now Mazzeo said Puhek acted as a go-between, relaying threats and bribes from the Gibbons' camp until Mazzeo agreed not to pursue her complaint with police, the day after the incident.

Puhek has denied that and said Mazzeo is "clearly fabricating" and that she "needs to strongly consider seeking professional help."

Mazzeo said the threats from Gibbons' camp, transmitted by Puhek, included a prediction (by Puhek) that "they'll kill your baby and your family."

If in fact Puhek was involved, it would put her in the middle of a wide-ranging cover-up.

But wait, there's more.

The police acknowledge receiving three 911 calls from Mazzeo on the night of Oct. 13. But the record shows there are several inconsistencies and contradictions about her whereabouts and her occupation.

Mazzeo now explains that by saying, "At the time, I was so hysterical. I said a lot of stuff."

She also repeated her original claim to police that she and Puhek lingered for about 20 minutes in the bar after Gibbons and his adviser left.

"He [Gibbons] was waiting by the bushes," she said. "Why else would he be waiting in the rain?"

Mazzeo's attorney, Richard Wright, said Puhek told his client, "There's money in this. You will get money from signing this," a reference to a statement recanting her claims.

Wright also claimed there's evidence that will corroborate Mazzeo's account of what transpired. Hotel security systems, photos a police technician took of Mazzeo's purported injuries, phone records and interviews with witnesses all exist, he said.

Meanwhile, Clark County District Attorney David Roger said his office will investigate Mazzeo's claims if she makes a complaint, and has agreed to cooperate.

"If Miss Mazzeo has had a change of heart, and she's willing to come talk to us and to cooperate with us 110 percent, we would commit to review the case," he said.

What's become of the Republican gubernatorial hopeful? He's back on the stump and trying to ignore, at least publicly, the growing scandal.

"I just want to get back to the issues," Gibbons said. "No one is happy about this at all. This doesn't help the political process. We should really be speaking about the issues."

And the Nevada press? Still having a field day.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal now reports that Wright, Mazzeo's attorney, has criticized the police. The paper said Wright claims that police "never bothered to interview Gibbons' campaign aide or the two other women at the table in the restaurant, where a witness described the atmosphere as 'flirty and dirty.' "

Maybe Las Vegas could change its slogan. The old one -- "What happens in Las Vegas ..." -- no longer seems accurate.