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TAX DOLLAR WASTE? A Metro ‘wink’ at $485 per hour | P3

Reported by: Reed Cowan
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Updated: 3/12 6:09 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- They call it a “wink” -- a $485-an-hour helicopter flight that finds Las Vegas Metropolitan Police helicopters flying above Las Vegas Valley homes to flash spotlights into homes and yards of Metro Police employees.

“They fly over the home with the light going on at night,” a Henderson resident told News 3 of one officer’s house that has allegedly been a destination of multiple flights. “I would say it happened at least 25 times in the last year.”

“The helicopter flies over at night and does circles in the area, big circles with the spotlight on,” the source said. “He is flying over his own home. You hear the helicopter coming, like clockwork.”

Revelations of the “wink” spotlights come amid a News 3 investigation that reveals a list of 301 people who have flown on the choppers since 2010.

The passengers include Guns N’ Roses guitarist D.J. Ashba, film production crews, participants in a public relations photo shoot, a documentarian, and dozens of people identified as “citizen observers.” Some of the citizen flights were donated to charity and sold for money.

The costly use of public property comes at a time when Sheriff Doug Gillespie is pushing for a sales tax increase to pay for additional officers. The total price tag for the $485-an-hour rides was nearly $146,000.

A Metro police spokesman said the agency is not aware of the so-called winks, but the Facebook page of one civilian passenger on a Metro flight, Erik Valente, presents images of one such flight. He writes: “going to shine our… light into Shawn’s condo. Nice!”

News 3 visited Valente’s home and was greeted by Valente’s father.

“I don’t like you just showing up at my house like this,” the elder Valente said. “Doing this interview will do no good for anyone.”

Moments later, Eric Valente contacted News 3 by cellphone and explained what happened that night.
“I said, ‘Hey, that’s my friend’s house, and then they shined a light on it,’ “he explained.

When News 3 asked Valente for an interview, he had a quick response: “I know all the people involved and that’s not just something I want to do to them.”

News 3 has asked Metro officials for multiple details about the flights in recent weeks. Retiring Sheriff Doug Gillespie sent a letter, saying it could take at least 30 days for the police department to provide the information.

Clark County Commission Chairman Steve Sisolak said that he asked for copies of waivers signed for other freebie citizen flights, as well as proof that every flight was approved by a supervisor. Rather, he says, he has received “nothing” in response to his requests.

“I’m surprised. At the same time, I’m totally not shocked,” Sisolak said. “This is an issue of accountability and transparency and I’ve had difficulty getting information out of Metro.”
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