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Nevada Senate leader resigns, confessing he misused campaign funds

Nevada Senate leader resigns, confessing he misused campaign funds
Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson announced on Tuesday that he is resigning from office after he misappropriated campaign funds for his personal use. (Cathleen Allison / Associated Press)

The Nevada state Senate's Democratic leader tearfully announced his resignation Tuesday after saying he took campaign funds for personal use.

"Due to mistakes I have made, I will be vacating my seat immediately," Kelvin Atkinson said Tuesday on the floor of the Senate. "Regretfully, it has been discovered I have used campaign funds for personal use. Thus I will be taking responsibility for that. I will be pleading guilty for those actions when the time comes."

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Atkinson did not offer details about the charges, which he indicated resulted from a federal investigation.

"In this most difficult of circumstances, I have been treated respectfully by the prosecutors and investigators and I have no one to blame but myself," he said.

Court documents were not immediately available and it wasn't clear when his plea will take place. Atkinson's attorney, Richard Wright, did not immediately respond to messages.

Neither the FBI in Las Vegas nor the U.S. attorney for Nevada commented about Atkinson, spokeswomen said.

Top Republicans in the Legislature seized on Atkinson's announcement to call for a full corruption probe.

"Senator Atkinson has violated the integrity of our elections and broken the trust of the voters and his colleagues," Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer said in a statement. "We hope this is an exception, but we must get all of the facts and determine how far this corruption goes."

Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler called Atkinson's admissions "more than troubling."

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement he was "extremely disappointed" about the developments.

"This admitted violation of the law goes against the integrity every elected officer in the state of Nevada should uphold. By doing so, he betrayed the trust of the public, and therefore should be held accountable," Sisolak said.

Atkinson was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and to the state Senate in 2012. He was the first black, openly gay member of the Legislature when he came out in 2013 during a debate in the Senate on same-sex marriage.

Atkinson was named majority leader last November.

Cheryl Bruce, executive director of the Nevada Senate Democratic caucus, said in a statement that Assistant Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro will become the acting leader.

Bruce said Democrats were "saddened and disappointed" to learn about the circumstances of Atkinson's resignation and said it was appropriate that he step down.

"The charges levied against him are serious, and allege conduct that we strongly condemn," Bruce said.

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Cannizzaro declined to comment Tuesday.

The allegations and news of Atkinson's resignation were first reported by the Nevada Independent on Tuesday.

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