24 March 2023
KUNR Public Radio broadcast of this story
When running for a seat on the Washoe County Board of Commissioners last year, Mariluz Garcia was investigated by two private detectives, at least one of whom had been hired by prominent local Republicans, an investigation by KUNR Public Radio, The Nevada Independent and APM Reports has found.
Garcia is the third Northern Nevada politician known to be investigated or tracked by private detectives during the 2022 election, tactics that lawmakers and observers of Reno politics say are unprecedented.
Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve found a GPS tracking device on her car just days before the election. An analysis by the news organizations of the tracker data and public records confirms that the same monitoring device placed on Schieve’s car in early October had been used months earlier to monitor then-Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung’s movements.
It’s unclear who hired the detectives to investigate the politicians. The two private investigators have so far refused to publicly name their clients in these cases.
Public records show that one of the private detectives — Tom Green — was paid by prominent Republican donor Robert Beadles’ political action committee and by Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark last summer. The exact purpose of those expenditures is not required to be revealed under Nevada’s campaign finance law.
The other private detective investigating Garcia last summer, David McNeely, has admitted to police that he placed an electronic GPS tracker on Schieve’s vehicle, an action he said was “political” and the intent “was not to cause harm to anyone.”
Nevada law doesn’t specifically forbid the use of a GPS tracker, but there is an effort in the state Legislature to change that. At least 26 states and the District of Columbia have some form of prohibition on electronically tracking someone’s movements. Hartung and Schieve are suing McNeely, claiming that placing the device on their cars and tracking their movements was an invasion of privacy. As part of the litigation, they’ve asked a judge to compel the private investigator to reveal his client.
Regardless of its legality, McNeely and Green’s mix of high-tech tools and gumshoe surveillance has escalated opposition research on local politicians — especially in county commission races — to levels rarely seen in Nevada, a state known for bare-knuckle politics. It also highlights the growing scrutiny of local elected officials in Washoe County and Reno, cheered on and occasionally funded by Beadles, a wealthy California transplant known as a far-right election denier and prominent GOP donor.
Fred Lokken, who chairs the political science department at Truckee Meadows Community College, calls the intensive surveillance of local politicians “a new low.”
“I’ve never heard or seen anything that would be like this,” he said. “It kind of takes us off the rails of campaigning, and being a politician, and what you might be subjected to.”
A shop within the Wells Avenue neighborhood in Reno on Nov. 9, 2021. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
While McNeely kept his distance from Schieve and Hartung by using the electronic tracker, he and Green investigated Garcia in person. Several people who lived near Garcia’s rental property in Reno’s Wells Avenue neighborhood recalled seeing or meeting the investigators, who last summer were asking questions about where Garcia was living.
Laramie Landis lives on the same block as Garcia’s rental property. She remembers the first time she saw Green in front of her house. “He looked, at the time, like a cop,” she said. “And then when he handed me his card, I was just like, ‘Oh, you’re a private investigator.’”
It isn’t clear if McNeely and Green were working for the same client. Green said he had “zero to do with McNeely” and hasn’t spoken to McNeely for 17 years. Though he refused to name his client, Green did say that he was simply looking into allegations that Garcia didn’t live in her district.
“Is it secretive or underhanded for me to knock on a door and politely speak to residents and leave my card?” Green wrote in an email. “Doesn’t sound very secret squirrel to me.”
Garcia did not return calls for an interview, and only responded to written questions with documentation showing she lived in an apartment in her district before filing as a candidate.
McNeely, the other private detective, has not returned repeated calls seeking comment, and his attorney declined to comment, citing Schieve and Hartung’s lawsuit.
When reached by phone, Beadles declined an interview request. He responded to a list of written questions with an email that referenced liberal political donor George Soros, stating, in part, “You are not a journalist; you are the propaganda department for the Soros cabal. I hope you find God.”
Since moving to Reno in 2020, Beadles has become a rowdy presence in local politics. He declared in 2021 that he “had a shit-ton of money” while threatening to remove some members of the Washoe County School Board. Since then, he’s broadened his spending on campaigns in the Silver State while repeatedly citing conspiracy theories and raising unfounded election fraud claims. He’s spent more than $1 million over the past two years to support his chosen candidates, including financing an unsuccessful recount of last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary.
On his blog, Beadles has criticized Schieve, Garcia and Hartung. He also claimed some Washoe County government officials are corrupt and vowed to dig up dirt on his political enemies.
“I was thinking of offering rewards to anyone who can show corruption with our so-called elected officials, but our legal team recommended against it,” Beadles wrote in a January blog post. “So instead, we opted to use professional services to dig into allegations of numerous people throughout the county and state.”
Beadles didn’t specify who he’s targeted through the use of “professional services.” In recent months, he has defended those investigating Schieve and Hartung on his blog and noted that use of an electronic tracker is legal in Nevada.
Robert Beadles outside the Washoe County Registrar of Voter’s office on primary Election Day in Reno on June 14, 2022. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
Not disclosed in his blog is that Beadles’ PAC reported paying Green’s private investigative agencies $5,112 in 2022. Beadles and his company Coral Bay also reported spending at least $114,000 on investigative services, research and observation in 2022, according to campaign finance records. The campaign spending records require only a broad description of how the money was spent.”
In January, Green confirmed he had worked for Beadles’ Franklin Project PAC but declined to discuss specifics.
“I’d be a terrible private investigator; nobody would ever come back for me,” he said. “But I can tell you that during the campaign, I worked for not just the Franklin Project, but I worked for other candidates.”
Campaign spending records reveal the only other expenditure received by Green was $250 from Clark, the county commissioner who received Beadles’ help in his campaign to defeat an incumbent in the Republican primary.
Clark said he hired Green on the recommendation of the former sheriff. “[T]he reason I hired Green was to check out if I was being targeted [during the campaign]. It was reported on [in the media].” He said Green’s work for him had nothing to do with Garcia, Hartung or Schieve.
Residents of the Wells Avenue neighborhood, where Garcia owns a rental property, remember the two private detectives, McNeely and Green, going door-to-door last summer, asking questions about her residency.
Garcia ran for the county commission last year as a first-time candidate. She is the executive director for University of Nevada-Reno’s Dean’s Future Scholars Program, which works to increase the number of first-generation students entering the field of education.
The Washoe County Board of Commissioners requires candidates to run for office in the districts where they live. Garcia was running in District 3 where she lives, but her rental property is not within the district boundaries.
Leigh Stafford used to live on the block and owns a bar nearby with her husband. She says McNeely approached her early in the campaign season.
“He was definitely there with a purpose,” Stafford said. “If he was going to sell something, I’m sure he would have tried to sell it to me. He knew Mariluz [Garcia] by name. He knew that she was running for a county commission office.”
Stafford identified McNeely as the man she spoke with after viewing body camera footage of McNeely’s interview with Sparks police. She also said McNeely was antagonistic toward Garcia’s campaign.
“He says, ‘Well, she doesn’t even live in the district that she’s running for,’” Stafford remembered. “I thought that was a little unusual, because she obviously did live in the district.”
While Garcia owns a rental property within the Wells Avenue neighborhood, she’s lived in downtown Reno — and inside her district — since before her bid for office, according to public records.
Washoe County Commissioner Mariluz Garcia (left), during the Jan. 9 swearing-in ceremony for elected officials. Commissioners Jeanne Herman (center) and Mike Clark (right) were also sworn in (Photo courtesy of Washoe County/Joshua Andreasen).
Later in the summer, after Stafford’s family had rented the house to Laramie Landis, another private investigator, Green this time, showed up in the neighborhood asking about Garcia.
Screenshots of text messages between Landis and Stafford after the exchange with Green include photos of Green’s business card, which he left behind. Later that day, Landis’ partner, Pat Paterson, talked to Green on the phone. Paterson said the private investigator pressed him to learn if Garcia had been up to anything suspicious.
“We’re kind of private people,” Paterson said. “End of the day, even if I did see something — which I totally didn’t — I sure as hell ain’t gonna tell someone I don’t know about it.”
Paterson recalls Green incorrectly assumed Garcia lived on the block, which would have made her ineligible to run for District 3. Once Green learned she lived within district lines, Paterson and Landis said they never heard from him again.
At least one other person confirmed they saw Green and McNeely canvassing the neighborhood last summer but declined to be identified.
In September, Beadles insinuated on his blog that Garcia was renting an apartment in downtown Reno to run for office. But according to neighbors, Garcia began renting her house in the Wells Avenue area months before entering the election. Garcia’s candidate disclosure form listed her residency in downtown Reno. The information included a copy of her driver’s license, which was issued in February 2022 and listed her downtown address. Garcia also provided proof that she lived in her downtown Reno apartment on and off again since 2020.
Garcia, a Democrat, received 62 percent of the vote in the November election, defeating Republican Denise Meyer, a candidate backed by Beadles.
Then-Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung at a county commission meeting on Aug. 28, 2018. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent).
An unknown traveling companion
Just past noon on July 7, then-Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung hopped into his Jeep and headed to the office. The familiar drive to the Washoe County offices took about 20 minutes. About an hour later, Hartung drove to the sheriff’s department to attend a jail tour, arriving with a few minutes to spare. The tour was followed by a retirement ceremony for chief deputy Greg Herrera, which the commissioner attended. Then he drove home. That’s all according to Hartung’s public calendar, obtained through a records request.
What Hartung didn’t know? He was being tracked.
There was a hidden traveling companion attached to his car — an electronic tracker. The device recorded and reported his whereabouts as he drove.
Planting the tracker on one of Hartung’s vehicles would have been fast and straightforward. Hartung parks two Jeeps in the driveway outside his house, as can be seen in Google Street Views. The device itself is not much larger than a box of Tic Tacs and weighs less than 3 ounces. It can be mounted to the underbelly of a car with a magnetic case, according to its manufacturer.
GPS location data obtained from the Sparks police department shows that one or both of Hartung’s vehicles were tracked from April through September, with a break in June, by the same device that would be used on Schieve’s vehicle later in the fall.
Tracking Vaughn Hartung
To analyze whether former county commissioner Hartung was being tracked, reporters compared geolocation data from the GPS tracking device with Hartung’s work calendar and building access log.
Data and map: Jennifer Lu
Though the tracking device was never found on Hartung’s vehicle, KUNR, the Independent and APM Reports compared the tracker’s records with publicly available data of Hartung’s whereabouts, showing the tracker aligned with his activities. Reporters analyzed the geolocations on the tracker and compared it to Hartung’s public calendar for 21 days last summer. The locations recorded by the tracker match Hartung’s keycard entries or appointments on his public calendar on 19 of those 21 days.
The tracker’s location data is thorough and voluminous. It first pinged leaving McNeely’s Hidden Valley neighborhood at 2:42 a.m. on April 5. It traveled north and came to rest near Hartung’s Spanish Springs residence. The tracker then stayed with Hartung’s vehicles for 122 days. It captured 3,445 geospatial snapshots related to Hartung’s activity during that time.
It’s unclear why the tracker was monitoring Hartung. It was first placed there about two weeks after a recall petition seeking to oust Hartung was rescinded. That recall effort was funded by Beadles, who continued to allege without evidence that Hartung did not win his previous primary election. Beadles continued to post about Hartung months after the recall effort failed and told multiple media outlets that he would keep trying to remove the commissioner. Hartung resigned abruptly from the county commission on March 15 to take a job in state government. He did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
About a month after the tracker was removed from Hartung’s Jeep, McNeely placed the device on Schieve’s Range Rover.
Image of the GPS tracking device found on Mayor Hillary Schieve’s vehicle (Courtesy of Hillary Schieve)
Tracking the mayor
The tracker sat unnoticed on Schieve’s car until a mechanic discovered it during routine vehicle maintenance in November. Schieve then filed a police report that led to the investigation by Sparks Police, who took on the case because of the conflict of interest it presented for the Reno Police.
Police identified McNeely as the investigator who owned the tracker, and he acknowledged his role.
In an interview, Schieve said she wanted to learn who was behind the surveillance because she wants to know their motivation.
“Whoever’s doing it, I want a restraining order against [them] so that they don’t come near me,” Schieve said. “It’s caused so much anxiety in my life … it’s incredibly frightening.”
Schieve’s lawsuit against McNeely is pending, but she may be successful in forcing McNeely to release the name of his client. A discovery commissioner, who serves as an adviser for the judge and was tasked with reviewing which information was relevant to the case, recommended compelling McNeely to identify his client by March 28.
Along with Hartung and other local officials, Schieve has been the target of Beadles’ smear campaigns. She believes some of those attacks led to threatening messages from community members. Coupled with the discovery of the tracking device, she said it’s led her to worry for her personal safety.
“You start to look at everything. Every place you’ve been and who you’ve been talking to,” Schieve said.
Mayor Hillary Schieve is seen as the Reno City Council meets to discuss how to replace Councilwoman Neoma Jardon on Aug. 12, 2022. (David Calvert / The Nevada Independent)
Beadles was one of Schieve’s most vocal critics during last year’s mayoral race. He contributed nearly $10,000 to Schieve’s opponent, Eddie Lorton, and wrote multiple blog posts in the run-up to the election denigrating Schieve’s character without evidence and characterized the mayor as “Turd in the River,” and the “Destroyer of Reno,” among other unflattering monikers.
In a blog post published at the end of August, he suggested Schieve was ducking a mayoral debate hosted by a far-right digital outlet and started calling her “Hide’n Hillary.”
He’s also suggested without evidence in numerous blog posts that the mayor had an affair with the police chief, attended swinger parties and “has ties to potential criminals that give her money.”
“I’m sure we’ve all heard the stories about her. Some of these stories can be proved [sic] with witnesses, some with photos and videos, some with documents, and of course, some can not [sic] be verified,” Beadles wrote.
Schieve unequivocally rejected those claims.
On Nov. 2, Beadles followed up with a post that included photographs of Schieve, noting she attended a fundraiser instead of the debate. It also included video of an unidentified speaker asking a Schieve campaign staffer about the event. The audio was digitally disguised to obscure the person’s voice.
Despite Beadles’ spending and attacks, voters overwhelmingly reelected Schieve to a third term as mayor in November.
Beadles has also criticized Schieve and Hartung’s lawsuit against McNeely several times since the case was filed — even offering to help McNeely. In a blog post last month, he claimed their suit was baseless, but he was excited about what information might come to light about Hartung, Schieve and other politicians during the litigation.
During an interview with police officers, McNeely said there were “allegations that he was not going to divulge” about his investigation into Schieve but emphasized that his investigation did not substantiate the allegation “and this was told to the client.”
‘One of the biggest tools that I have’
In early January, the new members of the Washoe County Board of Commissioners were sworn into office. It was a low-key affair, where elected officials posed for pictures with family and friends. Photographs of the event show Green posing for pictures with Commissioner Clark (who had hired him during his campaign). Another photo shows Green sitting next to Commissioner Jeanne Herman. Beadles has supported both Herman and Clark.
Sitting one row in front of Green was Commissioner Garcia, who Green investigated during the 2022 election.
Image of attendees at the Washoe County swearing-in ceremony for newly elected officials showing Tom Green (fifth row on the right side) sitting one row behind Commissioner Mariluz Garcia on Jan. 9, 2023 (photo courtesy of Mariluz Garcia’s public Facebook page)
Green defended his work investigating political activities by saying it was “very common” for private investigators to do opposition research.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Green wrote in a text message. “I’m just trying to make a living.”
Green worked for the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office in various roles from 1992 until his retirement in 2019. The next year, he registered as a private investigator and has since worked for a Los Angeles-based VIP protection company and for various defense attorneys.
Green — who said he billed clients $105 an hour — also confirmed that he did contract work for Picon Press Media LLC but didn’t disclose the nature of the work. The website has posted several stories about the tracker incident and Schieve’s lawsuit. Larry Chesney, publisher of the Picon Press, wouldn’t discuss why he hired Green but said that he funds the entire operation and is committed to reporting on what’s happening in the community.
Private investigator Tom Green, photographed at Sparks City Hall on Jan. 23, 2023 (Bert Johnson/KUNR).
McNeely has kept a lower profile, but he did speak at a conservative group’s event last August.
Like Green, McNeely became a private investigator after spending time in public service.
McNeely told Sparks police that for 22 years, he had been the “longest serving member of Tri-NET,” a multi-jurisdictional narcotics task force that includes officers from the Nevada Department of Public Safety’s Investigation Division, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. McNeely was assigned to the task force through the National Guard Counterdrug Support Program, according to a spokesperson from the Nevada National Guard.
McNeely retired as a Master Sergeant from the 152nd Security Forces Squadron, the law enforcement arm of the Nevada Air National Guard. McNeely served 24 total years of military service and in 2013, he was awarded the Air Force Combat Action Medal for his service in Afghanistan.
A born-and-bred Northern Nevadan, McNeely also revealed close family ties to local government.
“My dad was the mayor of Sparks,” he told officers investigating the case. “Ron Smith.”
In his interview with police after the tracker was discovered on the mayor’s car, McNeely didn’t disclose to officers whether he also tracked Hartung. Asked about the other locations where the tracker appeared, he claimed that he’d used the device in an infidelity case before he moved it to Schieve’s car.
As a private investigator, McNeely told police his work focuses mostly on investigating “some infidelity stuff,” sexual assault cases, and missing persons research. He characterized his work as “a pretty broad deal” and was willing to use “the whole gamut” of investigative resources.
“There’s nothing that I won’t do as long as it’s within the confines of the law,” McNeely told Sparks police.
He added that the GPS tracking device is “one of the biggest tools that I have.”
Clark, the county commissioner who paid Green, said he was not involved with the surveillance of Schieve and Hartung but wasn’t bothered by use of a GPS tracker. “For all I know, I might have had a tracker on my car or still do,” he said. “I frankly don’t care. Everywhere I go, I’m happy to have someone know I’m there.”
Lokken, the political science professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, said that in the 30 years he’s followed Nevada politics, there’s always been an agreed-upon standard of decency, even among campaigns with major disagreements. He said the use of private investigators and GPS trackers represents a whole new set of “guerilla tactics” being tested in Washoe County.
“I think we are beginning to see more and more of that sort of tactic,” he said. “There’s also a strategy to work at the lowest levels and work your way up.”
Assemblywoman Jill Dickman speaks with Assembly Minority Leader P.K. O’Neill inside the Assembly Chamber on Feb. 20 in Carson City during the 82nd legislative session. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
One state lawmaker is looking to limit those tools in the future.
Assemblywoman Jill Dickman (R-Sparks) presented a bill this week to prohibit installing a location tracking device on a vehicle without the consent of the vehicle’s owner.
The measure, AB356, has bipartisan support in both chambers and would make it a misdemeanor to unlawfully install a mobile tracking device on a vehicle.
Dickman said in an interview she decided to propose the measure after hearing about the tracking device placed on Schieve’s vehicle.
“Everyone I talked to was shocked that it wasn’t already illegal,” Dickman said. “It’s such an invasion of privacy and an invasion of property. And Nevada is a pretty libertarian state, but we value our privacy and our private property.”
Dickman, who has lived in Northern Nevada since 1987, said she has never heard of anyone tracking local officials until last year.
Dickman said she’s planning some exemptions, including placement by a law enforcement officer with a warrant, a parent or guardian placing one on a child’s vehicle, or a tracker used by a legally authorized representative of an incapacitated adult.
McNeely told Sparks Police that he had some initial apprehension about placing the tracker on Schieve’s car and hopes she’s not too upset about it.
“This was one of those cases where I didn’t really want to go in and do all this,” McNeely told police. “But, like I said, this is the business I’m in now.”
This story was produced as part of a collaboration among KUNR Public Radio, The Nevada Independent and APM Reports as part of the Public Media Accountability Initiative, which supports investigative reporting at local media outlets around the country.