Well, it’s the first Monday of 2016, and it feels like the holidays are over.
As you probably know, a few days before Christmas a homeless 24 year old Oregon woman ran down about 40 people on the Strip, killing a mother of three. The deranged former federal employee’s 3 year old daughter was in the car with her at the time. The carnage started in front of Planet Hollywood, and ended at the Paris.
Meanwhile, inside Planet Hollywood, game show host and alleged comedian Steve Harvey was hosting, and completely screwing up, the Miss Universe competition, inexplicably crowning the wrong “winner”. It occurred to me that inasmuch as soccer goalies who blow a game for Colombia can get themselves assassinated, the funnyman should double up his security.
The world can only hope that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Including in the Las Vegas Halls of Justice, where the usual debacles were playing out.
A brief synopsis follows.
HOA Case Recusal
On December 21, 2015, an editorial in the Las Vegas Review Journal scolded the Las Vegas U.S. Attorney’s Office for hiding the ball regarding alleged leaks from that office which could have compromised a massive investigation of corrupt Homeowner’s Associations, a case in which 43 defendants were ultimately convicted.
The newspaper wanted to know why the office steadfastly refused to disclose documents which might explain the reason for the its recusal from the case.
One staunch media defender of Nevada’s U.S. Attorney implied that the original reason for the recusal was his residence. “Remember the first conspiracy theory leaked to the media?” he cried. “Dark rumors circulated about why Dan Bogden had to be removed from any connection to the case. It turned out Bogden owned a condo in one of the HOAs that was targeted by the probe…..”.
After spinning a most incredible conspiracy theory targeting Nevada law enforcement dating back to the 50’s, he personally vouched for Bogden, and stated that he was sure there were no leaks from his office. He then revealed his inside scoop – that “one federal attorney had a few cocktails and inadvertently let slip a detail about the case to another lawyer”. If true, is this not a leak?
So, according to said reporter, the U.S. Attorney’s ownership of a single condo unit in one of more than 10 complexes involved was the ostensible reason for recusal?
That was apparently not the view of the DOJ trial attorney dispatched by Washington to see the case through – which he did, successfully. His version was reported in the Las Vegas Review Journal:
“Thomas Hall, one of the Justice Department prosecutors in the HOA case, told a federal judge this week that the leak investigation delved into personal and romantic relationships of public officials who have not been charged criminally or disciplined administratively…”
“Hall didn’t didn’t provide details, but he has previously indicated in court documents that members of the U.S. Attorney’s office were among those investigated. The office removed itself from the HOA investigation after the leak allegations surfaced in late 2010, prompting the Justice Department’s Fraud Section in Washington to step in.”
The HOA case could be the stuff of several posts, or even a book. One of the primary targets, construction defect attorney Nancy Quon, was found dead in her bathtub. Five days later attorney David Amesbury, who had pled guilty to the scheme and agreed to cooperate with the Government, committed suicide. The former spouse of a prominent supervisor in the District Attorney’s Office, Amesbury had been found “beaten to a pulp” months earlier. A retired police Lieutenant also committed suicide. According to a previous column in the Review Journal, he had “found himself in the middle of (the) expanding public corruption investigation”. A board member of one of the targeted homeowners associations died of a drug overdose. Several other attorneys and public officials were reportedly subjects of the investigation. Four attorneys and three police officers were among those who took pleas in the case.
The case could rival “Making of a Murderer” in its breadth of official malfeasance.
On Christmas Eve, the U.S. Attorney’s Office received an early gift from Judge James Mahan, who denied a defense motion for a new trial in another massive fraud case, this one handled by federal prosecutors in the Las Vegas office. The defendants in this matter were charged with masterminding a $52 million dollar mortgage fraud scheme.
The defense alleged that two employees of the defendants, David Mark and Kimberly Brown, had illegally conducted searches at the direction of the FBI, and provided the fruits of those searches to agents. The District Court, however, rejected the testimony of the two now-former employees, both of whom were called as defense witnesses.
Mark’s involvement as a witness was an unfortunate reminder, noted the newspaper, of the fact that his own conviction in the case had been reversed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, for what Mark claimed was wrongful prosecution. This was the subject of a previous post on this blog on December 5, 2015. I had been asked by Glenn Meek, an investigative reporter at a Las Vegas television station, to comment. The Government’s had promised, then withdrew, a grant of immunity to Mark, himself a lawyer. Both transactions were completely undocumented, which the 9th Circuit found “dumbfounding”.
That newscast also revisited two additional disasters for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2015.
“The Mark case is at least the third this year in Nevada where federal judges have directed cases to be dismissed, citing questionable conduct by the government.
Earlier this year, the illegal gambling case against Malaysian businessman Paul Phua was thrown out when a judge ruled FBI agents violated his rights by cutting off his Internet service and entering his hotel room posing as repairmen.
Meanwhile, a judge in Reno, tossed a six-figure highway cash seizure, chastising the government for not disclosing the fact that the driver had been stopped less than an hour earlier by a highway patrol officer who found no probable cause to search the car. That case is being appealed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
The “Medical Mafia” Case
Bad memories continued to haunt the Las Vegas U.S. Attorney’s Office though the holidays.
On December 30 2015, a longtime Review Journal columnist reported that the Nevada Supreme Court had somehow seen fit to reinstate the law license of a disbarred attorney, a convicted felon. The Court ignored the negative recommendation, by a 3-2 vote, of the State Bar Disciplinary Committee. Another crooked lawyer loosed again upon the public.
The column went on to revisit some of the unpleasant details of his case, a fraud (I won’t belabor the details) resulting in the convictions of three individuals: a medical consultant, a doctor, and attorney Noel Gage.
The piece mentioned how the case had “started big” but “ended small” when it “whimpered to a close” in 2010.
At that time, Gage, the now fully licensed attorney convicted in the case, took an “Alford” plea, one that requires no admission of guilt – exceedingly rare in federal prosecutions. His sentence was 3 years probation and 90 days of home confinement.
The case against Gage had been tried once, in 2008, resulting in a hung jury. Before trial, the court had dismissed 13 of the 19 charges. At that time, another Review Journal columnist authored a column accusing the Government of “stupid doggedness” and opined that the Government “managed to look like checkers players at a chess match.” That may explain the “Alford” plea.
I am aware, anecdotally, of other disgraced attorneys who have been disbarred and readmitted in Las Vegas. The funny thing is, these are people who make a living disparaging cops and prosecutors in an attempt to get guilty clients off.
You may wonder why I took the time to share my observations about my former office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Las Vegas – observations which are pretty negative. Does it give joy? The answer is no.
I served in the Las Vegas U.S. Attorneys Office, from 1990 – 2003. After a few years I became Senior Litigation counsel, and then Chief of Narcotics and Violent Crime in that office. We brought important, high profile cases and won them. We initiated programs which were highly successful – Felons with Firearms, Meth Labs, Pimps Exploiting Children. We had a stellar group of talented, ethical prosecutors, and a highly competent and hardworking staff. Many of my fellow AUSAs from that era have gone on to achieve incredibly impressive accomplishments in other Districts.
It is therefore frustrating, disheartening, and more than a bit sad to read, in the span of a little more than a week, references to so many failures, which reflect so poorly on my alma mater. All matters which played out after the respective departures of the my colleagues referenced above from Las Vegas.