Feds raise new abuse of power allegations against Family Court Judge Steven Jones/ LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL
By JEFF GERMAN
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
New abuse of power allegations tied to embattled Family Court Judge Steven Jones have surfaced in federal court documents.
Federal prosecutors say they have evidence that Jones “used his position and influence” as a judge twice in 2006 to get his former brother-in-law, Thomas Cecrle, released on his own recognizance in a felony bad check case, though local prosecutors had asked that he be kept in jail on no bail.
The Clark County district attorney’s office ultimately dismissed the bad check case against Cecrle and referred it to Las Vegas police for further investigation, but records do not show what happened to that investigation, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Myhre said in the court documents.
Freeing Cecrle allowed a decade-long investment fraud scheme involving the judge to move forward, Myhre wrote.
Court records show Cecrle later was convicted in a felony drug case.
Jones, Cecrle and four others were indicted by a Las Vegas federal grand jury in October 2012 in what authorities said was a $3 million scheme between 2002 and 2012. In the indictment, prosecutors alleged Jones used the power of his office to further the investment scheme and intervened on Cecrle’s behalf to prevent or delay legal processes against him.
The new accusations in the federal case are the latest in a long line of misconduct allegations that has plagued Jones for years.
Jones, 56, first elected to the Family Court bench in 1992, was suspended with pay by the Nevada Supreme Court after his federal indictment. In February, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline suspended Jones for three months without pay after finding that he had violated professional rules of conduct by carrying on a romantic relationship in 2011 with a prosecutor who appeared before him.
The prosecutor, Lisa Willardson, died of a drug overdose in December. Jones, who told police he had planned to marry Willardson, discovered her body in a bathroom at her Henderson home but waited 35 minutes before calling 911. Henderson police closed the case after the coroner concluded Willardson’s death was accidental.
Last month, the judicial commission said it was moving forward with another complaint, alleging Jones was involved in several investment schemes, associated with felons, improperly handled drug evidence and once had an “intimate relationship” with a law student who worked for him.
Prosecutors detailed the new abuse of power allegations against Jones in a motion late last week asking for a hearing to determine whether the judge’s defense lawyer, Robert Draskovich, should be removed from the federal case because of a possible conflict of interest. Draskovich, a veteran defense lawyer, represented Cecrle in the bad check case.
Myhre suggested in a March 27 letter to Draskovich that the lawyer probably will be a prosecution witness in the federal case against Jones and Cecrle.
“For example, you may have received instructions from Jones regarding your representation of Cecrle, learned of Jones’ role in the release of Cecrle, represented Cecrle at the behest of Jones or obtained proceeds of the fraudulent scheme in the course of any payment of fees,” Myhre wrote.
“At a minimum, the government will seek to question you in regard to your knowledge of Jones’ involvement in the state charges against Cecrle and obtain your billing and payment records in connection with your representation of Cecrle.”
Draskovich said he plans to respond to Myhre’s motion.
“There’s been no wrongdoing and no inappropriate conduct on my part,” he said.
Draskovich also said he wasn’t aware of any misconduct by Jones in the Cecrle case.
It’s common for people charged in bad check cases to be released on their own recognizance, Draskovich said. And cases often are dismissed after the defendants pay back the money.
It is uncertain whether the government’s filing will lead to another delay in the federal case, which is supposed to go to trial in June.
In his court papers, Myhre said the bad check case against Cecrle was filed in 2005 after a man he identified as E. A. complained to the district attorney’s office that Cecrle defrauded him while soliciting money in an investment scheme. Several checks Cecrle wrote to the man had bounced.
The man, who had met with both Cecrle and Jones, was identified as Ely Ades in the 12-count complaint prosecutors filed in Las Vegas Justice Court. The complaint alleged Cecrle defrauded Ades out of $58,260.
Justice Court records show that after Cecrle’s first arrest in the case in March 2006, then-Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Tony Abbatangelo released him on his own recognizance.
Cecrle was arrested again a month later in April, and this time then-Las Vegas Justice of the Peace James Bixler set him free.
The case was ultimately dismissed in January 2007 by then-Justice of the Peace Doug Smith.
Both Smith and Bixler are now district judges. Abbatangelo lost his re-election bid in 2010, and in 2011 he agreed not to run for a judicial office for four years under a disciplinary agreement with the judicial commission stemming from a no contest plea in a misdemeanor domestic battery case.
The prosecutor in the bad check case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski, said that in both of Cecrle’s releases, the judges did not inform him ahead of time that they were taking the action.
“Had I known about it, I would have objected to it,” he said. “I think it was inappropriate.”