LAS VEGAS (CN) - A family court judge in Nevada was sentenced to 26 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $2.9 million in restitution for wire fraud conspiracy.
Former Clark County Family Court Judge Steven E. Jones was sentenced Wednesday for bilking dozens investors of millions of dollars over a decade.
U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey ordered him to report to prison on May 25.
"Jones played an integral part in this investment fraud scheme and was the most prominent and indispensable member," U.S. Attorney Bogden said in a statement.
"This crime was not a 'one-off' for Jones, but a calculated and deliberate decision that he replicated for years. He knew right from wrong, but engaged in the conduct anyway because he could." (DOJ release)
Jones, 57, served nearly two decades as a Clark County Family Court judge. He pleaded guilty in September 2014 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Co-defendants Thomas Cecrle Jr., 57; Terry Wolfe, 59, both of Henderson, Nev.; and Mark Hansen, 56, of Corvallis, Ore., also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Constance Fenton, 70, of Gig Harbor, Wash., pleaded to conspiracy to commit money laundering, as did Ashlee Martin, 30, of Las Vegas.
Jones and his co-defendants admitted in a plea memorandum that they lured victims into the scheme by falsely telling them that Cecrle worked as a contractor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was buying and selling water rights worth millions of dollars as part of a secret government program.
They solicited money by falsely claiming that Cecrle needed short-term cash loans to complete the fake water deals, which Cecrle promised to repay in short order along with a very large return, prosecutors said.
Cecrle and his co-conspirators concocted a similar story involving a land deal on the Las Vegas Strip in which Cecrle needed short-term loans to close a deal with Sir Richard Branson, according to the indictment.
In truth, Cecrle held no position with the federal government and there were no land or water rights deals. Although he knew the deals were fraudulent, Jones used his position as an elected Family Court judge to vouch for Cecrle, the plea memorandum states.
The indictment said that "Jones met with investors in chambers, over the telephone, and elsewhere and, using his office as a district judge, knowingly vouched for Cecrle and the high-yield investment programs, assuring investors that the scheme was sound when he knew full well that other investors had never been paid and that Cecrle and the scheme were a fraud.
"Jones used his position as a district judge to act as a middleman for Cecrle, fielding telephone calls for him in chambers and receiving cash proceeds from the fraudulent scheme at the courthouse where he presided over cases."
Prosecutors said Jones took money from one victim in the parking lot of the Clark County Family Division Courthouse and met with at least one potential investor in his chambers and elsewhere in the courthouse to discuss the investment.
After Cercle was arrested for passing bad checks to a victim, Jones allegedly arranged an "own recognizance" bond to release him and then opened and maintained a joint checking account with Cecrle, through which flowed more than $260,000 in illegal proceeds.
From September 2002 to October 2012, the defendants defrauded at least 22 victims of more than $2.6 million, which they quickly converted to their own use, according to the plea memorandum.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.