NV Family Court Judge Pleads to $2.6M Scheme

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – Clark County Family Court Judge Steven Jones pleaded guilty Wednesday to an investment fraud scheme that stole $2.6 million from 22 victims.
     Jones, 56, copped to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, as did four co-defendants: Thomas Cecrle Jr., 57, and Terry Wolfe, 59, of Henderson, Nev., and Mark Hansen, 56, of Corvallis, Ore.
     Constance Fenton, 70, of Gig Harbor, Wash., meanwhile pleaded guilty in connection to the same scheme to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
     U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey is scheduled to sentence the group on Jan. 26, 2015. They each face up to 20 years in prison, $250,000 in fines and mandatory restitution.
     Ashlee Martin, 30, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty on Aug. 11 in connection to the same scheme. She faces sentencing for conspiracy to commit money laundering in August 2015.
     Jones and his co-defendants admitted in a plea memorandum that they lured victims into a fraud 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 signed by U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden.
     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 alleged 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,” the indictment continued.
     Prosecutors said Jones received money from a 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 bad checks he passed to a victim, Jones also allegedly arranged an “own recognizance” bond to release the co-conspirator and then opened and maintained a joint checking account with Cecrle, through which flowed more than $260,000 in illegal proceeds.
     To help Cercle amd Jones, “Fenton, Wolfe, Hansen, and Martin used the telephone, mail, Internet and other means of interstate commerce to solicit money, lull investors, direct the movement of money, pick up and deliver money, establish and maintain bank accounts through which to move money and to otherwise maintain the false and fraudulent pretense that defendant Cecrle was who he purported to be and that the fraudulent investment in fact exists,” the indictment states.
     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.
     A federal grand jury in October 2012 charged Jones and his co-defendants with conspiracy to commit mail, wire and securities fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, laundering of monetary instruments and engaging in money transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.

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