Key witness may be gone, but his pugnacious spirit lives on

Gene Isaacs wasn’t short on tenacity. He had plenty of energy for a man his age.

Isaacs also had a sheaf of documents and receipts that appeared to directly link Family Court Judge Steven Jones to former brother-in-law Thomas Cecrle’s investment schemes, schemes that authorities now call shady.

What Isaacs didn’t have was unlimited time in this world.

Although he was considered a key witness in the government’s investigation of Jones, Cecrle and others, octogenarian Isaac didn’t live long enough to see his former investment partners go to trial. He died at 88.

Ironically, Jones’ attorney in his protracted battle before the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline has argued that the fact the conduct the judge was accused of participating in is so many years old that the rules of procedure hadn’t been followed.

Others might remember a time nearly a decade ago when Isaacs was trying to be heard but had his complaints disappear into a system that barely seemed interested.

Isaacs may be gone, but his pugnacious spirit lives on.

On Oct. 31, 2012, longtime judge Jones and five others were indicted on felony conspiracy, fraud and money-laundering charges in connection with a scheme that authorities said took in more than $3 million from duped investors.

Jones’ charges include conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, nine counts of money laundering, six counts of wire fraud, a single count of money-laundering conspiracy and two counts of engaging in money transactions associated with criminally derived property.

The indictment alleges Jones was a key player in a group that at least as far back as September 2002 began separating cash from investors seeking high rates of interest on their money. The conspiracy, authorities say, continued until October 2012. Other defendants include Southern Nevadans Terry Wolfe and Ashlee Martin, Mark L. Hansen of Corvallis, Ore., and Constance Fenton of Gig Harbor, Wash.

That $3 million sounds like a lot of money.

But something tells me the money doesn’t add up. By his own admission, Isaacs alone lost $800,000. Disbarred attorney Jeanne Winckler alleges she lost a retirement of approximately $500,000 to Cecrle’s investment charms.

That almost certainly means there are plenty more possible victims than have come forward. Given Cecrle’s outgoing style, it only makes sense that many more persons were approached to participate than we know about. Those acquainted with Cecrle say he was anything but shy when it came to promoting his big ideas.

Why haven’t others stepped forward and cooperated with the FBI?

Do some imagine Jones one day will return to the bench? Is that why some, as some courthouse sources contend, a few people close to Jones are standing silent?

Are others embarrassed because they fell for the pie-in-the-sky from south of the border scheme or the mysterious war bonds hustle?

Perhaps others are, shall we say, hesitant to raise their hands because their own business track records are less than immaculate.

For his part, Isaacs had a right to be steamed and pursue justice. He lost a bundle to Cecrle in a supposed Strip real estate investment back in 2003. He battled Cecrle and Jones for years in an attempt to have his money returned, and at one point Jones drew up a promissory note on Cecrle’s behalf calling for the payment of $2 million to Isaacs. The judge’s secretary notarized the worthless document.

The case ranks as one of the pearls in a string of indictments out of U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden’s office in the past 18 months, but time hasn’t been kind. Isaacs and at least one other person are no longer capable of testifying.

Some others who could help apparently lack the courage to step forward.

I wonder just how far the investigation might have gone had even a couple more courthouse witnesses told what they appear to know.

According to the indictment, Cecrle hooked investors into believing he held a special position inside the federal government that enabled him to access public officials and even little-known and secret documents. He claimed to have land rights in Nevada and Arizona, a piece of Strip real estate. He even bragged that he could get his hands on immensely lucrative World War I bonds. (Cecrle even told Isaacs tall tales about having access large tracts of choice land he had access to in Mexico for a resort development.)

As it turned out, his only specialty as a relentless gift of gab.

Here’s where the investigation gets intriguing — and possibly much larger than the $3 million the indictment states was lost. Cecrle’s ropers, authorities alleged, used the mail, telephone, and Internet to drum up victims capable of dropping $10,000 and more into the varied deals. It’s hard to imagine they only worked from a single list.

More likely, many dozens or even hundreds of people were contacted. From the tone of the indictment, some of them might even have been contacted by the judge himself. For his part, Isaac said his suspicions of Cecrle and others were allayed by the presence of Jones, wrapped in the robe of the court, in the deal.

Evidence provided by Isaacs suggests Jones directly benefited from the investment in the form of the use of a company credit card to the tune of nearly $10,000.

When the deals fell through, and they always did, the disappointed investors were told a new set of stories that only further fed their fantasies that they hadn’t been hustled. Evidence suggests Cecrle and Jones using at least some of the money they obtained for gambling and vacation expenses. According to the indictment, Jones and Cecrle laundered approximately $250,000 from the investment scheme through a joint bank account.

“I was gullible,” Isaacs once told me. “I admit that. But I relied on the credibility and reputation of the judge to make my decision. In retrospect, that was a big mistake.”

Although Gene Isaacs didn’t live to see it, Jones and Cecrle are finally scheduled for trial next month.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295..