Family Court Judge Steven Jones was easy to spot amid the seven other defendants Thursday in U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman's courtroom.
He was the offensive tackle-sized guy in the gray suit and pale blue shirt, but no tie. With his open collar and the slick-backed hair, Jones looked more like a nightclub bouncer or pool hustler than an esteemed member of our local judiciary.
While defendant Rafael Cardenas Hernandez of Mexico needed a court-appointed translator to understand that he was charged with being in the country unlawfully, Jones displayed his command of the English language and was quite familiar with the inside of a courtroom.
Other defendants were accused of a variety of unremarkable charges, but the 20-count indictment facing the judge alleges a pattern of criminal activity that would make a wiseguy proud. It ought to make the hair on your neck stand on end.
With his co-defendant, former brother-in-law and longtime running mate Thomas Cecrle, Jones and four others are accused of conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy to money launder, unlawful money transfers and laundering monetary instruments in connection with what authorities are calling a $3 million investment scheme.
Consider that $3 million an extremely conservative figure, but the case took so long to develop it's unlikely the total investor losses for Cecrle's stardust-sprinkled land deals will ever be precisely established.
The government's theory of the case ranges from September 2002 to October 2012, but my 2005 investigation of the judge and Cecrle found a suspicious investment company registered in the felon's name as far back as 1999. The judge's pal has been at this a long time and has emptied a lot of pockets along the way.
One of Cecrle's bigger scores came against octogenarian Gene Isaacs, who lost $800,000 in 2003 in a Mexican land investment. Jones, Isaacs told me, was in the middle of it and even benefited financially from the partnership.
While details of the pending allegations aren't yet known, ample historical evidence suggests that Jones let his judicial position be used to further Cecrle's investment scheme. Isaacs, for example, said he was escorted by Cecrle into Jones' chambers and met with the judge on more than one occasion to discuss the status of the "investment."
Then there's the $500,000 disbarred attorney Jeanne Winkler said she lost in 2006 in an investment with Cecrle, her former criminal defense client. Although Winkler's credibility is suspect, given her own felon status in connection with the local homeowners association scandal, she should be able to provide perspective on the proximity between her former friend Jones and her former client Cecrle.
Winkler and others also might be able to tell us whether a judge who was only too happy to run with a suspected con man played favorites while on the bench in Family Court.
You're forgiven for almost forgetting that Jones isn't just another white-collar hustler of the kind that over the years have been so comfortable operating in Las Vegas. He actually has a day job and draws a six-figure salary funded by taxpayers.
Voters entrusted him to uphold a sacred oath and the law in one of the most delicate areas of the justice system. Lives hang in the balance every day in Family Court. You would think that would be enough to keep a guy too busy to hang out with a con artist long suspected of ripping off investors .
One thing Jones can't deny is that his suspicious behavior and relationship with the felonious Cecrle have been sullying his judicial robes for years.
Thursday's arraignment was a long time coming. Although Jones was released on his own recognizance, he left Hoffman's courtroom with his cuffed hands behind his back.
By the time our community's veteran Family Court judge finally exited the federal courthouse, I noticed he had managed to put on a tie.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith.