Let's hope scolding teaches crooked cop lesson for conning 87-year-old

In the end, disgraced Metro detective Eric Washington received the equivalent of a good scolding for conning an 87-year-old man out of $1,411.50, betraying his community's trust, and committing three felonies along the way.

With the exception of Washington's estimable defense attorney, Kevin Kelly, everyone present in District Judge Jennifer Togliatti's courtroom Wednesday took a rhetorical shot at the defendant. The speakers were inspired, but given the suspended sentence he received, their words were so many spitballs. Like most insiders, the ex-cop got off cheap.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Laurent had the first go at the defendant. Togliatti reminded him that the state took no position on whether Washington should serve time with the kinds of people he used to arrest.

"It's important to note that Mr. Washington was a sworn peace officer at the time," Laurent said. "He was a Metropolitan Police officer who had taken an oath to protect and serve."

Children look up to cops, Laurent said. Nicola Racioppi relied on Washington to investigate a mortgage fraud complaint.

"Mr. Washington betrayed his trust in the office he was sworn to," Laurent said. "He betrayed his (victim's) trust, took his money, and he claims that this is all due to an injury he received and becoming addicted to prescription painkillers."

Washington, who suffered a work-related knee injury, said he became addicted to painkillers. Although he never sought help from his department, he claimed he ripped off the old man to feed his drug habit. He apologized.

Kelly said, "So often we put people in positions of trust and somehow we think they're gods, that they don't make mistakes, that they don't make bad judgments, and the minute they do, we're the first ones to kick them down."

But there wasn't much kicking.

Washington lost his job, so he'll now be forced to exploit his next octogenarian as a private citizen instead of as a lawman.

Although Kelly argued his client had suffered plenty by pleading guilty to three felonies, the fact is Washington wasn't charged with exploiting an elderly person. Togliatti, a smart and square judge, had the unenviable task of signing off on the malodorous deal.

In the courtroom Wednesday sat Clark County Public Guardian Kathleen Buchanan, who had attorney Lee Drizin speak on behalf of a victim who could not speak for himself.

"The thing that concerns us, and which should shock the conscience of the court, is a sentence of probation in light of the circumstances of this crime," Drizin said.

"This is perhaps one of the worst exploitation cases the Public Guardian's office has ever seen. It wasn't just a crime against an individual. It was a crime against the elderly, and it was a crime against a person of limited capacity. And it wasn't just a random crime. But the court should be aware that this detective was assigned by the fraud unit based on a prior incident of exploitation. He knew that Mr. Racioppi was an elderly man who had been exploited in a mortgage scam fraud."

Washington gained the victim's trust, then abused it. Judge Togliatti called Drizin's statement a fine closing argument. Kelly retorted that Drizin had gone too far.

Or not far enough.

Washington, 32, had his 4- to 13-year sentence suspended. He was forced to jump through a few hoops, including house arrest, but those are the parting gifts associated with a person of the system playing "Let's Make a Deal."

Drug abuse is sad, but a corrupt cop is sadder still.

We are led to believe that the previously clean-living Washington rolled out of bed one morning and concocted a plan to commit fraud on a foggy old man.

The detective enlisted the help of three juveniles, developed an elaborate story to obtain the victim's debit card, and managed to clip him for $1,411.50 before being discovered. Washington was trying to drain Racioppi's life savings, $12,000.

Perhaps the unfulfilled desire to clean out an old-timer of his last copper isn't a felony as defined in the Nevada Revised Statutes.

Maybe it ought to be.

But let's not kid ourselves.

Washington caught the same break most system insiders receive: a scolding and public embarrassment.

After all the talking was done, the corrupt cop wasn't held to the mythical "higher standard" we so often hear about, but so seldom see.

John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.


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