A federal lawsuit is providing a glimpse into the inner workings of an elite security team protecting the family of one of the richest men in the world, billionaire Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson.
Nine current and former members of the Executive Protection Team, which keeps watch over the Adelson family 24 hours a day, are suing Las Vegas Sands Corp. and its lead Strip resort, The Venetian, to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime they claim they are owed.
In court papers filed Friday, lawyers for the five still-employed protection team members, all of whom have impressive law enforcement and military backgrounds, are asking a federal judge to block what they contend are demotions to routine uniformed duties.
U.S. District Judge Philip Pro scheduled a hearing today on whether to grant the team members a temporary restraining order to preserve their exclusive security status at The Venetian.
The five officers said in a joint affidavit that they primarily have been protecting Adelson's two teenage boys and his wife, Miriam, over the years. They would not provide details about their services but said "our professional relationship with these children is exceptionally close."
Attorneys Don Campbell and Philip Erwin argued that the demotions of the officers, which took effect Monday, are in retaliation for filing the overtime lawsuit and violate federal labor laws.
"Despite their specialized talents and years of experience, plaintiffs are being shunted out to entry-level security positions, which will irreparably damage their careers," the lawyers wrote.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. attorneys Patrick Hicks and Rick Roskelley, however, filed court papers late Monday arguing the five security officers were not being retaliated against and were merely being "temporarily reassigned" to uniformed duties at the Sands Expo and Convention Center during the litigation. They are retaining their full pay and benefits, the lawyers said.
"The fact remains that the manner in which plaintiffs have chosen to assert their claims creates a direct conflict of interest, which casts doubt on their ability or willingness to act in the best interests of the family they were hired to protect," Hicks and Roskelley wrote.
The officers can't return to the protection unit because they would be privy to private Adelson family and business matters, including discussions about defending the lawsuit, the lawyers added.
"As part of the plaintiffs' duties," the lawyers said, "they had access to very sensitive and highly confidential information related to both the Adelson family, as well as the company.
"Agents had access to schedules indicating the comings and goings of the Adelson family, as well as their guests ."
All five officers -- James Jackson, Christopher LaCascia, James Martin, Jonathan Molnar and DeJuan Robinson -- were ordered to report Monday to the employee entrance at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, according to court papers.
The company lawyers insisted that was the only place where the officers could work without a conflict.
Dave Shepherd, a former FBI agent and security director at The Venetian, submitted a sworn affidavit describing the outdoor security post as the "single worst assignment" for officers at The Venetian. Officers there basically must brave the outside elements checking employee identification badges.
Shepherd said he viewed that job as a "wasteful expenditure of resort security personnel" and frequently filled the positions with low-wage, private "rent-a-guards."
The skill sets of the protection team members, Shepherd wrote, are far above the qualifications for those duties.
The officers all are highly skilled people with military or law enforcement training in how to prevent and respond to threats of physical violence, he said.
Team members are proficient in "close quarter combat," with continuous martial arts training, and adept with firearms. They know how to use deadly force and have skills in vehicle protection and evasive maneuvers. They also are skilled in surveillance and counter-surveillance.
According to the court papers, the five demoted team members have had a variety of experiences protecting the public.
One is a former deputy U.S. marshal who spent years training federal agents in defensive tactics used in security details. Another team member is a former California cop who worked with well-known private security firms protecting high-profile figures. Another one is an Army veteran who served in wars in Bosnia and Iraq and had a top-secret clearance.
Four of the nine protection team members suing The Venetian have been fired.
The June 10 lawsuit alleged that one of those team members, Benjamin Ness, was let go for raising the overtime issue and other accusations of impropriety with the man overseeing the security unit, Zohar Lahav.
Ness, a former U.S. Secret Service agent assigned to the White House detail, alleged that the Israeli-born Lahav, who is also a defendant in the lawsuit, required team members to "transport firearms in violation of state law" and operate an "unregistered X-ray screening machine without appropriate health, safety and security safeguards."
In their court papers, the demoted security officers said Lahav told them not to consult or even contact Brian Nagel, the current Las Vegas Sands Corp. security chief.
The officers said Lahav also instructed them not to speak with the company's human resources department without permission or put any communications in writing, particularly emails, while they worked in the protection unit.
In their court papers, Hicks and Roskelley said the company denies all of the allegations of wrongdoing.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.