A prosecutor laid out stunning details in court Thursday about the district attorney's suicide-arson case against indicted construction defects lawyer Nancy Quon.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Sandra DiGiacomo said Quon schemed to set fire to her home and kill herself because she feared she would lose her connections at the Nevada U.S. attorney's office and get indicted in a federal investigation being taken over by Justice Department lawyers in Washington, D.C.
Quon was "getting information leaked to her," DiGiacomo said.
The Washington prosecutors came to Las Vegas to take control of the investigation into local homeowners associations a week after the Oct. 28 fire and launched a criminal probe into leaks at the U.S. attorney's office.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported in March that the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section was investigating whether prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office provided sensitive information about the case on homeowners associations to Quon, a central figure and target.
There has been no official word on the status of the investigation since March, but as of a month ago, federal investigators were still asking questions.
In the homeowners associations case, the Washington prosecutors have been working out plea deals with key players aimed at obtaining indictments against Quon and other top targets.
DiGiacomo referred to the leak allegations at a bail hearing for Quon before District Judge Michelle Leavitt in the suicide case. Quon stood in chains and listened intently during a wild, 90-minute proceeding, which ended when Leavitt agreed to reduce Quon's bail from $400,000 to $50,000. Leavitt also ordered Quon to surrender her passport. DiGiacomo said Quon had $7,000 in cash and the passport in her purse when she was arrested Wednesday and charged with setting fire to her Rhodes Ranch home.
Nevada U.S. Attorney Dan Bogden had little reaction late Thursday to DiGiacomo's courtroom comments. "We have not read a transcript of the state's remarks and were not present at the hearing, and don't have further comment," he said.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman in Washington, declined comment.
DiGiacomo told Leavitt that the prosecution's theory of why Quon wanted to kill herself is based on media reports about the leak investigation and testimony from witnesses she presented to the grand jury.
One of those witnesses, Las Vegas police detective Robert Whiteley, testified that Quon and her ex-cop boyfriend, William Ronald Webb, knew what few people knew before the fire at Quon's home: that the Justice Department lawyers were coming to take over the case on homeowners associations on Nov. 8. Webb has been indicted with Quon in the local case.
"They believed that on Nov. 8 they were not going to have their backing in the U.S. attorney's office anymore," DiGiacomo told Leavitt. "There had been leaks and other issues in this investigation."
DiGiacomo said Quon "can't handle" knowing that federal charges in the homeowners associations case are going to be filed against her. Quon has denied setting the fire and trying to kill herself.
Her defense lawyer, Thomas Pitaro, Thursday called DiGiacomo's suicide theory "gibberish" and took the prosecutor to task for what he called "mind-boggling" claims that federal prosecutors in the homeowners associations probe might have been providing information to Quon.
"It's a dangerous and unfair characterization of anyone involved," said Pitaro, who is also representing Quon in the federal investigation.
Pitaro told Leavitt that there's no evidence of any leaks going to Quon, and he said he wanted to apologize to the prosecutors for DiGiacomo's comments on behalf of the entire lawyer community.
DiGiacomo also charged during the hearing that Quon tried to throw the media off the trail linking her to the fire early in the suicide probe by paying local publicist Mark Fierro tens of thousands of dollars hidden away in offshore accounts to spin her version of the story.
Quon had transferred roughly $5.6 million to accounts in the Cook Islands in 2008 and 2009, as the federal investigation into the case on homeowners associations was heating up, DiGiacomo said. Quon paid Fierro and his company, Fierro Communications, a $75,000 retainer from the offshore accounts in November and then began paying him an additional $8,000 a month until April, for a total of $115,000.
While Quon was paying Fierro to influence media coverage, she was refusing to talk with insurance investigators trying to determine how the fire at her Rhodes Ranch home started, DiGiacomo said.
In all, Quon faces five felony charges, including first-degree arson, conspiracy to commit arson and insurance fraud stemming from the fire, which caused $250,000 to $300,000 in damage to her home. She has a Sept. 1 arraignment.
DiGiacomo alleged in court that when Quon botched the suicide attempt in the fire, she turned her attention to another plot that involved obtaining an illegal drug she thought would be undetected.
Quon wanted to take gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, a club drug known as GHB, before the Washington prosecutors came to town on Nov. 8, DiGiacomo said.
Contact reporter Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135.