Federal trial begins in wire fraud case involving county employee and former judge

A senior county human resources analyst charged in a scheme to steal $824,000 from a leading auto insurance company went on trial Monday in federal court.

Erik Holman, 49, who has worked for Clark County since 2002, is accused of conspiring with his late “life partner,” former Henderson Municipal Judge John Provost, to embezzle the money from the Wisconsin-based American Family Insurance between October 2005 and April 2009.

At the time, Provost was a lawyer running the company’s claims litigation office in Las Vegas, according to federal prosecutors. He killed himself in July 2009 three months after the company let him go amid the allegations.

Provost, 48, who served on the Henderson bench from 1996 to 2003, committed suicide by overdosing on the prescription painkiller oxycodone, according to the county coroner.

Federal prosecutors uncovered evidence that Holman and Provost had a suicide pact. Holman told friends that he and Provost kept a “suicide kit” containing a mixture of ground-up prescription pills, according to court documents.

But U.S. District Judge James Mahan, who is presiding over the trial, issued an order last week barring the government from introducing the evidence, concluding it is not relevant to Holman’s guilt or innocence in the embezzlement scheme.

Holman was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2011 on one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 14 counts of wire fraud. Provost was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case, which was investigated by the FBI’s public corruption squad.

In his opening statement, Assistant U. S. Attorney Gregory Damm explained to the jury how the scheme unfolded.

He said Provost created phony invoices for private investigative work Holman didn’t do for American Family Insurance. Then, he wrote checks to Holman and deposited them into a bank account the two men shared and another account belonging to a private investigation business Holman operated outside his county job.

Holman used money stolen from American Family Insurance as his “personal slush fund” to take cruises and trips overseas, Damm said.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Raquel Lazo offered a different theory of the scheme in her opening statement. She told the jury that Provost acted alone and, like the insurance company, betrayed Holman.

“Mr. Provost had a deep dirty secret,” Lazo said. “He was addicted to gambling.”

Holman and Provost’s family members didn’t know the extent of Provost’s gambling problem until after his death, she explained.

In court papers, Lazo said Provost left behind more than $150,000 in gambling debts.

She told the jury that Provost made Holman an unwitting pawn in the embezzlement scheme, pouring money into their joint bank account without his knowledge.

Provost handled all of the couple’s expenses and controlled the account, as well as the account for Holman’s business, she said.

The former judge also kept his gambling problem from his good friend, lawyer William McGaha, and dragged McGaha’s name into the scheme without his knowledge, according to Lazo.

McGaha and his wife Pamela, a lawyer who worked with Provost at American Family Insurance, are expected to be among the witnesses testifying at the week-long trial.

Contact reporter Jeff German at 702-380-8135 or jgerman@reviewjournal.com.