Las Vegas police are investigating a defense attorney in an alleged scheme to help a client flee the country.
The client, Robert Wolfe, is an accused drug dealer cooperating with federal authorities investigating the role of Las Vegas-area doctors in the unlawful trafficking of prescription painkillers.
Wolfe, 69, also has been cooperating in the police investigation of the lawyer, Ben Nadig, a former deputy city attorney who has practiced law in Las Vegas since 2006.
Detectives with the Criminal Intelligence Section of the Metropolitan Police Department raided Nadig’s downtown law office June 26 to gather evidence of what they believed was the scheme to help Wolfe leave the country.
The bizarre tale of Wolfe’s cooperation in both investigations surfaced in federal court Thursday as federal prosecutors sought to keep Wolfe behind bars for trying to obtain a passport to flee to Panama. Federal prosecutors did not know about Wolfe’s involvement in the police investigation.
Before the hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach allowed Nadig to withdraw from representing Wolfe.
Later, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Cristina Silva voiced concerns that Wolfe was a flight risk, his new lawyer, Louis Schneider, argued in court that Wolfe was not trying to leave the country, but rather had agreed to cooperate with police investigating Nadig.
“It was a ruse, your honor,” Schneider said. “My client is not going anywhere.”
Schneider said Wolfe is not in good health, suffering five strokes and showing early signs of dementia.
Silva still insisted on keeping Wolfe in custody, saying she thought he was “playing both sides.”
But Ferenbach ordered Wolfe released on his own recognizance with the restrictions of house arrest and electronic monitoring.
Schneider told Ferenbach that Wolfe believes Nadig was encouraging him to leave the country in an effort to get at Wolfe’s money.
“My client believes his prior attorney was involved in stealing millions of dollars from him,” Schneider said, adding that Nadig at one point had put Wolfe’s house in the attorney’s name.
Schneider said Wolfe wore a wire for police in meetings with Nadig and was told by detectives not to tell federal authorities about the police investigation because detectives feared word would spread like “wildfire” through the legal community about their investigation.
Attorney Michael Sanft, who is representing Nadig, said Nadig agreed to be interviewed by detectives last week when they executed a search warrant at his office. Detectives took Nadig’s cellphone and Wolfe’s client files, Sanft said.
“We’re cooperating at this point and believe everything will work out for Ben,” Sanft said.
The investigation, he said, hinges on the credibility of Wolfe, who had been a client of Nadig’s for about 18 months.
“We’re confident that at the end of the day, Wolfe will turn out to be a liar,” Sanft said.
A sworn affidavit by Detective Aaron Stanton providing probable cause for the search of Nadig’s office remained under seal Thursday.
But according to a copy of the search warrant, detectives looked for office billing statements and financial records tied to Wolfe’s drug trafficking case in federal court, as well as correspondence and documents related to Nadig’s defense of Wolfe in the case.
Police also searched for records of a family trust set up for Wolfe’s family and any records referring to the “deep web” and “British passports.”
Wolfe, known as the “old man” on the street, and five others were charged in a criminal complaint in September in the federal drug investigation.
Earlier this week, Las Vegas physician Victor Bruce, one of the investigation’s key targets, pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, oxycodone. He is to be sentenced Oct. 9.
Two other physicians who have been prescribing large amounts of oxycodone and a pharmacy alleged to have filled phony prescriptions are among those targeted in the investigation, according to federal court documents.
The large-scale investigation, spearheaded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, has focused on Wolfe’s alleged drug trafficking operation, which has stretched to Kentucky, the documents show.
Bruce this week admitted that he unlawfully provided Wolfe with oxycodone prescriptions.
Wolfe last year bragged to an undercover agent that he once had as many as 3,000 people going to Bruce’s office to obtain oxycodone prescriptions, according to the documents.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Bruce created “ghost files” of patients, prescribed oxycodone under the phony names and sold the prescriptions to Wolfe.
Contact Jeff German at email@example.com or 702-380-8135. Find him on Twitter: @JGermanRJ.