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Airport tech takes plea deal, to testify against others in theft case

A former technician who installed and repaired security cameras at McCarran International Airport has struck a deal with prosecutors to cooperate against his two co-defendants in a high-profile theft case that has taken several new turns.

Matthew Charniga, 40, a felon with a 1994 voluntary manslaughter conviction, pleaded guilty to a felony attempted theft charge and then testified before a county grand jury that returned a new indictment Friday against the other two defendants.

Former airport technicians Chad Norton and Joseph Cordova, both 35, were charged with conspiracy, theft and burglary in the seven-count indictment. Both are free on bail and have been summoned to appear for arraignment Nov. 29 before District Judge James Bixler.

Prosecutors sought the new indictment after the Nevada Supreme Court ordered the presiding judge in the original 2011 case to dismiss the charges against the three defendants, all of whom have widely known attorneys.

The high court said District Judge Jessie Walsh should have granted a defense writ challenging the indictment on grounds it was not clear enough to allow the three video experts to prepare their defense.

Walsh granted the dismissal Wednesday, but in the meantime, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher had cleaned up the language in the indictment and presented the new version to the grand jury.

Rather than face new charges, Charniga accepted a plea deal that required him to cooperate with prosecutors. He testified before the grand jury last week.

In return for his cooperation, prosecutors agreed not to oppose probation for Charniga at his March 11 sentencing. They also agreed to drop their appeal of the dismissal of a felony gun charge against him.

Charniga, Cordova and Norton were arrested in February 2011 after airport officials reported they bought high-tech universal remotes and other electronic equipment for themselves using purchase orders from the county-run airport. All three men were fired from their jobs during the criminal investigation.

The value of the equipment the defendants were charged with stealing was less than $3,000, but investigators suspect the thefts might have occurred for several years. Investigators also discovered evidence of tampering with a surveillance camera that monitored the building where the technicians worked. Some video had been erased.

The three defendants were part of McCarran’s Information Systems Division, which at the time had about 80 employees who provided technical help to airport departments. Among their duties, the technicians worked on cameras in the baggage claim area and on those outside the airport.

The technicians did not have routine access to surveillance cameras in the airport’s secure area or passenger checkpoints controlled by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, officials have said.

After the three defendants were originally indicted, a website sprung up containing photographs and personal information of witnesses in the investigation.

Prosecutors suspected the three men were behind the website in an attempt to intimidate the witnesses. The site was taken down after airport officials threatened legal action.

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

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