It was strange, people said, a grown man inviting high school boys to his home for free booze and a dip in the hot tub.
It’s stranger when the man is a cop, especially in McGill, a faded Nevada mining town of about 1,000 people four hours north of Las Vegas. Everybody in McGill knows everybody, and word travels fast.
“He would have them strip down to get in the hot tub. It was very strange, inappropriate contact with young, male juveniles,” recalled Harry Collins, the former White Pine County Undersheriff who investigated the case involving the deputy in 1992.
Donald Coburn, then 25, was fired from the sheriff’s office and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor and annoying a minor. He was sentenced to probation.
Collins, 61 and long retired, wasn’t surprised to hear that Coburn, now 46 and head code enforcement officer for Clark County’s Animal Control division, was arrested Saturday on charges related to soliciting or engaging in child prostitution. He was released from jail on a $5,000 bond.
“I knew this was going to happen. Surprised it took this long,” Collins said. “I’m just curious what Clark County’s going to do with this guy.”
Coburn, who lives in Las Vegas, was placed on leave from his job Tuesday. He will be able to use vacation time to cover his absence while his criminal case is resolved.
Few details about his arrest have been made public. The Clark County District Attorney’s office declined to release the police report, citing DA Steve Wolfson’s policy to hold back reports on alleged sex crimes involving minors even if names are redacted. Sources said the minor was a 17-year-old.
That’s about the ages of the boys Coburn brought to his hot tub in McGill, Collins said, adding that he wanted more serious charges brought against the deputy.
But prosecutors figured the case would have been difficult to prove.
“At the time, and it’s been awhile, but there were certain families of kids that didn’t want a case to go forward,” he said.
And Coburn had a high-profile Las Vegas attorney on his side — future mayor Oscar Goodman. Collins said the famous mob lawyer tried to pressure him into dropping the investigation.
“He says, ‘You know who I am, right?’” Collins recalled. “White Pine County is a small county. When we get the attention of a guy like Oscar, they think they can intimidate rural cops. It’s kind of funny.”
Goodman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Collins said he was confused how Coburn ended up working for Clark County just a few years after being fired and convicted.
“If someone would have asked me, I would have given them the whole story,” he said.
Clark County does not require job applicants to disclose misdemeanor arrests. County officials wouldn’t say if Coburn revealed the arrest when he was hired as an animal control officer in 1996, and applications and resumes are not public records. Coburn has been head of the department for about a year.
White Pine County Sheriff Dan Watts said Coburn’s criminal past would have shown up on a background check. A phone call to his department could have filled in the blanks.
“(Clark County) didn’t even call the department, apparently. Or they made the decision to hire him anyway,” Watts said. “It kind of surprised everybody here, too. He’s a predator.”
Few know the chronicles of Coburn’s life quite like Cheryl Noriega, 64, the mother of his ex-wife, Ana, and the grandmother of the couple’s children.
Noriega said her daughter wasn’t married to Coburn while the hot tub accusations in McGill were starting, but she stuck with him anyway.
Ana had known about her husband’s parties before the accusations started, and even told her mother about them, Noriega said. But Ana always denied anything sexual happened and vigorously defended her husband.
Noriega was running for White Pine County commissioner at the time. She said Coburn asked her to be a character witness, but she politely declined — she hadn’t known him that long, and she was concerned about his dealings with minors.
“He lived in McGill, he was a cop, and kids knew him. I said, ‘God, Ana. Isn’t that kind of stupid?’” she recalled.
Ana said Coburn had good reason — if teenagers drank the booze at his house, they wouldn’t be on the streets.
“That’s crazy, because he’s supposed to be arresting the person giving the alcohol to them, and arresting (the boys) for having it,” Noriega said.
The couple divorced in 1999, five years after they moved to Las Vegas.
Despite rumors about Coburn’s sexual orientation, Ana didn’t believe her husband was gay until he showed up at their daughter’s birthday party in 2002 with 18-year-old boyfriend Peter Vega, Noriega said.
Three weeks after the party, Ana was dead. A nurse, she was killed in the crash of a medical helicopter flying to the scene of a car wreck.
Noriega said she received an anonymous letter after Ana died warning her about sex parties Coburn and Vega were having. She was concerned about the environment her grandkids would be raised in, and asked a family friend and private eye to take a look.
The investigator, working for free, found nothing. But several years later Vega was arrested on charges he fondled and had oral sex with a boy younger than 14. Vega pleaded guilty in November to a reduced charge of sexual coercion, was placed on the sex offender registry and sentenced to probation.
But Noriega doesn’t know if Coburn still keeps in contact with Vega, and worries about his judgment. She doesn’t know who to trust and fears for her grandkids.
“There are so many crazies running around… I guess they don’t have room in jail,” she said. “Might as well lock all of us up and put the crazies on the outside. There’s more of them then there are of us.”
Staff writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283. Follow @blasky on Twitter.