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Extortion defendant wants to challenge guilty plea in case involving sex tapes

Ernesto Ramos, who admitted using sex tapes to extort $200,000 from a prominent Las Vegas businessman, has hired new lawyers to challenge the legality of his guilty plea.

Attorneys Kathleen Bliss and Jason Hicks filed court papers late Monday to take over Ramos’ defense and seek to continue his sentencing this week to prevent what they called a “grave injustice.”

It was the latest twist to a bizarre case brimming with speculation about the identity of the wealthy, married businessman.

In their court papers, Bliss and Hicks asked for time to explain to Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro issues that “cast serious doubt on the validity” of Ramos’ guilty plea.

The two attorneys, who need Navarro’s permission to enter the case, argued that Ramos’ decision to plead guilty to a felony extortion charge in November may not have been voluntary.

After federal prosecutors filed court papers Tuesday opposing a sentencing delay, Navarro issued an order saying she was not persuaded that there was good cause to allow Bliss and Hicks to represent Ramos. She said, however, she would hear further arguments on the issues Thursday before the sentencing.

In their papers, prosecutors contended the effort by Bliss and Hicks was nothing more than a “veiled attempt” to avoid the inevitable sentencing in a case bearing overwhelming evidence against Ramos.

Prosecutors said Ramos had no “reasonable basis” to withdraw his plea.

The defendant acknowledged that when he appeared before Navarro in November he willingly pleaded guilty and his plea “was not the result of any force, threats or coercion,” prosecutors argued.

Defense lawyer Gabriel Grasso, who negotiated the plea with prosecutors, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Grasso said in court papers last week Ramos deserved probation instead of a recommended 21-month prison sentence.

“Suffice it to say that this is a unique case based upon the effort expended by all parties to keep the identity of the victim from becoming public record,” Grasso wrote.

Grasso said Ramos — a real estate agent and personal trainer who is free on his own recognizance — has assisted authorities in “every way” to prevent the victim’s identity from becoming public.

An FBI complaint identifies the businessman only as a married local resident who has two minor children and who is “part-owner of a well-known business” with access to a company jet.

Over a two-year period, the businessman tipped a stripper, who was Ramos’ girlfriend, roughly $200,000 to dance and have sex with him in a private room at an adult nightclub, the criminal complaint said.

The dancer secretly used her cellphone to videotape herself having sex with the businessman in a hotel room during an October 2014 tryst outside the country, according to the FBI complaint.

Ramos acknowledged in his plea agreement he later tried to extort $200,000 from the businessman with threats that included posting embarrassing sex photos from the tapes on social media.

The stripper, who Grasso said worked at the popular Spearmint Rhino nightclub, has not been fully identified and has not been charged. Grasso said her first name is Sandra.

Prosecutors have gone to great lengths to keep the businessman’s name secret. Early in the case, they persuaded U.S. Magistrate Judge Bill Hoffman to sign an unusual protective order prohibiting disclosure of the businessman’s name — even his initials — and company in any public filings.

Prosecutors also persuaded Navarro to withhold his name from the public.

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-8135. Find @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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