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Defense lawyer raises new questions about secretly recorded jailhouse calls

A defense lawyer has stepped forward to allege the federal detention center in Pahrump secretly recorded her confidential phone conversations with a client and then turned over the recordings to prosecutors in the case.

Kathleen Bliss, a former longtime federal prosecutor, cited the alleged attorney-client breaches this week in a motion to dismiss a robbery case against her client, Robert Kincade, because of government misconduct.

Her revelation comes after public defenders for one of the defendants in the Bunkerville standoff case filed court papers voicing concerns that their phone conversations with their client, Ryan Payne, were recorded at the privately run federal detention center.

Payne, a militia leader from Montana, is one of 17 defendants, including Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and four of his sons, charged with conspiring to assault Bureau of Land Management agents April 12, 2014.

His lawyers — Assistant Federal Public Defenders William Carrico, Ryan Norwood and Brenda Weksler — said in court papers this week that secret recordings of an attorney and an inmate occurred in an unrelated criminal case at the Nevada Southern Detention Center in Pahrump. They wanted to know whether it happened in their case and others.

They said hundreds of federal inmates at the Pahrump facility, run by Corrections Corporation of America, might be affected, and they asked a judge to appoint a special master to determine whether the practice is widespread.

In her motion, Bliss said prosecutors in June turned over hundreds of recordings of Kincade at the detention center, including some with her.

“Not only does this conduct violate established professional and ethical rules of conduct, it is a clear violation of Kincade’s Sixth Amendment rights,” Bliss wrote. “To vindicate that fair trial right, a defendant must be able to freely and privately communicate with his attorney.”

Prosecutors will get a chance to respond to Bliss in writing.

“The government has not yet filed its response, and this is only one of many motions filed by the defense which have not been fully briefed and for which no findings have been made by the court,” Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said Wednesday.

Bliss said in her motion that the recorded calls occurred from April 2014 to April 2015, but she added there is “no indication that the government voluntarily ceased obtaining such communications.”

The government should have used a “taint team,” a group separate from prosecutors, to screen calls between her and her client, Bliss said.

“The fact that Kincade received this discovery directly from the government demonstrates that it did not take any precautionary or corrective measures in that regard,” she added.

Prosecutors on Wednesday filed a new indictment against Kincade, who has been at the Pahrump detention center for the past 18 months, charging him with a series of bank robberies between 2011 and 2014.

Corrections Corporation of America, which operates federal detention centers across the country, has been “lambasted” by federal judges for invading the privacy of inmates at some of the company’s other facilities, Bliss wrote.

“The fact that the DOJ (Department of Justice) and the CCA have been put on notice by other federal courts, yet still failed to correct this behavior, exhibits a flippant disregard for the accused, the rules of ethics and the courts,” she said.

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

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