A Plot That Failed

This is a story about a plot to bribe a Las Vegas judge.

It involves a former Las Vegas police officer convicted of murder, a jailhouse informant with a slew of felony cases, a jail worker who got too friendly with the killer cop, and a prosecutor, formerly an FBI agent, who also became close with the murderer.

It concerns defrauding a stroke-addled, 89-year-old woman, whose million-dollar California home became security for a loan obtained by a Clark County jail inmate — part of the bribery scheme.

Three days after the inmate got the loan in 2006, he would see seven cases against him suddenly disappear, courtesy of a deal with state prosecutors and against the urging of probation officials. In the end, the bribery plot was never realized.

The judge won election to the Nevada Supreme Court, and the murdering cop lost the appeal for which he was hoping to curry favor. The corrections officer resigned under fire, the grandmother got her house back, and the prosecutor got a small fine for his part in cheating the senior citizen.

But state prosecutors had other plans for the informant. They charged him with crimes they said he committed while securing the loan he had to have to get his other cases dropped — all the while under the supervision of law enforcement, and, the informant says, with their knowledge.

The entire matter raises questions: Did a police informant trick his handlers? Or was the informant double-crossed by police?

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is examining the conduct of two detectives who handled the investigation.

SCHEMING FROM JAIL

Ronald Mortensen had an idea, one he hoped would spring him from jail and prison cells he had been sitting in for a decade.

Mortensen was sentenced to life without parole in 1997 for the drive-by shooting of a man outside his home. The shooting occurred a day before Mortensen’s 31st birthday. He came back to Las Vegas from an Ohio prison in March 2005 to await an appeal proceeding.

In local lockup, where he would fester for more than three years, Mortensen got hooked on the notion that the judge presiding over the matter could be bought.

Nancy Saitta, then a Clark County district judge, was embroiled in a bitter campaign against Chief Justice Nancy Becker for a seat on the state Supreme Court.

Before his court date in September 2006, Mortensen schemed to funnel money to Saitta, who could order a new trial and possibly do him other favors.

"She’s trying to get elected fair and square," Mortensen later told his cellmate. "We’re just trying to get her the money to do that."

BILKER AND BOY SCOUT

In jail, Mortensen found a willing party to his scheme. Or so he thought.

Bronx-born Edward Gould, 6-foot-7 and pushing 300 pounds, had several aliases from his days as a semi-professional wrestler, Big Shot Gould and Eddie Mountainman among them.

A notorious con artist, Gould in the early 1990s was convicted of federal charges of running a telemarketing scam that cheated seniors out of millions of dollars. Gould later told Congress about how con artists operate and thrive.

Mortensen and Gould had a passing relationship years earlier through a mutual girlfriend.

They were reunited behind bars, where Gould was in on several state charges.

"OK, so you were nailed for racketeering. Doesn’t mean you can’t make an honest deal," Mortensen told Gould.

Mortensen thought he had lined up another participant, Kenneth Long, a friend and a North Las Vegas prosecutor earning $109,000 a year.

Long, who recently had waged a losing campaign for a Henderson judgeship, had written the first 100 pages of a book about Mortensen’s murder case. He visited Mortensen at least 15 times in jail.

Long, a Boy Scout leader who worked a year for the FBI in Idaho in the late 1990s, was seemingly above reproach.

Gould, however, gravitated to dubious endeavors.

And as he so often did when he stumbled upon a provocative one, he ran to the authorities.

GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE

Six months earlier, Mortensen, with the help of Long, had wrested ownership of a beach home on California’s Central Coast from Mortensen’s ailing grandmother, Doris Cossovel.

The four-bedroom house in San Luis Obispo County had belonged to Cossovel since 1961, but Mortensen saw it as his rightful inheritance.

He sent Long with a handful of documents to Cossovel’s senior care facility in Las Vegas to plead his case.

Long brought a note from his friend: "If you still want me to have the things you and Grandpa George wished for me to have — including the beach house in Morro Bay/Cayucos, California … then I really need for you to sign the testamentary and quick-claim documents I’ve had Ken Long bring over for your signature."

After Long’s fourth visit, Cossovel transferred title of the home to Mortensen.

The transfer was contested, however, by Mortensen’s mother and stepfather. His mother was Cossovel’s legal guardian.

While it was still his, Mortensen unloaded the house on jail mate Gould, who proclaimed himself a real estate expert.

The two men brainstormed on possible uses for the money Mortensen would get from selling the house for a pittance to Gould.

When Mortensen came up with an intriguing plan, Gould went to police.

Tell us more, police replied.

What’s in it for me, Gould wanted to know.

The answer: Every one of Gould’s pending cases would go away within a few weeks.

THE TARGETS

Gould scrapped his original plan to resell the house and sought a home-improvement loan against its equity.

The move was part of his and Mortensen’s deal, a way to equip both with immediate cash.

Gould showed investigators letters from Mortensen that detailed how and to whom Mortensen’s part of the loan money was to be dispensed.

He said Mortensen wanted Long to give cash to Saitta’s husband, Joe, the recently retired head of the Secret Service’s Las Vegas office. Long would get a share, and $100,000 ultimately would reach Saitta’s campaign coffers.

Long knew Joe Saitta. Long later told investigators they had talked over lunch about Mortensen’s case and about Long’s interest in working for the Secret Service.

Long wrote an e-mail to Mortensen’s wife, Zoe: "I keep in contact with her (Saitta’s) husband and have told her my feelings about Ron’s case, basically that his conviction is a wad of shit."

The FBI and Las Vegas police launched an investigation, naming both Saittas, Mortensen and Long as subjects.

The FBI was especially interested in the judge, who a month earlier was profiled in a Los Angeles Times series about apparent judicial favoritism in Nevada. The newspaper reported that Nancy Saitta was known to take campaign contributions from lawyers with cases assigned to her courtroom.

Her name also had surfaced in the 2006 political corruption trial of ex-strip club mogul Michael Galardi, who alleged she favored club owners in a lawsuit after he gave $10,000 to her campaign. She denied the allegation, though campaign finance records show she took money from Galardi.

‘GOOD POLITICS’

FBI Special Agent Vicki Correia was assigned the case.

So were two detectives from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Robert Whiteley and Michael Ford. The detectives were stars who later investigated University Medical Center CEO Lacy Thomas.

Whiteley and Mortensen knew each other well.

Whiteley, the Review-Journal reported in 1998, told a federal grand jury about his friendship with Mortensen and Mortensen’s partner, Christopher Brady. Whiteley served as backup to both officers. Whiteley and Mortensen were about the same age and went through the police academy together.

The investigation soon would become a tangled world of cops, ex-cops, informants and their handlers.

Shortly after his interview with local and federal agents, Gould was put in Mortensen’s cell and outfitted with a wire.

There, the men fleshed out the bribery scheme.

In one recorded conversation, Mortensen told Gould he thought Nancy Saitta had a strong legal basis to rule in his favor.

Gould responded: "Then 100,000 more says she’s really in your favor."

Mortensen: "Yeah, then 100 grand really gets her predilections going, you know … I’m hoping we can get it all together, dude."

Mortensen called the scheme "good politics."

"It’s only illegal if we tell on ourselves, if we get ourselves caught," he said.

Over the next weeks, Mortensen told on himself again and again, on recordings and in letters to people on the outside.

NECESSARY LIES?

It was July 2006. Mortensen’s hearing before Saitta was set for Sept. 1.

The FBI reported that "time is of the essence in coordinating payments before Mortensen’s appeal in front of Judge Saitta."

Gould’s handlers encouraged him to keep playing his part.

But to do so, he needed to get the loan.

"There were meetings where they said you don’t get out until you get the money," said John Parris, his court-appointed attorney at the time.

So Gould got the money.

He shopped for a loan from his jail cell, with help from his mother, a local bail bondsman, and assorted others who spent dozens of hours on the phone coordinating with each other.

Within a few weeks, it was nearly his.

But there was one last thing: The lender needed Gould to meet some conditions, including showing he was employed and related to Mortensen.

Gould was going to do what it took to get the loan, so he lied on the form. He said that he worked for the bail bondsman and that he was Mortensen’s stepson.

Gould’s dealings caught the attention of an elder-abuse detective who was investigating the transfer and retransfer of Cossovel’s home.

The day before Gould’s loan was final, his police handlers confronted him about the other detective’s investigation.

The bribery investigation continued, but the accusations would come back to bite Gould later.

So would former cop Mortensen’s relationship with an officer at the jail.

A SWEETHEART DEAL

On July 21, 2006, a Friday, attorney Parris deposited $234,290 in a Bank of America trust account, the amount of Gould’s loan minus a tax lien.

All subsequent withdrawals, including some for Gould’s personal expenses, were monitored by police, Parris said.

Gould’s loan was for less money than expected, so Mortensen adjusted the amount to go to Saitta. It was now $40,000.

Gould spoke by phone with Parris about a meeting the attorney had with Whiteley.

Parris said: "He was somewhat pleased with what we, what I had done regarding what we had taken care of regarding the house. He had some questions about whether the bank account was sound and I told him, yes, that everything’s good."

That Monday, on the recommendation of the district attorney’s office, District Judge Sally Loehrer dismissed seven felony cases against Gould and sentenced him to probation on another four.

Eleven cases and no prison time despite a pre-sentencing report from the state Division of Parole and Probation saying the agency "believes a prison term is the only appropriate sentence in this case."

And that recommendation was for just one of the cases.

At sentencing, Loehrer expressed surprise at the leniency of the plea deal offered by prosecutor Bill Kephart.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lalli said: "Sometimes people are waiting for something to happen before someone gets sentenced."

LET’S MEET UP

Gould walked out of the jail and into the office of the FBI, where he spent the next two days reaching out to Long.

During a taped call, Long reiterated his dissatisfaction with Mortensen’s murder conviction.

Brady, the cop whose truck Mortensen was riding in on the night of the shooting, was a key witness against him at trial. Questions about Brady’s involvement in the incident nagged at Long.

Long told Gould: "I think Metro just whitewashed this whole thing. And you know Ron, I know Ron, tell me he’s not smart enough if he was the shooter to come and say I was drunk and stupid, and capped off a round? He’d do five years, tops."

The conversation then turned to an exchange of cash.

Gould: "I just got out the other day and Ron wants me to meet up with you and give you the money."

The felon and the then-prosecutor arranged to meet at a Boulder Station hotel room a couple of nights later.

On the day of the meeting, attorney Parris, accompanied by an FBI special agent and Las Vegas police detectives, went to the Bank of America branch on South Fourth Street and withdrew $40,000 in cash.

Almost everyone involved had met before.

Long and Gould never had.

The lack of trust between them proved problematic.

CASH DOESN’T CHANGE HANDS

It was about 10 in the evening when Gould, cash in hand, got together with Long in a fifth-floor room at Boulder Station.

On the bed was a black leather bag full of money.

With police down the hall, Gould handed Long a letter from Mortensen.

Long read it aloud: "Ed’s giving you forty thousand dollars. Please use thirty thousand towards the contributions we spoke about, and keep ten thousand for yourself, as we discussed."

Long didn’t question what he read, didn’t ask what "contributions" meant.

Still, he was reluctant to take the money.

He grew uncomfortable: "Every time Ron calls, it’s this and that, it’s information overload. When I go see him, I make a list of things he wants me to do and I do it."

He then said he thought the $40,000 was to go into a money market account, to be partly used to pay for Mortensen’s appeals.

A clearly surprised Gould said he believed the money was for another purpose.

Prodded by Gould, Long mentioned the Saittas only once during the first part of the meeting.

Long said: "I met with Joe Saitta … the question is what kind of influence he has over Nancy."

After 30 minutes, Long left the hotel room. He wanted to visit Mortensen at the jail, to clear up the money matter.

Las Vegas police declined to give the Review-Journal jail visitation logs to show whether that meeting took place. Neither would they share records of law enforcement visits to Gould.

Later that night, Long returned to the hotel, but he and Gould still couldn’t agree on what the cash was for.

Near the end of the meeting, Long said: "Personally, I think giving the money (to Saitta) would backfire on him. If he told me, ‘I want to contribute to her campaign,’ I’d say, ‘You better not. If so, do it anonymously.’"

Long left the room empty-handed.

COVER BLOWN

A day after Long and Gould met, Parris redeposited $40,000 in the bank, where it would remain.

Mortensen, meanwhile, hadn’t heard back from Gould or Long and was getting impatient.

He contacted Gould’s mother, Rena Kopystenski, complaining about her son: "I wasn’t able to go into every detail with Ken of what to do with the money, which we all know is (for) Nancy … I’m not the one (expletive) up concerning Nancy’s piece."

Mortensen scolded his former cellmate in a letter the next day: "You decided not to pay Joe & Nancy, not me!"

A few days later, Mortensen’s tone changed.

In another letter to Kopystenski, herself a former cop and convict, Mortensen said a corrections officer told him that Gould was a police informant.

"Reliable sources told him that Ed was ‘wearing a wire’ on me," Mortensen wrote.

Clark County corrections officer Brian Hurych later resigned amid allegations that he blew Gould’s cover, said Las Vegas police Deputy Chief Leroy Kirkegard.

Hurych said in a phone interview that he did not intentionally tip off Mortensen, but jokingly speculated to him that Gould might have been wearing a wire.

Hurych now works in real estate in Oregon.

Mindful that police were investigating him for attempted bribery, Mortensen backtracked about his plans to pay off Nancy Saitta.

The meeting in the hotel room hadn’t gone the way police expected, but what Mortensen now knew put the faltering investigation in even deeper trouble.

Another one would soon begin, though.

I CAN EXPLAIN

A week after Mortensen learned of Gould’s cooperation with police, and nearly two weeks after Long and Gould met at the hotel, police sat down with Long.

Long proceeded to explain everything he had done over the past several months.

Regarding the $40,000 at the hotel, Long "wanted any money exchange to be in a lawyer’s office and with a receipt," according to a report of the interview.

But police knew from Long’s conversations with Gould that he willingly met at the hotel. They were there, in fact.

As for an attempt to bribe a judge, Long pleaded ignorance.

"Long again stated that none of the money was for a bribe," the report continued. "Gould told Long that he and Mortensen had talked about campaign contributions. The first time that Long had heard about any campaign contributions was when he met with Gould. Mortensen would know that Long would not participate in any bribery."

If police thought something nefarious had been brewing. Long quickly convinced them they were wrong.

In fact, he apparently persuaded them they were looking at the wrong guy.

INFORMANT NO. 2

Police wired Long and sent him into the jail to talk to Mortensen.

His mission: To find out whether Mortensen — or Gould — was trying to bribe Nancy Saitta.

There were now two informants, Gould and Long, working at cross-purposes.

Long, former target and current informant, made things easy on Mortensen.

At the jail, he said to his friend: "You and I have been friends for three years. Man, I send you pictures of my kids. Just tell me honestly, are you trying or is Ed trying to bribe a judge?"

"No, no, I’m not trying to bribe anybody, Ken," Mortensen said.

"Then what contributions are mentioned?" in your letter, Long asked.

"I thought that was the operative word for him to give you the money, and then I was going to get the money … I’m not doing anything illegal."

After seven postponements, Mortensen’s appeal of his murder conviction finally took place more than two years after he was brought back to Las Vegas. It was denied by Judge Douglas Herndon. Mortensen now plans another appeal to the state Supreme Court.

IN THE END, NOTHING

The same day as Long and Mortensen’s conversation, the FBI referred a public corruption case to federal prosecutors, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. The U.S. attorney’s office later declined to prosecute that case, at the request of the FBI. No further details on the case are available.

Daniel Bogden, who was U.S. attorney at that time, said in an interview that investigations sputter for a variety of reasons.

"It’s difficult when you’re in the middle of an investigation," Bogden said. "There are calls that have to be made, maybe you have an informant who isn’t credible."

FBI spokesman David Staretz said in an interview this month that investigators found no evidence that Nancy Saitta even knew of the bribery plot.

"The allegations against the judge were deemed not to be credible," he said.

Staretz referred further questions about the bribery investigation to Las Vegas police.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Assistant Sheriff Mike McClary, who oversees the department’s public corruption investigations, declined comment on the inquiry.

He said the police department’s internal affairs branch is investigating a complaint Gould filed against Detectives Ford and Whiteley.

Long, 38, couldn’t be reached for comment at his most recent office and home addresses or by e-mail.

After an exchange of letters, Mortensen called a reporter at the Review-Journal.

When asked whether he tried to bribe a judge, he said, "It never happened. Gould duped me. And he duped the police."

No evidence available to the Review-Journal shows that authorities ever questioned the Saittas about the plot allegations.

The Review-Journal asked Nancy Saitta in writing whether she was aware of, or had been interviewed by authorities in connection with, the bribery investigation.

She declined comment, citing judicial ethics rules that prohibit judges from discussing situations involving defendants with pending cases.

Joe Saitta also declined comment.

UNHAPPY TRAILS

In the wake of the collapse of the bribery investigation, police took as possible evidence what was left in Gould’s Bank of America trust account, about $91,000.

The bribery investigation was over, but the FBI and Las Vegas police chose to take the probe in another direction.

They examined the dealings involving Cossovel’s home and the steps Gould took to get his loan.

A week after Gould and Long met in the hotel room, Mortensen’s mother, Sandra Adamson, interviewed with Las Vegas police and denied signing a deed that gifted the house to Gould.

Adamson, Cossovel’s trustee, sued Gould and Mortensen and regained possession of her mother’s house

In March 2007, Gould was charged with theft and forgery, for lying on his loan application and forging Adamson’s signature. He could not post $100,000 bond and remained in custody for eight months. He faces up to 14 years in prison, if convicted on both charges. Gould has pleaded innocent.

The charges surprised Parris.

"They could have parted ways and said happy trails, but that didn’t happen," Parris said.

Mortensen and Long were indicted on elder abuse charges.

Long pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit elder abuse, a gross misdemeanor. He was fined $2,000. His law license was suspended by the Nevada Supreme Court earlier this month.

Just as Gould was becoming a target of investigators, Nancy Saitta defeated incumbent Becker to secure a seat on the state Supreme Court.

WHAT HAPPENED?

The only public record of Gould’s work as a police informant are court documents that make passing reference to his work for the police on the bribery and other investigations.

A declaration of warrant for his arrest, filed by Whiteley, acknowledges that Gould’s tips about the bribery scheme were solid.

"Detectives were able to confirm the validity of the potential criminal act through investigative techniques. Edward Gould was told he needed to provide a full and honest disclosure" in reference to "the information concerning the house and the alleged criminal act."

Were Gould’s alleged crimes committed in the course of helping the police? Or did the con man somehow con police?

Gould, now 43 and working again as a telemarketer, filed a court motion to get any evidence that could affect the credibility of law enforcement witnesses.

Through that, he got access to dozens of hours of audio and video and hundreds of pages of documents from the bribery investigation. He shared the materials with the Review-Journal.

Authorities are saying little while Mortensen’s and Gould’s cases are still pending in Clark County District Court.

Christina DiEdoardo, Gould’s attorney in his pending criminal case, said she thinks that the bribery investigation was botched and that Gould was made a scapegoat:

"No one disputes that Mr. Gould worked with police to try to expose a bribery plot. What’s in dispute is who’s to blame for the operation going south. This is a case of authorities prosecuting someone who helped them."

Contact reporter Alan Maimon at amaimon @reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0404.

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