Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 | 11:56 a.m.
A Clark County district judge is among six people charged in an investment fraud scheme that allegedly bilked victims of more than $3 million, Nevada’s U.S. Attorney Daniel G. Bogden announced Wednesday.
A criminal indictment unsealed Wednesday charges 54-year-old Judge Steven E. Jones with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, two counts of engaging in money transactions in criminally derived property and nine counts of money laundering, officials said. His co-defendants, who face the same charges, are Thomas A. Cecrle Jr., 55, Terry J. Wolfe, 57, Constance C. Fenton, 68, Mark L. Hansen, 54, and Ashlee M. Martin, 38.
Jones, Cecrle and Wolfe reside in Henderson, officials said. Fenton is from Gig Harbor, Wash.; Hansen is from Corvallis, Ore.; and Martin is from Las Vegas.
Jones, who earned his juris doctorate from California Western School of Law, was elected to the bench of District Court's family division in 1992, according to his biography posted on a Clark County courts website. He was the first presiding judge for Family Court when it commenced.
The criminal indictment alleges the defendants, from September 2002 to October of this year, induced individuals to loan them money under the notion that they would be repaid quickly and would earn high rates of interest.
The defendants allegedly told victims Cecrle held a position with the federal government that provided him access to public officials and secret government programs. They also allegedly said Cecrle had special interests and property rights in Arizona and Nevada, such as water rights in northern Arizona, land rights on the Las Vegas Strip and access to World War I bonds, but they needed short-term loans or cash investments to secure the rights.
Cecrle, however, was unemployed and did not hold any government position or possess the special rights and interests the defendants alleged.
The defendants — who typically solicited victims by mail, telephone and over the Internet for money in amounts less than $10,000 — never intended to repay the victims, instead using the money to enrich themselves, the indictment alleges.
The defendants told the victims the loans were needed urgently and asked them to deposit money in at least 10 different bank accounts they maintained, according to the indictment. They promised victims repayments at a rate of return exceeding several thousand percentage points.
Instead, the defendants converted the investor funds for their own purposes, such as living and gambling expenses — only to return and solicit more money from victims, falsely claiming that circumstances had prevented the investment from being fully realized and that additional money would conclude the transaction, according to the indictment.
They repeated the process with numerous victims, obtaining more than $3 million in the process, officials said.
Jones allegedly used his capacity as a judge to vouch for Cecrle when disgruntled investors questioned the legitimacy of their investments, according to the indictment.
Jones, who allegedly knew the scheme was a fraud, met with investors in his chambers, over the phone and elsewhere, intervening on behalf of Cecrle to prevent and delay legal actions against him, officials said. Jones also allegedly fielded phone calls from Cecrle in chambers, drafted and reviewed documents associated with the sham investments and received cash proceeds from the scheme at the courthouse.
The indictment alleges Jones established and maintained a joint bank account with Cecrle through which they received and laundered more than $250,000 from the fraudulent scheme.
Authorities arrested Cecrle, Wolfe and Martin Wednesday morning in Henderson and Las Vegas, and Hansen was arrested in Oregon. It was not clear Wednesday morning whether Jones, who mounted an unsuccessful run in 1996 for the Nevada Supreme Court, had been taken into custody.