Clark County Family Court Judge and Five Others Charged in Investment Fraud Scheme
Las Vegas, Nev. – A Clark County family court judge and five other individuals have been charged with conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering crimes for devising and participating in an investment fraud scheme in which they obtained over $3 million from victims, announced Daniel G. Bogden, United States Attorney for the District of Nevada.
Steven E. Jones, 54, an elected District Judge in Clark County, Thomas A. Cecrle, Jr., 55, and Terry J. Wolfe, 57, all of Henderson, Nev., Constance C. Fenton, 68, of Gig Harbor, Wash., Mark L. Hansen, 54, of Corvallis, Ore., and Ashlee M. Martin, 38, of Las Vegas, are charged in a criminal indictment 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. The indictment was returned on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012, and unsealed today following the arrest of defendant Cecrle at his residence in Henderson.
"Protecting the American people from fraud is a top priority for today's Justice Department," said U.S. Attorney Bogden. "Latest reports from the FBI reveal an unprecedented rise in investment fraud schemes, involving thousands of victims and staggering losses. Since 2011, 15 persons have been charged, convicted, or sentenced in Nevada for federal investment fraud crimes, and the total reported amount cheated from victims tops more than $80 million. If you think you may be a victim of investor fraud, please call your local FBI office for assistance."
According to the indictment, from about September 2002 to October 2012, the defendants allegedly induced individuals to loan them money under the guise that they would be re-paid quickly and would earn high rates of interest. In order to execute the scheme, the defendants conveyed a fictitious story to victims that Cecrle held a special position with the federal government and had access to public officials and secret government programs. The defendants told victims that Cecrle had special interests and property rights in Arizona and Nevada, including water rights in northern Arizona, land rights on the Las Vegas strip, and access to World War I bonds, but that short-term loans or cash investments were needed to secure the rights. In truth, the indictment alleges that Cecrle was unemployed, and did not hold any position with the government or possess the special interests or rights the defendants espoused. Additionally, the indictment alleges that the defendants had no intention of ever repaying the individuals back as promised and sought only to enrich themselves at the expense of their victims.
The defendants solicited victims by mail, telephone, and over the internet, typically asking for odd sums of money in amounts of less than $10,000. The defendants claimed the loans were needed urgently, and asked the victims to deposit money directly into at least 10 different bank accounts the defendants maintained. The defendants promised the victims that they would repay them at a rate of return in excess of several thousand percentage points. The defendants quickly converted the investor funds to their own purposes, such as living and gambling expenses, and then returned to their victims to solicit more money, falsely claiming that circumstances had intervened to prevent the investment from being fully realized and that additional money was needed to conclude the transaction. By repeating this process with numerous victims, the defendants obtained more than $3 million in proceeds from the fraud.
The indictment alleges that when investors became disgruntled and questioned the legitimacy of their investments, the defendants lulled them into a false sense of security by referring them to Jones, a sitting Nevada district court judge. Judge Jones allegedly used his office to vouch for Cecrle and the investment scheme, even though he knew the scheme was a fraud and that investors had never been paid. Jones allegedly met with investors in his chambers, over the telephone and elsewhere, and intervened on behalf of Cecrle to prevent or delay legal processes against Cecrle. Jones fielded telephone calls from Cecrle in chambers, drafted and reviewed documents associated with the sham investments, and received cash proceeds from the scheme at the courthouse where he presided over cases. Jones also established and maintained a joint bank account with Cecrle through which they received and laundered over $250,000 in proceeds from the fraud.
The case is being investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven W. Myhre.
Defendants in investment fraud prosecutions use a variety of tactics and schemes, but they often take the same approach, guaranteeing high returns and, in many instances, providing falsified investment documents to victims. For tips on how to spot investor scams and for more information on investor fraud in general, please visit: www.stopfraud.gov.
Today's announcement is part of efforts underway by President Obama's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) which was created in November 2009 to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.
An indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to fair trials at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.