Clark County family court judge pleads guilty to fraud

September 17, 2014

Today a suspended Clark County family court judge entered a guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to carry out wire fraud, stemming from an investment scheme worth close to $3 million. In return for Judge Steven Jones entering the plea, several related charges were dismissed. Jones has also promised to step down from his judgeship and give up his bar card.

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Jones' sentencing is scheduled for January 26, 2015, where prosecutors will ask that he be sentenced to prison for no longer than 27 months. At that time the judge will also determine restitution. Had Jones gone to trial instead and been found guilty, the judge could have imposed a 12 year prison sentence.

Jones' is one of six defendants indicted two years ago in this fraudulent scheme. Four are pleading guilty today, and one entered a plea last month. The fraud allegedly spanned ten years, and the defendants reportedly deceived people to lend them money in order to buy property and water rights. For more on this case, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/las-vegas/suspended-family-court-judge-jones-pleads-guilty-26m-fraud-scheme

Sparks man claims "self-defense" in trespass murder case

September 10, 2014

This past May, 73-year-old retired school teacher Wayne Burgarello shot two people allegedly trespassing in his Sparks home. Neither of the alleged trespassers were armed, and one of them died from the shooting. Today Burgarello pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder and attempted murder.

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Burgarello's home is a duplex that has been frequently burglarized. He reportedly claims he was acting in accordance with Nevada's "self-defense" laws. Burgarello's bail was initially set at 2 million dollars but was eventually reduced to $150,000, which allowed him to bail out this past August.

This case is another in a string of incidents that calls attention to Nevada's "stand your ground" laws. The next court hearing in this case is October 15, 2014. For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/not-guilty-plea-sparks-trespass-killing

Reno shootout ends with robbery suspect dead

September 2, 2014

On Sunday an alleged robbery incident in Reno culminated with a shootout between the police and suspect, who died from the police's gunshots. The suspect reportedly was robbing a CVS when he shot another shopper, who sustained non-lethal injuries. The suspect then drove away, and a police chase ensued during which they blew out one of the tires of the suspect's car.

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The gunbattle between the cops and suspect took place near the Peppermill Resort and Spa Casino. No police officers were shot or otherwise injured. Witnesses reported hearing around 30 gunshots.

Currently the matter is being investigated by the police departments in Reno and Sparks, the D.A.'s office, and the sheriff's office. The officers who carried out the shootout have been put on administrative leave, which is a routine procedure in cases like this. For more on this story, read: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/reno-robbery-suspect-dies-after-shootout-police

Nevada considering more than 500 applications for medical marijuana establishments.

August 27, 2014

To date, the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health has received 502 applications from hopeful medical marijuana establishment owners. The close-to-200 applicants for dispensaries are competing for only 66 slots available statewide. The rest of the applicants propose to open cultivation facilities, production facilities or testing laboratories.

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The majority of medical marijuana facility applicants are from Clark County. All applicants were required to submit a $5,000 fee in order to be considered. The state will likely decide which applicants are accepted by this November.

Applicants ultimately accepted by both state and local government to open a medical marijuana facility are required to pay another fee, this time for $30,000. It is expected that the first dispensaries will begin operation early next year. For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/nevada-medical-pot-applicants-grow-502

9th Circuit overturns ruling denying inmate eye surgery

August 18, 2014

Last week the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a District Court ruling that would prevent 67-year-old inmate John Colwell from getting cataract surgery. The Ninth Circuit Circuit considered Colwell's condition serious and the denial of medical treatment as cruel and unusual punishment.
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Colwell cataracts caused his right eye to go blind twelve years ago. He has since injured his hand doing prison work, and the injuries may have been caused by his impaired vision. If he ultimately gets the surgery, it may cost the prison more than $3,230.

Colwell is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole at the Southern Desert Correctional Center. Elderly inmates represent less than six percent of the prison population, but the cost of their medical care represents a significant portion of the prison's budget. In America, housing elderly inmates comes at a cost of $16 billion.

For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/nevada-inmate-denied-cataract-surgery-wins-ruling

Nevada road-rage driver gets possible life in prison.

August 11, 2014

In Carson City last week, a District judge sentenced 28-year-old Leonardo Cardoza to a possible life sentence for the first-degree murder committed in a bout of road rage. The victim was a teenage girl.

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The incident occurred in early 2013 when the defendant began tailgating the victim. After the victim pulled over and exited the car, Cardoza drove into her, causing fatal injuries.

Cardoza is expected to appeal the murder conviction on account that he was too drunk to premeditate a murder. Cardoza will be eligible for parole after serving 29 years of his sentence.

For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/crime-courts/man-sentenced-carson-city-road-rage-death

Burning Man may cause increase in bike thefts

August 7, 2014

Reno police believe the annual Burning Man festival may prompt a surge in bicycle thefts. Authorities see a substantial increase in stolen bike cases leading up to the week-long event, which commences on August 25th. Since Burning Man takes place in the desolate Black Rock Desert playa, festival-goers use bikes as their primary mode of transportation.


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However, some believe the rise in bike thefts has nothing to do with Burning Man. Rather, there has been an increase in people using bikes to travel around Reno, and this increase naturally correlates with a rise in bike thefts. Furthermore, Burning Man provides free bike rentals to dissuade thefts.

Stealing a bike qualifies as the Nevada crime of larceny. If the bike is worth less than $650, it is petty larceny and carries up to 6 months in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines. If the bike is valued at $650 to under $3,500, then it is grand larceny and a category C felony, carrying up to 5 years in Nevada State Prison and maybe up to $10,000 in fines. Otherwise, bike theft is category B grand larceny carrying up to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

For more on this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/rise-reno-bike-thefts-linked-burning-man-police-say

Indictment expected for pastor suspected of Las Vegas murder

Last week a Nevada murder charge was dismissed against thirty-five-year-old California pastor Robert Cox in anticipation of a grand jury indictment in the near future. Cox is suspected of causing the death of a fifty-five-year-old man during an alleged altercation last year outside Four Kegs on Jones and the I-95. The victim languished in Summerlin Hospital Medical Center for months before dying.

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The incident took place while Cox participated in a ministry outreach trip in Las Vegas with members of the Place or Refuge Church of Manteca. The victim reportedly approached the group in the parking lot, and a fight broke out. The victim fell backwards and sustained severe head trauma. Authorities ruled his death a homicide because the initial cause of his injuries was the alleged argument.

Cox claims his story of what happened that night never changed, and that he is trusting God as the legal process plays itself out. He and his wife are hoping to adopt more children once the case is over. To learn more about this story, go to: http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/nevada/judge-dismisses-murder-charge-against-california-pastor-grand-jury-still-hearing-case


800,000 criminal records missing from Nevada repository

Nevada's criminal information repository is reportedly missing records of more than 800,000 criminal cases from the past 20 years. According to a 2011 study done by MTG Management Consultants, the state's law enforcement agencies and courts have been derelict in forwarding the case information to the repository.

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The dearth of criminal records means that employers, licensing agencies, and gun dealers who run background checks may get an incomplete report. Furthermore, the Department of Parole and Probation may lack sufficient information to recommend an appropriate sentence. In addition, wardens may not be able to accurately determine where to house an inmate if there is no data that speaks to his/her proclivity towards violence.

Various factors may have contributed to the failure of police and courts to send records to the repository including insufficient resources and ignorance of the reporting regulations. The repository is set to hire 20 new employees to input the backlog's data, which is estimated to take 4 more years.

For more on this story, go to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

$2 million bail set for retired teacher charged with murder

Last week a Reno judge set a $2 million bail for 73-year-old Wayne Burgarello, a former teacher, who is charged with murdering an unarmed trespasser and attempting to murder another earlier this year. Burgarello claims he shot the victims in self-defense in alliance with Nevada’s "stand your ground" law.

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Burgarello owned several weapons including long-barreled guns, hand guns, knives and brass knuckles (which people are not allowed to possess in Nevada). He says that the male victim physically threatened him, though the prosecution argues the defendant never faced a threat to his safety.

It may not be possible for Burgarello to make bail since his assets total only $150,000. While he is in jail, the state will also shoulder the burden of administering his medication.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 26th. It is expected that victim Janai Wilson will testify how she and the other victim were asleep when Burgarello walked in on them and began yelling at them prior to the shooting.

For more on this story, go to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Man gets up to 20 years for attempting to kill stepfather

This week 22-year-old Michael Bessey was sentenced to 8 to 20 years in Nevada State Prison for attempted murder of his stepfather, Robert Bessey. In November 2012, Michael Bessey shot Robert Bessey in the back of his head while he was driving along I-15 near the Valley of Fire. Michael Bessey made the shot from a car that belonged to the victim’s brother-in-law’s girlfriend. Robert Bessey survived.

Michael Bessey had no criminal history, which is a mitigating circumstance that may prompt a judge to impose a more lenient penalty. However, Judge Nancy Becker took into consideration that Michael Bessey's shooting occurred on an open road, which endangered the lives of others.

Earlier in 2014, Michael Bessey pleaded guilty to the attempted murder. His uncle also pleaded guilty and received the same prison sentence. And his mother was convicted by a jury last year and was sentenced to up to 44 years in Nevada State Prison.

Read more about this story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Dead Nevada prisoner has murder conviction reversed

Last week the Nevada Supreme Court reversed a dead inmate’s murder conviction on appeal due to a procedural error in his trial. Five-and-a-half years ago Ronnie Brass was sentenced to life in Nevada State Prison for killing Earnest Mitchell, though two years ago Brass was murdered himself while in custody.

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Had Brass lived, the Nevada Supreme Court’s decision would allow him to get a new trial. Nevada Supreme Court Justice Michael Douglas wrote that,

“Although the appellant is deceased, rectifying a constitutional error nevertheless benefits society because it decreases the chances that another person would fall victim to the same error.”

Ronnie’s brother Jermaine Brass was sentenced to life as well in the same case, and he received a new trial on the same procedural grounds that let to Ronnie Brass’s successful appeal. During the original trial, an African-American juror was dismissed discriminatorily, which is a constitutional error that warrants a reversal of conviction and new trial. Jermaine Brass remains in custody.

This case is significant because deceased defendants in criminal cases have not been allowed to have convictions reversed on appeal. However, the Nevada Supreme Court’s actions show that such appeals may be heard as long as a personal representative of the defendant is named—in this case, the defendant’s mother.

Read more about this story in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.