White-Collar Crime

Former judge gets 26 months in federal case over $2.9M investment scheme

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A former Nevada family court judge accused of using his position to help his ex brother-in-law and others bilk some 50 investors out of nearly $3 million was sentenced Wednesday to 26 months in federal prison.

Steven Jones, 57, pleaded guilty last year to one count of wire fraud conspiracy and agreed to resign from the Clark County Family Court bench and give up his law license. As part of his plea deal, the government agreed to seek no more than a 27-month sentence. The probation department recommended 63 months behind bars, according to the Associated Press and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Jones apologized in court. “I can assure you that I will never find myself in a position like this again,” he told U.S. District Judge Jennifer Dorsey. In addition to his prison term he is also responsible, along with the other defendants in the scheme, for paying $2.9 million in restitution.

Prosecutors said he misused his position as a judge when supporting a decade-long fraud scheme in which his former brother-in-law, Thomas Cecrle, was the central figure. They say Jones also shielded Cecrle from legal consequences.

Between 2002 and 2012, victims were persuaded to “invest” by claims that Cercle was a government employee with access to special programs that would provide fantastic returns on short-term loans, the government alleged in a 2012 indictment. In actuality, he was unemployed and had a history of being sued over failed investments. The defendants claimed to need the money for real estate and water-rights deals, but actually used it for gambling and personal expenses, the feds said.

Jones was accused by prosecutors of laundering money from the scheme in a joint account he maintained with Cecrle; falsely assuring victims that his brother-in-law was legitimate; and using his influence to get Cecrle out of a Clark County bad-check case linked to the scheme, in addition to repaying the checks, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported last week.

Jones “used the public trust inherent to his office to cloak Cecrle in the garb of legitimacy, all the while knowing that Cecrle was a fraud,” prosecutors wrote in a presentencing memorandum. It said Jones met with at least one victim in chambers and accepted money from another victim in a family court parking lot.

The judge was first elected to the bench in 1992.

Cecrle also pleaded guilty. His sentencing is scheduled next week.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Previously suspended after fraud indictment, judge gets 3 months without pay in separate ethics case”

ABAJournal.com: “Judge plans to take plea in case over $3M investment-fraud scheme, his lawyer says”

ABAJournal.com: “Ex-judge likely headed to prison is expected to get pension of up to $150K annually”

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