By Thomas A. Nagy
Part One of a Series
A few months ago I was invited to review documentation regarding a
murder that took place in Las Vegas during the night of September
27-28, 2005. Exactly eight years had passed since that crime had been
committed and the primary witnesses, two women, had not been
questioned by the police about the death. An inquest conducted by a
justice of the peace and three citizen jurors had not taken place,
although that is required by Nevada Revised Statutes. From the first
moment that a coroner’s investigator arrived on the scene to the
present day, officials with the responsibility to resolve and
prosecute murders had actively obstructed the course of justice. A
cover-up lasting a full eight years was a matter of established fact.
The still-grieving mother of the victim was being followed to her
son’s gravesite whenever she made her weekly visit to honor his life.
Harassing phone calls were an on and off reminder that there is a
price to pay for seeking justice in Clark County, Nevada.
During several hours-long conversations with the victim’s mother I was
given a brief history of official corruption in Las Vegas. This was
all unfamiliar to me; I had never had a desire to visit Sin City for
any reason, and remained uninterested in details of its history of
corruption. I assumed that there was little difference between
government or public corruption in Las Vegas and the more familiar
South Florida, where I had grown to adulthood and eventually found
myself a whistle-blower regarding financial wrongdoing at the
Miami-Dade County School Board and its Building and Maintenance
Department. Firsthand, through rather painful experience, I learned
that corruption is more than tolerated and whistle-blowers are
Nevertheless, the more details I learned of this story of murder,
cover-up and the corruption of prominent people in Las Vegas, the more
compelling the tale became. Yes, I agreed, this story ought to be
told. I consented to write a book on the subject if the available
documentation were shipped to me in Portland. That was the plan. In
reviewing documents such as court papers and depositions, an outline
of the events would emerge. Details could be filled in through phone
conversations and email correspondence. In time, another plan emerged.
I would travel to Las Vegas and research the book there, visiting
pertinent sites and absorbing as much as possible the current context
and lifestyle of those involved. And that has proven to be more
viable; this city has a unique personality among American cities.
From the beginning of my exposure to this tale of murder and cover-up
I was urged to become familiar with the late Morris A. Shenker, Sr. At
first I thought this peripheral to the heart of the case. I was wrong.
The legacy of Morris Shenker is the heart of this case. He had one
living grandson at the time of his death in 1989; that grandson was
murdered in September 2005. He was, however, a victim long before his
Unknown to the vast majority of people who live in Nevada, the
achievements of Morris A. Shenker, Sr. continue to shape the landscape
and legal atmosphere of this city. Recent events such as the U.S.
Justice Department assessment of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police
Department (LVMPD) can be, at least in part, attributable to Shenker’s
legacy. Although citizens and residents complain of police tactics,
oppression and “a license to kill” unarmed persons, there is no
foreseeable remedy in the immediate future. This current understanding
that “the Clark County Sheriff rules Las Vegas” began on July 1, 1973
when the County of Clark Sheriff’s Office absorbed the City of Las
Vegas Police Department and all of its employees.
During the next six years, “Cowboy Sheriff” Ralph Lamb came to
proclaim that the era of “mob rule” of Las Vegas had ended and this
new era of civilian control had begun.
Morris Shenker fed The Bank of Las Vegas money from various insurance
funds and union pension funds, such as the Pipefitters Local Union 562
Pension Fund. This money was loaned to build casinos at a time when
other banks considered loans “too risky” because the viability of
casino hotels was unproven. Shenker made Las Vegas growth possible. He
also hired young lawyers, such as David Chesnoff and Oscar Goodman, to
whom he passed on some of his considerable legal knowledge. These are
but two of hundreds of lawyers who have come to dominate Las Vegas and
Nevada life, not always for the good of the average Nevadan. That is
evident when the LVMPD follows the advice of Chris Collins of the
LVPPA regarding police officer cooperation with internal
investigations, among other things, and lawyers such as Thomas D.
Dillard, Jr. and David Roger protect errant police.
Shenker helped establish a system of centralized power inherited by
Sheriff Bill Young by 2005. When his beloved grandson Jason Ryan
Turner was murdered that year, Young failed to take steps to
investigate that crime and presided over a growing cover-up that
continues to this day.
To be continued… Next week: The cover-up defined