A Slain Reporter, a City of Sin, a Politician Charged With Murder

From a New York Times story by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Mike Baker headlined  “A Slain Reporter, a City of Sin, and a Politician Charged With Murder”:

As one of four reporters on the investigative team of Las Vegas’s main newspaper, Jeff German wrote stories that reached nearly every sordid corner of Sin City.

Even as old-school reporting jobs dwindled, Mr. German’s watchdog articles and columns pried back the curtain on mobsters, crooked politicians, casino titans and just about anyone who misused wealth or power in the city. In the last few years, he had scrutinized lavish spending by the city’s tourism agency, claims of sexual harassment at the coroner’s office and allegations that the Las Vegas Raiders football organization had violated discrimination and labor laws.

After four decades of surviving reporting on the most unsavory characters in a city with a reputation for mob-linked murders, there was little reason to think that Mr. German, 69, would be in danger when he turned his attention earlier this year to an obscure government office where some employees claimed their boss was a bully. The article didn’t even run on the front page.

But the authorities now say that the boss in that story, Robert Telles, went to Mr. German’s home on a quiet cul-de-sac this month and stabbed him to death, months after the exposé that may have cost him re-election was published. Mr. Telles has not yet entered a plea, and his lawyer has not responded to requests for comment.

The killing has rattled and outraged the readers, journalists and sources who had grown to trust Mr. German’s brand of shoe leather reporting in a town where little is to be trusted, from the glittering billboards to the gamblers across poker tables.

Mr. German endured a changing industry, going from typewriters to Twitter, from one struggling newspaper to another. As news organizations across the country lost money, laid off reporters and found it harder to keep up with corruption, Mr. German continued to expose malfeasance at a remarkable pace.

He persisted through periods of blowback and intimidation, such as the time a man he interviewed had punched him in the face. The resulting gash on his lip needed stitches, he told a reporter at The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.

“Jeff was pretty fearless,” said Geoff Schumacher, who was one of Mr. German’s editors at The Las Vegas Sun in the 1990s. “Once he believed a story needed to be told, he was unwavering in wanting to get that story published.”

Mr. German first got hooked on journalism back in his native Milwaukee, where he got an internship in the late 1970s and befriended the local police reporter, Jim Romenesko.

The two of them were soon gathering after hours to get drinks at a bar called Major Goolsby’s or chasing stories off the clock, said Mr. Romenesko, who went on to a long career of his own.

“He just had that determination to get the story,” Mr. Romenesko said.

At the time, Mr. German sported a look that resembled John Travolta, with feathered hair and a shirt that exposed both his chest and a gold chain that he wore around his neck. He expressed interest in reporting on the mob and was soon headed to a new job in Las Vegas.

He quickly developed sources across the city and became known for his skill at coaxing everyone from cops to defense lawyers into trusting him with information as he wrote about organized crime, mobsters and political leaders in need of scrutiny.

In 2001, he wrote a book called “Murder in Sin City” about the killing of the casino magnate Ted Binion. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, Mr. German published an exclusive report detailing how the gunman had fired at jet fuel tanks on the ground— seemingly in hopes of causing an explosion — before opening fire on a concert below him. Last year, he co-wrote an investigation about troubles in the coroner’s office, where there were allegations of sexual harassment, retaliation and delays in autopsies.

Mr. German spent much of his career at The Las Vegas Sun, but as the newspaper went through a series of layoffs more than a decade ago, he moved over to a rival, The Las Vegas Review-Journal. That paper was having its own struggles, but Mr. German continued to produce the kind of work that made him a vital asset to the newspaper and the city.

On a breezy day this spring, when he was supposed to be taking time off, Mr. German met at a table outside of a Starbucks with two new sources. They shared about troubles in the office of the public administrator, a small department that handles the estates of dead people, wondering if Mr. German might be interested in writing an article.

Mr. German listened intently, calming their jitters and jotting notes in his notepad. He made no promises about writing a story and spent weeks after the meeting checking with other sources and vetting the employees’ accounts.

“He was interested. He was caring. He was professional,” said Rita Reid, a deputy in the office of the Clark County public administrator and one of the people who met Mr. German that day. “You could tell, he just wanted to do the right thing.”

Mr. German eventually produced a story in May that was far from a blockbuster — the agency was so obscure that few in town knew what it did — but was the kind of impactful work he was known to produce. In the story, current and former employees of Mr. Telles’s office said he had been such a bad boss that some of them had suffered headaches; they said he had played favorites, given some employees unreasonable assignments and prohibited them from using their phones. They also said he had been having an “inappropriate relationship” with an employee and that it had made the office dynamic worse.

Mr. Telles denied the claims and criticized the article in statements on Twitter and his website, but the county went on to hire a consultant to try to resolve the turmoil in the office. Mr. Telles then lost a Democratic primary campaign to Ms. Reid. Online, Mr. Telles continued to rail against Mr. German, accusing him of writing a “lying smear piece.” Mr. German discussed the online posts with his editor.

“He brushed it off and said ‘I’ve had much worse than that,’” said Rhonda Prast, an assistant managing editor at The Review-Journal who worked closely with Mr. German in recent months. “He wasn’t nervous about it. He wasn’t concerned. Neither was I.”

Journalists often face intense criticism, but Mr. German would be only the ninth journalist over the last three decades to be killed in the United States in response to their work.

In recent weeks, Mr. German had continued to report on the public administrator office, recently filing a records request for text messages and emails that Mr. Telles had sent. Ms. Reid said Mr. Telles remained infuriated by the scrutiny.

The authorities said that on a Friday morning this month, Mr. Telles, who lived about a 15-minute drive from Mr. German, went to the reporter’s house and got into some altercation with him.

The police said they had not recovered a murder weapon but that they did find Mr. Telles’s D.N.A. at the crime scene. Investigators also searched Mr. Telles’s home and car and found a hat and shoes that matched those worn by a person seen on surveillance video of the scene. Both the hat and shoes had been cut up, the police said, and the shoes had blood on them.

The man pictured on the surveillance video was wearing an orange construction vest, gloves and a large straw hat that hid his face. The police said Mr. Telles had been trying to conceal his identity. A series of road construction projects were taking place near Mr. German’s home last week, and many workers wore similar outfits.

Before he was arrested, Mr. Telles ignored reporters’ questions outside of his home.

Mr. Telles’s former wife, Tonia Burton, said she had been stunned to see that Mr. Telles had been accused of the murder.

“I’m just watching and in shock and not sure of anything,” said Ms. Burton, who was married to Mr. Telles until 2008. “I don’t think that there’s any explanation that we can come up with until he either confirms or denies that this happened.”

Ms. Burton said that two of Mr. Telles’s children had been at his home when the police showed up to search the house but had left before he was arrested. The police said Mr. Telles had hurt himself before he was taken into custody. He appeared in court on Thursday with bandages on both of his arms, and a judge ordered him to remain in jail as the case proceeded.

At The Review-Journal, Mr. German’s desk is now covered with flowers and a framed copy of a front page featuring one of the articles he wrote about irresponsible spending by the tourism agency.

Mr. German’s colleagues at the newspaper now face the difficult task of covering his murder while mourning a friend. They were among the journalists at Mr. Telles’s home, peppering him with questions in the hours before he was arrested.

The coverage of Mr. German’s death has dominated the front page of the paper that used to carry his byline. “RJ reporter is killed,” read the first headline about the crime, followed by “Suspect’s image released” and “New details in stabbing.” And then, finally, on Thursday: “Stunning arrest.”

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs reports on national news. He is from upstate New York and previously reported in Baltimore, Albany, and Isla Vista, Calif.

Mike Baker is the Seattle bureau chief, reporting primarily from the Northwest and Alaska.

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