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August 22, 2014

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Cops raid firm accused of extortion

Company tried to team with casinos for end runs around courts, police say

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Steven Brox

Metro Police on Tuesday raided the office of a counseling company that regularly does business at the courthouse, looking for evidence the company was involved in an alleged extortion scheme on the Strip.

The company, United States Justice Associates, is run by Steven Brox, 44, who was charged last week in a six-count criminal complaint stemming from an alleged sexual assault of one of his relatives, a 15-year-old girl.

Intelligence detectives arrived at the company’s office, at 1212 Casino Center Blvd., with search warrants at 9 a.m., said the building’s landlord, attorney Osvaldo Fumo. Police didn’t leave until 4:30 p.m., and they took away computers and other items.

Detectives late Tuesday also interviewed District Judge Doug Smith, who has been linked to the investigation, sources close to the investigation said.

United States Justice Associates is one of several companies that offer counseling programs for alcohol and drug abuse, anger management, AIDS awareness and petty larceny to those charged with misdemeanors. Most of this business is done in Justice Court. At sentencing, justices of the peace often order defendants to attend such programs as part of an effort to steer them out of the justice system and keep them from returning.

But in an eight-page affidavit, police alleged that Brox and his associates also solicited business from casinos.

They allegedly pitched a program to casinos to do an end run around law enforcement and the courts. It was to have worked like this, authorities allege: When the casinos’ security forces detained people on trespassing and other minor criminal charges, the casinos were to route those people into United States Justice Associates’ program rather than calling police to make the arrests. Once enrolled in the program, the detainees would be charged $500 and the company would kick back $100 to the casinos for each person who completed the program, the affidavit says.

The enrollees would be shown a video that police allege is “very threatening” and basically implies that the people would land in jail if they don’t complete the program, the affidavit alleges.

Deputy Chief Greg McCurdy, who is overseeing the investigation, said late Tuesday that the alleged extortion was not aimed at the casinos, but rather at those enrolled in the counseling company’s program.

McCurdy emphasized that the investigation is in its early stages.

One security chief on the Strip, "Planet Hollywood’s Calvin Abercrombie, however, voiced concerns about the company’s pitch to detectives and laid out details of how Brox approached his casino, the affidavit says.

According to Abercrombie, Brox showed him a letter in January from a Las Vegas justice of the peace endorsing the program.

Abercrombie did not recall the name of the judge, but he told detectives that the endorsement “carried weight with him.”

The justice of the peace was not identified in the affidavit, but a reliable source close to the investigation said it was Smith, who has acknowledged to the Sun that he has been friendly with Brox and used his company when he was a justice of the peace and more recently as a district judge.

Smith could not be reached for comment on the investigation that came to light Tuesday.

Brox’s attorney, Robert Draskovich, said late Tuesday that his client did not commit any wrongdoing.

“He ran this program by high-ranking police officials, and they approved it and thought it was a good idea,” Draskovich said.

The attorney added that United States Justice Associates had agreements with a “number of casinos,” all of which thought the program made good sense.

McCurdy, however, said he knows of no ranking officers who signed off on Brox’s program.

“At this time, I’m not aware of anyone at Metro having approved and endorsed this program,” he said.

Abercrombie told detectives that 65 people Planet Hollywood detained had enrolled in the program, but that the resort had received notification from the company that only two had completed the program. The casino received two $100 checks from United States Justice Associates for those cases, the affidavit says.

“The fact that only two completions out of 65 have been received by Planet Hollywood and that no follow-up on the noncompliant cases has been sought by (United States Justice Associates) seems to indicate the threats made in the video and on the enrollment forms were done so not for follow-up and compliance, but to intimidate persons detained by hotel security to enroll into the program to obtain monies,” the affidavit alleges.

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