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December 20, 2014

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Judge pleads not guilty to fraud charges

Clark County District Judge Steven Jones pleaded not guilty to federal fraud charges Thursday afternoon and was released on his own recognizance pending his January trial, according to the office of Nevada U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden.

Jones made his initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate at the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas.

In a criminal indictment unsealed Wednesday, Jones was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, two counts of engaging in money transactions in criminally derived property and nine counts of money laundering, officials said. His co-defendants, who face the same charges, are Thomas A. Cecrle Jr., 55, Terry J. Wolfe, 57, Constance C. Fenton, 68, Mark L. Hansen, 54, and Ashlee M. Martin, 38.

Authorities allege the defendants, from September 2002 to October of this year, defrauded victims of more than $3 million by promising exorbitant interest rates on money loans. The loans, the government says, were never repaid.

Jones, 54, of Henderson, is scheduled to go to trial on Jan. 8, said Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s office.

Wolfe, a Henderson resident, and Martin, of Las Vegas, have both pleaded not guilty to the fraud charges and are being held at the federal prison in Pahrump until their trial, Collins said.

Fenton, who is from Gig Harbor, Wash., and Hansen, a Corvallis, Ore. resident, both made initial court appearances in their respective home states, Collins said. They have been released pending an arraignment that will take place in Las Vegas, she said.

No initial hearing has been set yet for Cecrle, a Henderson resident, Collins said.

Jones, who earned his juris doctorate from California Western School of Law, was elected to the bench of District Court's family division in 1992, according to his biography posted on a Clark County courts website. He was the first presiding judge for Family Court when it commenced. He mounted an unsuccessful run in 1996 for the Nevada Supreme Court.

Jones is on a voluntary leave of absence from his judgeship, Clark County District Court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said. Any action regarding his status as a judge would be handled by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, she said.

Jones allegedly used his capacity as a judge to vouch for one of the co-defendants when disgruntled investors questioned the legitimacy of their investments, according to the indictment.

Jones, who allegedly knew the scheme was a fraud, met with investors in his chambers, over the phone and elsewhere, intervening on behalf of Cecrle to prevent and delay legal actions against him, officials said. Jones also allegedly fielded phone calls from at least one co-defendant in chambers, drafted and reviewed documents associated with the sham investments and received cash proceeds from the scheme at the courthouse.

The indictment alleges Jones established and maintained a joint bank account with Cecrle through which they received and laundered more than $250,000 from the fraudulent scheme.

Authorities arrested Cecrle, Wolfe and Martin on Wednesday morning in Henderson and Las Vegas, and Hansen was arrested in Oregon. Jones surrendered Thursday morning, according to Bogden.

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