Daughters of police, judges lured into prostitution

Judges
Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson and District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt

Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson says she gave Metro Police detectives a road map that may have prevented three murders involving the sex trade, but vice detectives, under investigation by the FBI for allegedly protecting pimps, failed to act. Tobiasson drew criticism from friends and foes alike when she alleged on KLAS-TV in April that pimps are targeting the children of cops and judges.

Andress_Tobiasson_Final
LV Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson

While the Nevada Current can’t substantiate whether that’s true,  we found half a dozen young women, all children of current and former law enforcement officers or judges, who are or were connected to the sex trade – five of them to the same crime ring.

Among them, Morgan Leavitt, who also goes by Fitzpatrick, daughter of Judge Michelle Leavitt; sisters Frankie and Aryanne Zappia, step-daughters of retired Metro officer Dano Giersdorf; the daughter of a Metro officer who the Current is not identifying because she was underage at the time of her involvement; and Sarah Tobiasson, Judge Tobiasson’s daughter, who the judge says she rescued from the brink of prostitution. The sixth young woman, Hannah Swanson, is the daughter of former FBI agent Roland Swanson, who is now the Chief Investigator for Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt.

Why would pimps, who generally attempt to steer clear of law enforcement and the judiciary, target the children of cops and judges?

Tobiasson and others say there’s prestige in “turning” the daughter of a cop or judge, not to mention the potential for leverage.

“Lost confidence” in Metro

In 2015, Tobiasson told police about a suspicious clothing store where her then-teenage daughter briefly worked and continued to frequent. Top Knotch, according to the judge, was an unlicensed, underage nightclub and front for prostitution.

Internal police documents obtained by the Current reveal Detective Kelly Bluth visited the Las Vegas store on Spring Mountain Road at the judge’s behest in the Fall of 2015 and told Tobiasson he was “suspicious of the business” but witnessed no illegal activity. Bluth never followed up.

“They didn’t care what I was telling them because they already knew what was going on,” Tobiasson says, adding the prostitution racket is an untouchable business arrangement, “policed” by Metro for the benefit of the hotel industry, rather than the public.  Politicians who voice outrage at the sex trade, she says, are largely paying lip service and have no real interest in ending it.

Metro Sheriff Joe Lombardo refused to say why Metro failed to follow up.

Now, Tobiasson admits Metro’s inaction forced her to turn to the FBI.

Sarah Tobiasson was 16 years-old in December 2015 when she told her mom of her encounter with “Shane”, who Sarah sought out for a fake ID.  But Shane Valentine, a former Centennial High School student who hung out with the Top Knotch crowd, had more than fake IDs at his home on Christine View Court in northwest Las Vegas.

Sarah reported seeing weapons and drugs and told her mom that Shane attempted to recruit her into prostitution.

“My daughter was terrified that if ‘Shane’ learned that she had given me this information, he would kill her,” the judge says.

Shane Valentine
Shane Valentine, Photo credit: Nevada Department of Corrections

In April of 2016, Judge Tobiasson recused herself when Valentine appeared before her on a domestic violence bench warrant.

In a December 2016 memo to Sheriff Joe Lombardo obtained by Nevada Current, Metro Captain Todd Raybuck recalls the incident:

“The next day Valentine calls her daughter several times from a blocked number.  She (Judge Tobiasson) does not contact Vice because she has lost confidence that any action involving Valentine will be taken.

Shortly after that incident, according to Raybuck’s memo, the judge notified Detective Bluth that Valentine appeared to be the same person who had pimped Judge Leavitt’s daughter, and warned him that pimps were targeting the daughters of judges and police for prostitution.

Court and police documents reveal Valentine’s “stable” included Leavitt’s daughter and at least two daughters of Metropolitan Police officers.

Leavitt testified in a trial about her nightmarish experience living with Valentine and two “roommates”, who Leavitt says beat her while Valentine watched.

Morgan Leavitt (Fitzpatrick): Shane is telling me that I have to get out of the car and fight them if I want to have the money for my cab fare. And I said, no, I’m not getting out of the car.  I don’t want to get out of the car. And I repeatedly said that over and over again. And then at that point Sophia had reached into the cab driver’s window and somehow got the door unlocked and Dayonna was on the passenger side at that point opening up the door and pulled me out by my hair.

Q: Then what happened? 

A: I was held back with my hands behind my back while Sophia hit me repeatedly in my face.

Q: Who held you back while Sophia hit you?  

A: Dayonna.

Q: You said she hit you repeatedly in your face?

A:  Yes.

Q: What did Shane do, if anything?

A: Just watched.  

Q: How do you know Shane?

A: How do I know Shane? I know him from high school.  I grew up with him.

Q: Was he your boyfriend?

A: No.

Q: So he just invited you to move in?

A: He sold weed and that’s how we initially came in contact.  He was a friend of mine back in high school and we became in contact and that’s how I know him.

Tobiasson wrote to police that “Judge Leavitt spent years trying to get people to listen to her about Valentine as well with pretty much the same results I had.”

MicheJudge Leavitt, however, denies getting the cold shoulder from Metro.  In a statement to the Current, Leavitt said:

“While I have made it a practice to refuse comment to the media about family members to preserve their privacy, I feel compelled to respond to your inquiry to correct any misleading or false information.  I did not make the statement being attributed to me by Judge Tobiasson, and any suggestion that I sought Metro assistance and was refused or denied Metro assistance is false.”

Morgan Leavitt declined to comment.

In September of 2016, Tobiasson reached out to Detective Bluth again, after an early morning shooting homicide at Top Knotch. Tobiasson confided she feared her daughter’s friend, the 17- year-old daughter of a Metro officer, was turning tricks for Valentine.

Concerned for her daughter’s safety, Tobiasson asked Bluth for complete confidentiality.  It proved to be a hollow request.

“I knew they wouldn’t listen”

In October of 2016, Tobiasson, who says she’d provided information on a dozen occasions to Metro by that time, voiced her concerns during a chance meeting with Vice Lt. Karen Hughes (now retired) about being brushed off.  The judge told Hughes about her daughter’s best friend, the daughter of the Metro officer.

Captain Todd Raybuck’s memo to Sheriff Lombardo recalls the ensuing events.

“Shortly after this conversation, she (Tobiasson) learned on October 25th Vice detectives interviewed a LVMPD officer and his juvenile daughter regarding her suspected involvement in prostitution.  Det. VANCLEEF informed Tobiasson that during the interview Det. (Justine) GADUS told the juvenile and her father that Judge Tobiasson made the allegations of the involvement in prostitution – despite her numerous requests to remain confidential.  As a result, Tobiasson became very concerned for her daughter’s safety and well being believing that her daughter now had a “target” on her and that her life might be in jeopardy.”

Sometime after midnight on October 26 – just hours after Detective Gadus “outed” Tobiasson and her daughter to a Metro officer and his daughter, someone executed 21-year-old Nehemiah Kauffman and his girlfriend, Sydney Land, also 21.  Kauffman, identified by friends and police as an up and coming pimp, was alleged to be in competition with Valentine. Land, the daughter of a Clark County fire captain, was living with Kauffman. Land’s mother says her daughter was shot in the face at close range.

sydney
Murder victims Nehemiah Kauffman and Sydney Land, Facebook

Investigators say Kauffman’s cell phone immediately yielded texted death threats from Shane Valentine sent just weeks earlier, the day someone rammed the garage and shot into the Centennial Hills home belonging to Kauffman’s mother.

Valentine became the prime suspect in the double homicide.

Tobiasson says homicide detectives made no effort to notify her of the crime, despite outing her a day earlier.

Text messages obtained by the Current among the friends of Kauffman and Land reveal sadness at their friends’ deaths but not shock.

In one message a girl identified as the daughter of a Metro officer,  tells a friend about the murders:

“Yeah I think it was Shane  I know it was Because Neyo was pimping And making good money And Shane was like nah Nigga you ain’t gonna come disrespect like that watch your back Like I’ve talked to 2 Detectives Not once ounce of evidence…. And he’s in Cali  He ran  To Cali I know he killed him. “

Text messages obtained by the Current between LVMPD Homicide Detective Mitchell Dosch and Sydney Land’s mother, Connie, reveal Valentine was the sole suspect for much of the year following the double homicide.

“Shane is still a suspect until I say he’s not,” Dosch told Connie Land six months after the fact.

One year and no arrests after the murders, a frustrated Judge Tobiasson says she approached the FBI, which was already investigating Metro’s Vice Department.

“I couldn’t go back to Metro.  I knew they wouldn’t listen,” Tobiasson said.

Within days, Metro detectives, who learned Tobiasson had interceded, announced Valentine was no longer a suspect.

What happened to put Shane Valentine in the clear?  Police will not say.

“He’s still involved in the investigation,” said Metro spokesman Larry Hadfield.

Tobiasson says given all her warnings, police were desperate for cover and to clear Valentine of the murders.

Police refuse to respond to Tobiasson’s allegation.

Valentine’s attorney, Adam Gill, did not respond to requests for comment.

Valentine was found guilty in January of discharging a firearm into the home of Neo Kauffman’s mother. Court minutes from the case say “Court advised based on the conference at the bench the third paragraph on page 6 of the pre-sentence report beginning with ‘On October 27, 2016’ was hereby STRICKEN and not to be considered for this purpose.”

October 27, 2016 is the day Land and Kauffman’s bodies were discovered.

Valentine is in custody, serving a 16 to 72-month sentence for a burglary and the shooting.  His criminal record includes two convictions for Burglary, one for Assault with a Deadly Weapon, and one for Invasion of a Home.

Last year Connie Land started a petition imploring District Attorney Steve Wolfson not to negotiate any plea deals with Valentine.

Tomorrow:  Unlike most prostitutes, Aryanne Zappia was only too willing to testify against her former pimp, who she says beat and threatened to kill her.  Why did District Attorney Steve Wolfson grant the violent criminal a plea deal that set him free and placed his victim in danger?   

   

 

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.