Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Melanie Tobiasson, who faces a hearing Monday before the Nevada Judicial Discipline Commission, says Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo falsely accused her of drug trafficking to intimidate her, and out of retaliation for Tobiasson speaking out about alleged corruption in the police department.
Tobiasson attributes the allegation to “several people who are confidants of Joe Lombardo who claim to have heard it directly from him,” including one of her attorneys.
“I was told that was an angle he was taking,” Tobiasson said last month in a deposition with the Judicial Discipline Commission, in preparation for the hearing.
She said Lombardo reportedly put out a BOLO – a “be on the lookout” order for her car.
“And according to these multiple sources, his thing was he was accusing me of somehow being involved in drug trafficking because I had burner phones,” Tobiasson testified.
Lombardo, through Metro, declined to respond, citing the ongoing JDC case.
Tobiasson says in the deposition she was directed by FBI agent Kevin White, who was investigating allegations of corruption in Metro’s Vice department, to obtain “a second phone, because they would look at my phones. Clearly they did. And he didn’t want them to know that we were talking because he felt they would try to keep us from talking.”
“As part of its investigation of the Respondent’s improper conduct, Metro obtained judicial authorization in approximately July of 2017 to place a pen register on the Respondent’s phones which included her prepaid burner phone,” the JDC’s complaint reads. “A ‘pen register’ is a device or process which records dialing information transmitted by telephones.”
“I think a lot of things have been done as retaliation and intimidation and punishment for speaking out about corruption,” Tobiasson said.
Even Lombardo admits Metro dropped the ball and ignored tips from Tobiasson.
In an interview with the JDC’s investigator, Metro Homicide Det. Jarrod Grimmett described a meeting with Lombardo and detectives about a September 2016 murder outside a clothing store Tobiasson told police may be an underage club.
“‘You get information and you did nothing with it, and now we got a murder? You know, I mean, what the hell?’” Grimmett said, paraphrasing Lombardo. “Pretty much how the meeting went. A lot of yelling and screaming and a lot of spit flying by the Sheriff. Because he was upset. ‘A judge gave you some valid information and you did nothing with it.’ And the vice detective (Kelly Bluth) says, ‘yeah, I walked in there and something wasn’t right,’ is what he said. Something wasn’t right. And he (Lombardo) says: ‘And then what the hell did you do about it? Nothing. And now we have a murder.’”
A month after the murder, on October 25, 2016, according to Tobiasson and witness testimony, then-Vice Detective Justine Gatus revealed to a Metro officer and his teen daughter that Tobiasson provided confidential information that she suspected the girl, a friend of Tobiasson’s daughter, was being trafficked by Shane Valentine, who the judge says also targeted her daughter.
“They (police) had put a target on my daughter’s back,” Tobiasson testified.
Within hours, Valentine’s alleged competitor in the sex trade, Nehemiah Kauffman, and his girlfriend, Sydney Land, had been executed in their apartment.
Now, the judge says she’s the scapegoat for Metro’s failure to make arrests in the murders, and the prime suspect in the unsolved case, Valentine, is being portrayed as her victim. Her efforts to protect her daughter and thwart sex trafficking could get her booted from the bench.
Tobiasson and her attorneys say the complaint against her is riddled with factual errors upon which the allegations against her are based.
She’s alleged to have conducted her own investigation of the double murder, which the JDC says prompted Metro to investigate her.
“Once Metro learned of Respondent’s improper personal involvement in an ongoing murder investigation, Metro had opened an investigation to determine whether Respondent had violated any criminal statutes,” the JDC’s complaint alleges.
“I never improperly became personally involved in a double murder investigation,” Tobiasson testified. “I was concerned the guy that Vice and Homicide were telling me was involved in the murder, Shane Valentine, was going to kill my child, also. So I felt I had every right as a mother to know where Shane Valentine was so I could protect my child.”
She’s alleged by the JDC to have obtained text messages between homicide detectives and Connie Land, the mother of murder victim Sydney Land.
“She provided them to me unsolicited the day we first met,” says Tobiasson, adding she was later unable to open the messages. “So I asked her to send them to me again. I told her I was working on something. I didn’t tell her it was the FBI that was asking me for these documents.”
Tobiasson is also alleged to have dismissed charges against a “known organized crime associate” even though a transcript of the hearing clearly states the District Attorney declined to prosecute.
And the JDC says she failed to publicly recuse at a domestic violence hearing for Valentine, the man she says threatened to kill her daughter. Tobiasson says she disclosed the potential conflict to the attorneys, who agreed she could approve a previously negotiated plea and not call attention to herself or her daughter. As a result of the plea, Valentine was released from custody.
She’s also facing discipline for publicly disparaging police, a charge to which she readily admits.
“Based on my experience, yes, I do believe that there are vice and other detectives who protect certain criminals at the expense of people who are being victimized by those criminals,” she said in a November deposition.
‘I wish I’d never heard his name’
“Fuck you, bitch,” said the Snapchat message from someone known as ‘Sugar Shane” that Tobiasson says her daughter shared with her in December 2015. “You were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. I’m going to take you out and teach you to work the Strip. You’re going to make money for me.”
“And fortunately, my daughter came home that night. Fortunately, he didn’t beat her up or force her to do exactly what he said he was going to do,” she testified. “But he said it and I saw it.”
“I reported that to the police. I did not investigate him. I did not ask for him to come into my life. I wish I had never heard his name, your name, any of these names. But I did. And it wasn’t because I was out investigating,” Tobiasson testified in the deposition for the JDC. “It was because my daughter and many, many, many other juvenile girls were being targeted and I became aware of it, thank God, because my daughter actually talked to me…”
Tobiasson testified she’s been “vilified and crucified” for reporting to police “that somebody was trying to pimp out my daughter and threatened to kill her if she told her mother.”
Tobiasson says she did what any mother would do if her daughter were threatened. She told the police.
Tobiasson, the wife of a retired cop, had informally complained in 2015 to detectives about a clothing store where her daughter briefly worked. The judge, who observed underage girls frequenting the store at night, says she suspected it could be an unlicensed club.
Her concern ended when her daughter quit the job after a few weeks. But the message from Valentine months later prompted another call to the police.
The girl, who admitted to her mother she went to Valentine’s home to obtain a fake ID, revealed she also saw drugs and guns, and disclosed Valentine was a felon.
“I reported crime to the police as a mother and I certainly shouldn’t be precluded from reporting criminal activity to the police as a mother, just because I work as a judge,” Tobiasson testified in the deposition.
Tobiasson says she eventually came to believe Valentine “very intentionally started to target my daughter after the day he walked into my courtroom with three other men during a hearing, trying to intimidate the witness, and I kicked them out of the courtroom, and I kicked them out of the courthouse, and I made sure she was safe.”
The witness was Valentine’s roommate, Morgan Fitzpatrick, the daughter of Clark County Judge Michelle Leavitt. Fitzpatrick testified at that hearing that Valentine ordered two other women to beat her after the three returned from their jobs at an escort service.
“And it was shortly thereafter that one of the girls that worked with him (Valentine) that was friends with my daughter, and I believe by design, introduced my daughter to Shane Valentine,” Tobiasson testified. “And I’m under investigation.”
The JDC’s complaint alleges Tobiasson failed to recuse herself months later when Valentine appeared in her court on a domestic violence charge.
She privately disclosed to the public defender and prosecutor that she had reported Valentine to the police months earlier for threatening her daughter.
A plea had already been negotiated and accepted by Valentine.
“In light of the unique situation they both agreed it was safer for me to just accept the plea,” Tobiasson testified. “I did everything I could to abide by my ethical obligations and protect my daughter’s life.”
She says the DA on the case later “came to me and told me this was the same person who had pimped out the other judge’s daughter.”
When Valentine returned to her court several months later, she recused, prompting Valentine to contact her daughter.
Tobiasson admits that with police failing to act, she “contacted Valentine’s lawyer and told him to tell Valentine that if he called her daughter again she would take care of it herself.”
But she says she was “puffing” and trying to “sound tough” when she told a blogger that she went to Valentine’s house and kicked his door.
“I went to the house and never got out of the car,” she testified.
‘Known organized crime figure’
Tobiasson says the JDC’s allegation that she dismissed domestic violence charges against a known organized crime figure with whom she associated is a fabrication.
“At the time he was in my courtroom, I had no idea who Tony Danna was. I had never met him, never seen him, never talked to him, didn’t know of his existence,” she testified, adding it was the District Attorney, not she, as the JDC alleges, who dismissed charges against him.
She says the JDC’s prosecutors wrote the allegation “knowing this is 100 percent false.“
“I don’t have any connection to Mr. Danna,” Tobiasson testified, adding she saw him “one time in person.”
“When I met him at the end of July, I did not know, nor did I recognize, nor did I make an association with him as somebody who had been in my courtroom several weeks earlier,” she testified. “I was at dinner with a friend. He came over to talk with the friend I was sitting with, who then introduced him to me. I didn’t recognize the name.”
The JDC complaint alleges the two made some 1,000 “attempts to communicate” during a six month period. Tobiasson says Metro’s records of her phone reveal 700 of those “attempts” were calls to her from Danna, which she did not answer.
“There’s no question what the intention was of this. What this was supposed to look like,” she testified. “It’s supposed to be humiliating and embarrassing and make the suggestion I was somehow having an improper relationship with somebody, which I wasn’t.”
“A known criminal figure. What does that look like? Like she’s maybe trying to get someone to do something for her,” she added.
Last December the JDC held a two-day hearing in which Tobiasson and her colleague, Judge Amy Chelini, answered for a variety of allegations, including Tobiasson’s fashion choices, the pair’s alleged use of foul language in the halls of the courthouse, and requesting that certain clerks work in their courtrooms.
The Commission took no action following the two-day hearing.