LAS VEGAS – Veteran newspaper reporter Jeff German spent four decades breaking big stories in a city dripping in scandal and blood-red intrigue.
As a columnist and investigative bulldog for two Las Vegas dailies, German’s byline lived on the front page. From covering mob hits and public corruption, to the Balzacian melodrama of the Strip’s casino power elite, German’s reporting was a constant presence. What he lacked in deadline style, he made up for in relentless pursuit that, at times, bordered on obsession.
After German’s lifeless body was found with fatal stab wounds Saturday morning, Sept. 3, in the side yard of his northwest valley home, the police asked the obvious: Was the 69-year-old a victim of a vicious random attack? An old-school mob vendetta? Or was the dogged journalist targeted by a recent subject of his reporting?
Metro homicide detectives using the department’s rapid-response “high-profile case protocol” settled on a prime suspect after just five days: seething Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, whom German had helped shove from office with a series of withering articles published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that accused the bureaucrat of creating a hostile work environment, bullying employees, and an inappropriate relationship with a staffer. Telles, 45, was arrested Wednesday and after a brief trip to the local hospital — following a non-life-threatening attempt at self-harm, according to cops — was booked into the Clark County Detention Center on an open murder charge. (An attorney for Telles did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.)
The public administrator’s office — which secures property of the deceased while a search for a family or executor is done and administers estates when families are unable to — has a history that includes administrator abuses. Telles was elected in 2018 as a reformer, and was endorsed by his predecessor, Jerry Cahill. Less than four years later, Cahill supported his opponent, office veteran Rita Page Reid. Although the public administrator’s staff hasn’t reported to Telles in weeks, county officials said it is possible he’ll keep the title until his replacement is determined in the November general election.
In his reporting, German described a public administrator’s office in turmoil for more than two years. Telles blamed his troubles on disgruntled veteran staffers, and denied an “inappropriate relationship” with a female staffer who was accused of receiving favored assignments as an estate coordinator. When a secret videotaping captured the boss and favored co-worker outside the office, it added more heat to Telles, just weeks before the election.
Investigative reporters commonly draw angry responses to their work, and threats come with the territory. Although Review-Journal management said German expressed no concerns about any threats he faced, Telles made little secret of the person he blamed for his career’s reversal, even accusing German of unspecific unethical behavior. The signs of trouble brewing weren’t hard to find.
In a letter to German posted on his campaign website, Telles wrote in part, “The false accusations of individuals who put self-interest over service are a distraction, and I will not let that deter the fulfillment of my commitment to the community.”
In a series of messages to supporters he called “The Truth” on his campaign website, Telles blamed entrenched staffers, one of whom successfully campaigned against him, for providing misleading information.
“Frankly, when I entered the office, I had hoped to rally the team,” he wrote in a June 19 update. “I wanted to fix what was wrong with the office and show the team that there was a better way. Unfortunately, some of the team preferred to stoke fears amongst themselves that I wanted to fire them. In hindsight, it was to justify to themselves what they were doing to me.”
Telles, a married father of three, probate lawyer, local Rotary Club member, and longtime member of the Democratic Party, had been incensed online for days. “Does the @LVRJ know that @JGermanRJ may be doing double duty on their dime?” Telles tweeted on June 17, apparently alleging German had mixed motivations. “Do they know he basically made a veiled threat to make me take down my site with the truth after I already lost the election?”
The following day Telles was back at it: “Looking forward to lying smear piece #4,” he wrote, adding the hashtag “#onetrickpony.” And another, “I think he’s mad that I haven’t crawled into a hole and died.”
Instead, Telles now finds himself facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison for the killing of a hard-charging reporter who was known for clamping onto stories with unrelenting intensity. German spent so many years reporting criminal trials, getting to know a generation of the community’s top attorneys, that Telles might be challenged to find a top-notch criminal defense attorney who is not conflicted.
As word of German’s death spread on Sunday, accolades poured in for German from colleagues, members of the state’s congressional delegation, and even Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak. Expressions of shock and sympathy came from politicians and competitors, some of whom may have expressed condolences through gritted teeth. Telles was far from his first target — he had taken a bite out of many powerful people over the years, and remained proud of some of the political careers he’d derailed.
At the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where German had worked since 2010, the newsroom reeled with word that one of their own had died violently. “He was the gold standard of the news business.,” Executive Editor Glenn Cook said in a statement. “It’s hard to imagine what Las Vegas would be like today without his many years of shining a bright light in dark places.”
The sentiment was the same across town at the Las Vegas Sun, where, in the early 1980s, German broke into Nevada newspapering as a reporter for its firebrand publisher Hank Greenspun, who proudly practiced a personal and at times prickly brand of community journalism. “Jeff was a solid journalist who had credibility,” Greenspun’s son and current Sun publisher Brian Greenspun said. “He had a reputation for protecting a source. In the newspaper world, that’s the best anyone can say about you — that they trusted you. I know Jeff was trusted.”
And hated. To his dying day, the late Las Vegas FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph Yablonsky all but spit whenever German’s name was mentioned. Yablonsky, controversial but widely credited with helping to run traditional organized crime influences out of the Las Vegas casino industry, referred to his constant critic as “Jeff the Germ.”
As a Las Vegas Sun police reporter in the 1990s, true crime author Cathy Scott’s desk was next to German’s in the newsroom. Although they became friends, he didn’t waste time with chit-chat. And when longtime Las Vegas hoodlum and Chicago mob associate “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein was murdered in 1997, German and the cop reporter were hot on the story.
“Afterward, Jeff and I sat at his desk and the two of us, from our notes, wrote the article and took a double byline,” Scott said. “We were first out with the story, which was common for Jeff. He loved beating the competition. That was always his goal, and to get the facts right. … When I heard about his murder, the first thing I thought was he must have ticked off someone with his story coverage. He was fearless and didn’t back down from anyone. It’s still difficult to wrap my brain around the fact that that’s how he went out.”
Others, including former Clark County District Attorney David Roger and ex-Gaming Control Board Chairman Mike Rumbolz described German as a pugnacious professional and a relentless reporter capable of a dizzying interview style in his search for answers to tough questions. As Roger told the Review-Journal, “He just would not give up.”
“He was the most tenacious reporter I had ever dealt with and would not take a simple platitude for an answer,” Rumbolz says. “He also wouldn’t take no for an answer, or no comment. He found more ways of asking the same question from different aspects to try to get to what he was interested in than any reporter I’ve ever dealt with. He was amazing that way.”
At the Sun, German was sometimes chided as an ink-stained head-knocker who wrote stories that pleased management in a craft where one publisher’s hatchet man is another’s Pulitzer Prize nominee. Loved or hated, his bylines piled up.
After the Review-Journal was secretly purchased in late 2015 by the family of casino mogul and Republican Party mega-sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson, German investigated the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, an agency Adelson had long criticized. After months of intensive digging, the reporter’s efforts resulted in the ouster of the convention authority boss, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor conviction and had to pay a fine for misusing airline travel gift cards. Some groused about journalistic overkill, but German found his story.
Although Metro Homicide detectives said the investigation into German’s stabbing death qualified for the unit’s intensive high-profile case protocol, they initially revealed little beyond home security camera photos. In those they found a suspect whose identity was concealed by a straw hat and yellow long-sleeved jersey, of the kind commonly worn by local road workers. Perhaps by coincidence, road workers toiling in 100-plus-degree temperatures were busy less than a block from German’s house.
What they weren’t saying publicly is that they were already working several leads that pointed straight to Telles.
Using an advanced canvassing method that enabled detectives to knock on hundreds of doors and collect and process security camera images, police say they were able to identify the maroon GMC Yukon Denali SUV the suspect drove away in, but also track the vehicle back to Telles’ residence. Although they continued to pursue leads and gather evidence, detectives quickly narrowed their focus to the county administrator whose promising career had nosedived amid a scandal in the headlines.
On Tuesday, a photo of the suspect’s Denali was shown to the public, and within hours signs pointed to the family vehicle registered in Telles’ wife’s name.
Wednesday morning, detectives served a search warrant at the Telles’ two-story home on Spanish Steps Lane in the northwest valley’s upscale Tuscany Trails neighborhood. Police towed away two cars and gathered other evidence that could prove devastating. Although a murder weapon wasn’t recovered, it might not be needed.
According to authorities, their search recovered not only a straw hat cut in sections, but what appeared to be the sneakers worn during the commission of the crime. Both showed signs of attempts to destroy them.
“Every murder is tragic, but the killing of a journalist is particularly troublesome”
At a Thursday hearing in Justice Court, Judge Elana Lee Graham denied Telles bail after hearing prosecutor Richard Scow describe the reporter as the victim of seven stab wounds. According to prosecutors, German died with the defendant’s DNA under his fingernails after attempting to defend himself against the attack.
Funeral services were private. In a statement, German’s family tried to strike a balance between personal pain and visceral outrage: “Jeff was a loving and loyal brother, uncle and friend who devoted his life to his work exposing wrongdoing in Las Vegas and beyond. We’re shocked, saddened and angry about his death. Jeff was committed to seeking justice for others and would appreciate the hard work by local police and journalists in pursuing his killer. We look forward to seeing justice done in this case. We also want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love, support and recognition for Jeff and his life’s work.”
German’s name joins the solemn list of at least 15 U.S. journalists who were killed in the line of duty since 1992, according to a database maintained by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The deadliest attack took place in 2018 at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland when a gunman enraged after losing a defamation suit against the newspaper killed five staffers and wounded two others.
The homicide team’s efforts drew accolades from Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo at a Thursday press conference. The sheriff came off the campaign trail as the Nevada Republican Party’s candidate for Governor to credit the department’s investigative strategy and offer condolences to German’s family and colleagues. He called the homicide, “an unusual case from the beginning.”
“Every murder is tragic, but the killing of a journalist is particularly troublesome,” Lombardo said. A longtime member of Las Vegas law enforcement, Lombardo is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, whose fiery rants against the media have been blamed in part for a rise in threats against the working press.
German’s killing reverberated nationally and was felt in many corners of Las Vegas. That included a Thursday luncheon meeting of the Las Vegas Rotary Club, where Telles had been known as a family man and a member in good standing. A prayer was spoken that not only offered comfort to the family of the murdered reporter, but also to the Telles’ wife and young children. Following a solemn acknowledgement of the tragic events of recent days, members were reminded to refer any questions from the press to the regional Rotary office.
German won numerous state press awards for his reporting and was also the author in 2001 of Murder in Sin City: The Death of a Las Vegas Casino Boss, a true-crime retelling of the demise of drug-troubled Las Vegas gambling-family scion Ted Binion. True to his nature, German’s reporting was credited and criticized for helping to drive the decision to try two defendants on murder charges. After a first trial ended in conviction, a second resulted in an acquittal.
For all his decades of deadline accomplishments, in the end reporter Jeff German’s death just might be remembered as the biggest story of his life.