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A Murdered Journalist’s Lifework was his Labor of Love. He Should Still be Here.

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

One year ago, much-admired Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German was stabbed to death. In a shocking development five days later, a public official was arrested and charged with murder. The suspect, Robert Telles, was a novice politician few people had ever heard of, and his office – the Clark County Public Administrator – was also little known. Even democratic party loyalists who vote by rote all the way down ballot, likely couldn’t have told you ten minutes later whose name they’d checked off, or what the office is responsible for.

Photo: Review-Journal front page, Sept. 3, 2023

It deepens the sadness to think that German, whose lifework was his labor of love, was killed on Labor Day weekend, and apparently for an investigation that championed employees who were struggling in an abusive workplace.

We’ll unpack all of that in a minute, but first, more on the central figures in this tragic story.

The Protagonist

In his 40-year journey as a reporter in the Southern Nevada desert, Jeff German was an admired force to be reckoned with. Almost from the time he arrived there as a young reporter in his twenties, he owned the big stories – going toe-to-toe with mobsters, exposing shady business deals, and blowing the lid off government corruption. He authored a true crime book about the suspicious death of a casino boss and hosted a popular podcast about the history of the mafia in Vegas. He went out of his way to stand up for the little guy. Las Vegans loved him.

“An absolute bulldog,” a former state lawmaker told me a few months ago. “I knew better than to ever dodge his questions.”

When I took over covering the federal beat for Channel 13 in Las Vegas in the early '80s, German was already a well-sourced rockstar on that beat. "Be like German," my newsroom mentors would tell me. "Beat German." He complimented me on a story I'd done, and I thought it was better than getting a pay raise.

German had his 69th birthday ten days before he was killed but told colleagues he had no intention of retiring – not anytime soon. He loved his job, and he lived to report.

The Accused Killer

Telles was elected in 2018 to the office of Clark County Public Administrator, a small agency that oversees the estates of deceased people who left no will or whose relatives cannot be located. As soon as he got the keys to the office, some employees would later allege, Telles was a tyrant who created a rift between newer hires and the long timers in the office, many of them older women. One employee filed a written complaint with county leadership detailing a toxic environment. But after more than a year passed without the county taking any action, another of Telles’ employees filed to run against him in the 2022 Democratic primary election. She, and several colleagues and former colleagues met with German that spring to share their story. They also provided discreetly recorded video of Telles “meeting” with an employee in the back seat of her car. The employees German interviewed alleged an improper relationship between the boss and his subordinate – each married to another person –which the employees felt further challenged the agency’s ability to serve the people of Clark County. The setting for these backseat encounters was the parking garage of a discount mall.

Compared to all the major stories German had reported in his career, the one he wrote about Telles in May of 2022, wasn’t Watergate. But it was classically good investigative reporting. It gave voice to marginalized workers and called to account an elected official at the helm of a mess. It was balanced. German gave Telles an opportunity to tell his side of the story, posting a video interview to accompany the online story. The writing and digital content illustrated a government office in painful turmoil. And the story got attention. The county hired a consultant to oversee and calm the atmosphere at the troubled agency, which German reported in a follow up story. And Telles lost the June primary election to his employee, which German also reported. Telles raged at German in a series of social media posts, but at the time, all that seemed like little more than a blowhard being a sore loser.

With Telles’ term set to expire in a few months, it seemed the trouble in the dysfunctional office would be over soon enough.

Apparently not.

German must have heard of additional problems in the Public Administrator’s office, because he filed a public records request later that summer. On September 1, the Thursday leading into the Labor Day weekend, Telles and some of the other employees whose texts and digital messages were included in the records request, were notified by the county attorney’s office that a batch of records would be released to German the following week.

But Jeff German never saw those records. He was stabbed to death in his backyard the next morning.

Within days, law enforcement, and Jeff’s colleagues at the Review-Journal, closed in on Telles. He was arrested September 7, charged with murder. Neighborhood home security cameras had captured video of a heavily clothed, disguised person walking up Jeff’s driveway and slipping behind the backyard gate. He had a peculiar limp-like gait – a walk that looked a lot like Robert Telles’ gait that visitors to Jeff’s online story had seen a few months earlier. A car parked in Telles’ driveway looked identical to one that cameras had captured earlier, driving through German’s neighborhood, within the timeframe the medical examiner determined the murder occurred. The search of Telles’ home turned up some clothing items, including a bloody tennis shoe that appeared to match those worn by the suspect in the security camera video. And perhaps most damning, officials said, there was DNA under the murder victim’s fingernails – Robert Telles’ DNA. Telles plead not guilty, and says the evidence found in his home was planted there.

Jeff’s colleagues at the R-J have been rightfully praised for covering his murder as they processed their own grief. They kept pace with police in chasing down Telles as the suspect. This story by CBS chronicles their remarkable efforts and is very moving.

In the year since the murder, a lot of bad news has emerged about the office of the Clark County Public Administrator under Robert Telles' watch.

The R-J reported Telles was under investigation for a property flipping scam, in which he allegedly schemed to approve the sale of decedents’ properties at under market value, so he could get a cut if an in-cahoots buyer flipped the property for a higher price. Then, the Nevada Bar Association confirmed to the R-J and other media that approximately $200,000 in funds from Telles’ former law firm was unaccounted for -- money which should have been held in trust until former clients’ cases were closed. Media documented a consistent pattern of employee abuse and other entitled behavior by Telles. He had a history of pressuring employees to have sex with him, the R-J reported. One former employee even hired a lawyer who sent Telles a cease-and-desist letter.

When Telles was appointed a public defender after his arrest, he was less than forthcoming about his ability to afford legal representation. The R-J then revealed he owned several investment properties in Hot Springs, Arkansas, which could most certainly be sold to pay for legal representation. (I checked and the properties sold in June for a closing price that gives him a tidy profit.) Telles is currently representing himself – a slippery slope of a strategy for an attorney with little to no criminal defense experience. But should he decide to hire attorneys later, at least now, the people of Las Vegas shouldn’t be on the hook for his legal defense.

Telles’ arrest undoubtedly brought some relief to German’s family and colleagues. But it also made many angry. How could it be, they wondered, that the seemingly molehill of an office German wrote about, become the hill he died on?

But I think what German would point out about that, is that in every county in America, there’s an office just like that – and maybe five others, too – that no one is paying attention to. And when these cubbyhole county offices don’t have light shining on them, there is plenty of room for toxicity, bribes, favoritism, and other abuse of taxpayers’ dollars and trust.

He would say every reporter should be paying attention.

Postscript: Robert Telles’ trial is scheduled to begin in November. Long after the court determines Telles’ fate, Jeff German’s family, colleagues, friends, and the consumers who followed his work, will continue to miss him.

Las Vegas, with its 24/7 news cycle, will always attract great journalists.

But it’s unlikely there will ever be another Jeff German.

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