On Saturday morning, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German was found fatally stabbed outside his home. German, 69, had been covering Nevada politics and organized crime for the better part of four decades, working at the Review-Journal since 2010. “I’m relieved that police have identified a suspect,” Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said in their report on his murder, “and I hope an arrest can answer the question we are all asking right now: Why would someone kill Jeff?”
The cops’ current best guess is that a public official — Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, who lost his reelection bid after German wrote a lengthy expose on alleged misconduct in his office — is responsible for the crime. German was supposedly working on a follow-up in the weeks before he was killed.
According to the Review-Journal, Las Vegas police showed up outside Telles’s house at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. By 9 a.m., they had issued a statement noting they were “currently serving search warrants” related to a homicide investigation. They arrested Telles less than 12 hours later. A Review-Journal photographer spotted Telles “on a stretcher as he was loaded into an ambulance,” just prior to the arrest announcement. What’s going on here?
WHO WAS JEFF GERMAN?
German was a longtime journalist in the Vegas area, whom former colleague Cathy Scott described as a “dyed-in-the-wool newsman;” back in the ‘90s, the pair had broken the story that Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein — a cartoonish, goateed mobster and notorious member of the “Hole in the Wall” gang, a burglary ring named for their habit of drilling holes through the walls of establishments they robbed — had been shot in his home. In the intervening decades, German broke stories about government corruption in the region, including the inspection failures that preceded a deadly local fire and a federal campaign finance investigation into a city councilwoman.
WHO IS ROBERT TELLES?
One of those stories was a long investigation into the office of Robert Telles, a 45-year-old attorney who has lived in the Vegas area for two decades. Telles, who is married with three kids, was elected to the four-year position in 2018 on the Democratic ticket. Telles had worked with a range of local organizations — the county Bar Association, the Vegas Rotary Club, among others. Following his arrest, one of Telles’s Bar Association colleagues, Paul Ray, told the Review-Journal: “He’s very active in serving in the community, it doesn’t seem like it goes together (with the killing).”
WHAT DID GERMAN WRITE ABOUT TELLES?
German’s exposé on Telles came out in May. He’d spoken to a half dozen current and former staffers in the public administrator's office, who claimed that Telles had fostered a “hostile work environment,” characterized by favoritism, bullying, and an “inappropriate relationship” with one of his subordinates, Roberta Lee-Kennett. The internal tensions had escalated to the point that employees followed their boss to a mall parking garage on several occasions, where they secretly video-taped him meeting with the woman in the back seat of her Nissan Rogue.
At least one staffer filed a retaliation complaint against Telles, alleging that “the county has failed to protect employees from a mentally and emotionally abusive situation that has continued now for two years-plus.” The staffers complained Lee-Kennett’s close relationship with Telles had afforded her privileges, while Telles allegedly made other colleagues miserable. One employee said she “eats a bag lunch every day in her car because she doesn’t want to be seen socializing with staffers who aren’t among Telles’ favorites.” Telles “literally works to create division in the office,” one staffer said; another added “I’d rather have a colonoscopy every day than come here and deal with him.”
At the time, Telles denied the affair. He explained his clandestine meetings as a precautionary measure to avoid anyone “making assumptions” about him and Lee-Kennett. The bullying complaints, he argued, were the result of resentment from veteran employees, angry that he had cut-down on overtime hours during his tenure. He showed German receipts indicating that, before he took office, one employee made as much as $140,000 in overtime, on top of their $150,000 salary. Under Telles, that overtime plunged to $13,500.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THAT?
The article notes Telles’ rebuttals in detail, but the official was clearly angry about the reporting. In mid-June, German wrote a follow-up article, noting that Telles had “posted a scathing letter” on his personal website, blasting the Review-Journal’s reporting and the allegations against him. He addressed the article in a series of tweets, claiming German was “obsessed” with him, and joked that German was sorting through his garbage for stories. “Oh shoot,” Telles wrote on June 18, “I left a pizza box and sushi containers in the trash. In the next article, I’m going to have mob and yakuza ties.”
Four days later, Telles lost his primary for reelection to a top deputy from his office. It wasn’t close; Telles ranked third in the race. German wrote a third story that day about Telles’ concession, then largely stopped covering him throughout July and August. But the Review-Journal reports that he had recently filed public records requests for text messages between Telles and three other officials, including Lee-Kennett.
WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE?
Police released two surveillance tapes from the crime scene. One showed a man in an orange shirt, gloves, and “a wide straw hat.” The other caught a car authorities believed belonged to the killer: a red GMC Yukon Denali from either 2007 or 2014. On Tuesday, the cops put out a request for any information related to the homicide. “It appears the suspect was potentially casing the area to commit other crimes before the homicide occurred,” they wrote in a statement.
Review-Journal reporters staked out Telles’s two-story home, and saw him standing in the driveway by a car that matched the description. Authorities towed the car Wednesday afternoon, shortly before Telles returned home from work, wearing “what appeared to be a white hazmat suit.” He was arrested four hours later. According to Las Vegas Justice Court records, Telles will appear in court Thursday afternoon.