The man in the surveillance footage has a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a straw hat shielding his face as he saunters along a Las Vegas sidewalk. It’s late last Friday morning and he’s heading west toward the home of one of the city’s most renowned investigative journalists.
Hours later, authorities responding to a 911 call found Jeff German — a veteran reporter who covered organized crime and political corruption for the Las Vegas Review-Journal — slumped lifeless outside his home. He’d been stabbed to death.
Police quickly zeroed in on two theories. Perhaps, they thought, it was a burglary gone wrong? Did it have something to do with the maroon SUV spotted on surveillance making multiple stops in the neighborhood soon before German was killed? Or had someone targeted the reporter for something he had published — or was about to publish — about them?
Operating on the latter assumption, authorities began digging into Robert Telles, a top public official in the region, who lost a primary election in June, weeks after German published an exposé detailing the hostile work environment during Telles’ time in leadership at the Clark County public administrator’s office.
On Tuesday evening, Review-Journal reporters staked out near Telles’ home spotted the official in his driveway, standing next to an SUV that matched the description of the getaway car. The next day, Telles, 45, was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Investigators on Thursday said that items worn by the suspected killer — including the straw hat, which had been cut up into small pieces — were recovered from Telles’ home. They also said they found the public official’s DNA at the scene of the fatal stabbing.
Telles was charged with murder Thursday. He did not enter a plea and could not be reached for comment to respond to the allegations.
“The killing of a journalist is particularly troublesome,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said in announcing the arrest of the elected administrator. “We hope the arrest of Telles and subsequent prosecution will ultimately provide a sense of justice for our community and Mr. German’s family.”
The reporter’s family members said in a statement that they were shocked, devastated and angry.
“Jeff was a loving and loyal brother, uncle and friend who devoted his life to his work exposing wrongdoing in Las Vegas and beyond,” they said. “Jeff was committed to seeking justice for others and would appreciate the hard work by local police and journalists in pursuing his killer.”
During a news conference Thursday, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Capt. Dori Koren told reporters that Telles was upset about articles German had published, as well as a new piece he was planning to write.
In May, the veteran journalist published an investigative piece based on interviews with several current and former employees at the Clark County public administrator’s office — painting a picture of an office in disarray, detailing allegations of bullying, favoritism and an inappropriate relationship between Telles and a subordinate.
Along with the article, the newspaper published a video filmed by other staffers who had secretly recorded Telles and the subordinate — both married — in the back seat of her car. They also included a video of a recorded, sit-down interview between German and Telles.
German, who is off camera, asks Telles what he thinks when he hears people raising allegations of an improper relationship with his subordinate. Telles’ lips tighten and he squints.
“Obviously it’s not true,” he says. “I’m about nothing but justice, fairness and just being a good person, and it sickens me.” He pauses for a moment, sighs and lifts his eyebrows.
“I don’t know,” he says, “it’s unreal.”
After the first story was published, Telles wrote a blog post on his campaign website, calling the Las Vegas Review-Journal a “rightwing paper” and stating “the article was false.”
“So ugly that you almost had to believe it was true,” Telles wrote, saying that there were multiple investigations being conducted into “all the actors in this matter.”
By June it was clear that Telles believed he would lose the Democratic primary and his public office.
German reported on Twitter that Telles was “losing and lashing out.” In mid-June, German again reached out to Telles.
“Rob, I’m putting together another story on your office,” he texted the public official, asking him for comment and noting that employees had seen the blog post, perceived it as a threat of retaliation and reported it to human resources.
Telles posted the text on Twitter on June 17 and claimed the reporter “made a veiled threat to make me take down my site with the truth.” The screenshot, however, contained no request or threat.
Two days later, on his campaign site, Telles accused German and another public official of “trying to drag me through the mud.” On June 18 — the day German published the article about the blog post being reported to the county’s human resources department — Telles posted a thread of tweets.
“Looking forward to lying smear piece #4 by @JGermanRJ,” he tweeted. “I think he’s mad that I haven’t crawled into a hole and died.”
He followed up: “*Wife hears rustling in the trash* Her: ‘Honey, is there a wild animal in the trash?’ Me: ‘No, dear. Looks like it’s @JGermanRJ going through our trash for his 4th story on me. ‘Oh, Jeff…’”
“Typical bully,” Telles tweeted several days later. “You’d think he’d have better things to do.” At the end of the tweet, he added a winking-face emoji with its tongue sticking out.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, German was working on a new story about Telles the week he was killed.
But the newspaper’s executive editor has said that German hadn’t communicated any concerns over his safety to the paper’s leadership team.
Koren, the police captain, said that on the day of the slaying, German came out of his garage and went to the side of the home, where he and the assailant had an altercation that ended when the attacker stabbed the reporter repeatedly.
Investigators executed search warrants Wednesday morning on Telles’ home and cars, including the maroon SUV registered to his wife, and collected a DNA sample from him. Inside his home, investigators recovered a pair of gray shoes matching those of the suspect in the video, they said.
On Wednesday afternoon — hours before he was arrested — reporters outside Telles’ home spotted him standing outside his garage dressed in a white hazmat suit and flip-flops.
“Did you do this?” one reporter asked. He ignored the question and closed the garage. That evening, when a special weapons team entered his home to arrest him, they noticed he had self-inflicted wounds and needed medical treatment, authorities said. He was wheeled out on a stretcher.
Telles — who remains in office until December — appeared in court briefly on Thursday. He was dressed in a brown jailhouse shirt, with his hands cuffed in front of him and his arms bandaged.
A Clark County prosecutor asked that Telles be held without bail, arguing that he was lashing out “at the unraveling of his life.” The judge agreed to no bail, noting that German had fought for his life and received several defensive wounds.
Before joining the Review-Journal in 2010, German spent much of his career writing for the Las Vegas Sun, where he covered courts, politics, labor, government and organized crime, according to his biography.
He also wrote a 2001 organized-crime book, “Murder in Sin City: The Death of a Las Vegas Casino Boss,” and was the writer and host for the second season of the Review-Journal’s true-crime podcast “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Vegas.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said German’s “bread and butter” was “breaking big stories,” with many of his investigations leading to significant reforms.
“Journalists can’t do the important work our communities require,” Cook said in a statement to his newspaper Wednesday, “if they are afraid a presentation of facts could lead to violent retribution.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.