02.24.11

The Vegas Suicide Mystery

It started out as a simple plan: Help a suicidal woman kill herself so that it looked like natural causes. There was just one problem—she says she wasn't in on it.

Last October, a two-time felon named Robert Justice parked his lifted Dodge pickup truck and walked into Divebar, an off-strip Vegas watering hole that lives up to its name.

Justice, 45, was there to meet up with a guy he thought was a friend, but was actually a Las Vegas Municipal Police Department detective, known only as Undercover Employee Number 48.

UCE 48 didn’t wear a wire that night, because he didn’t anticipate anything coming up that would warrant recording the conversation. As he testified in a recent grand jury proceeding, he was about to learn otherwise.

Justice had told UCE 48 he “had something to take care of," and when he arrived at the bar, he let the undercover cop in on it. It was a plan with enough plot twists, who's who, and elaborate conspiracies to make John Grisham’s ears perk up.

Justice had been approached by another pal of his, he told UCE 48, an ex-cop by the name of “Ron,” about whether he could get his hands on a pretty stiff quantity of Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, also known as GHB. GHB has a variety of medical uses, but it’s also an intoxicant known as “the date rape drug.” And in a large enough dose, it could kill a human being.

“I told him that basically what the drugs were going to do is going to slow her heartbeat until there is no heartbeat and she’s dead...And then he said ‘Not the coma stage though, right?’ And I said ‘No dude, she’s going to be dead.’ ”

Ron, the undercover cop quickly deduced, was William Ronald Webb, 42, an 18-year veteran of the force, someone that UCE 48 knew personally. Webb wanted not just a dose or two of GHB for a penthouse rager, but a staggering 51.4 grams of the stuff, Justice told the detective. People who want to get high on GHB start at two or three grams. Rapists might slip a few grams more than that into an unsuspecting woman’s drink. Webb wasn’t looking for a simple fix. He'd promised Justice $10,000 if he could score.

Webb told Justice the drug was for his live-in girlfriend, Nancy Quon, a 50-year-old high-profile construction-defects attorney in Las Vegas who once co-hosted two popular local cable TV legal-advice programs. Quon had gotten herself entangled in a massive fraud investigation involving several homeowner’s associations in town. The FBI raided Quon’s offices in 2008 after allegations surfaced that she may have been involved in a scheme to take over these HOA boards in order to trump up construction problems and then steer lucrative contracts to fix them toward a chosen firm. The culprits are alleged to have raked in tens of millions of dollars before anybody got wise.

The FBI hasn’t indicted anyone—yet—but Quon was feeling the heat, Justice told UCE 48. Her law practice dissolved after the FBI raid, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which quoted Webb’s arrest report as describing her indictment “imminent.”

Justice told the cop: “Webb and Miss Quon were nervous because the election was coming up I believe the following Tuesday and that ... it was going to be a big turnover, and that certain people were going to be in office that weren’t going to be friendly to Webb and Quon and that their indictments from the FBI might be coming down that day,” the detective testified.

Quon wanted to kill herself, she wanted her boyfriend to help her, and she wanted it to look natural, so as not to arouse the suspicion of insurance investigators, Justice told UCE 48. Making it look natural would have been key: Quon was reportedly worth more than $100 million. Webb told Justice that if the GHB didn’t do the job, “he was going to take a gun, shoot her, and then shoot himself,” the detective testified.

It wouldn’t be the first casualty of the case. Retired Metro Police Lieutenant Chris Van Cleef, who sat on the board of one of the HOA’s in the probe, died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound after his name surfaced in the investigation in 2008.

Perhaps that was the inspiration for the plan Justice was now relaying to UCE 48. Webb told Justice he planned on killing himself after Quon died and the finances were in order, that “he was going to walk out to the curb and blow his brains out at that time.”

The undercover cop played it cool. He discouraged Justice from getting involved in it, suggesting it might be a trap. Webb was a former cop, after all. Maybe he was trying to set Justice up. But the next day, UCE 48 and Justice met again. This time, the detective wore a wire. He told Justice that he knew of a “dirty pharmacist back east that owed me a favor,” who could get his hands on that much GHB. UCE 48 said he wanted $15,000 from Webb, to be split between Justice, Webb and himself. He wanted no contact with Webb, who would obviously recognize him.

Webb counter-offered $12,000, Justice told the detective, and the deal went down. Justice fronted UCE 48 a wad of 40 hundred-dollar bills to pay the pharmacist. The undercover cop came through a few days later, recruiting another detective, UCE 53, to meet with 48 and Justice in the parking lot of another Vegas bar, PT’s Pub. UCE 48 presented Justice with a cardboard box containing two syringes and three vials of liquid. Justice handed over another $4,000, and the cops who had been watching from the shadows sprung in and took him down. The case didn’t end there, though. Justice quickly agreed to flip on Webb in exchange for a reduced sentence. He’d cooperate with the cops and deliver the syringes to Webb so police could nab the former officer on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, along with two felony counts related to drug trafficking—the same charges Justice faces.

At that point, UCE 53 took over for 48, with a plan to pretend he was the original contact, because Webb would have recognized UCE 48. He testified before a Clark County grand jury that he had Justice reach Webb at the Green Valley Ranch, calling his room from the hotel lobby because he’d been unable to get Webb on his cell phone.

The message: “We had the stuff,” UCE 48 said. “The stuff being the GHB."

Webb met Justice and UCE 53 in the parking lot, threatening to balk at doing the exchange there, the undercover cop testified. But 53 said “Either we’re going to do this or I’m going to take off,” so Webb capitulated, and got in the car.

“I told him that basically what the drugs were going to do is going to slow her heartbeat until there is no heartbeat and she’s dead,” UCE 53 testified. “And then he said ‘Not the coma stage though, right?’ And I said ‘No dude, she’s going to be dead.’ ”

Webb was nervous, repeatedly mentioning that if this was a setup, if the cops came, that there’d be a shoot-out, the detective testified. He warned Justice not to use any specific words when they talked about this on the phone, to refer to car parts, like “what time are you going to come fix my car?” After a few minutes, UCE 53 gave Webb the GHB, and the police, laying in wait, closed in and put him in handcuffs.

Webb was arrested, jailed, has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting the next phase of the criminal process.

But the case had one strange twist left in it. After the two busts were over, Quon, the supposed epicenter of the entire scheme, told the authorities she had never heard of any such plan—nothing about GHB or dirty pharmacists. And she certainly had never had any plan to take her own life.

“I’m not a suicidal person,” she told a Las Vegas CBS affiliate. “The whole scenario really makes no sense to me. I have two girls I love to death.”

She’s gone so far as to not only grant interviews to that effect, but release medical records from her evaluation after Webb’s arrest. Doctors concluded not only that Quon was not suicidal but that the whole thing seemed like a “manipulation."

Justice and UCE 48 had worried about that possibility, ever since the beginning. What if Webb’s story about Quon wanting to commit suicide was just that—a story?

“What if this guy is trying to kill (Quon?)” UCE 48 testified in court, describing Justice’s concern. “He, basically he [Justice] was not OK with that.”

Even though Quon’s children are her benefactors, Webb would surely have an opportunity to benefit, with power of attorney. And Justice told UCE 48 that Webb once said he should not be surprised “if he just one day found a million dollars in his bank account,” if everything went as planned.

Eventually, though, Justice convinced himself this was a suicide, telling UCE 48 he was “doing this for the right reason.” A few days after his first encounter with UCE 48, he texted the undercover cop about a house fire at Quon’s residence, and that the attorney had been inside at the time.

“I made kind of a joke,” the detective testified. "‘They couldn’t wait for us?’ and Mr. Justice said, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I was thinking.’” (Quon later denied setting the fire deliberately in media interviews. She claims she had too much to drink, took sleeping pills, and forgot about some candles she’d lit upstairs.)

Webb’s attorney wasn’t willing to answer these questions when contacted by The Daily Beast, though he did tell the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the police’s murder-conspiracy theory is “a figment of their imagination.” Quon’s attorney didn’t return phone calls. But the court proceedings in that case and the HOA investigation are being closely watched in Sin City, said Jeff German, a reporter for the Review-Journal who has been following the crime drama.

“It’s one of the craziest stories I’ve seen out here,” German said. “You have a former cop, a well-known, wealthy construction-defect lawyer, you’ve got drugs involved, an alleged murder-suicide plot, all in the context of a massive FBI investigation into corruption and fraud within homeowner’s associations here in Las Vegas. There are rumblings that politicians may be dragged into this case before it’s all over. We still don’t know how it’s going to end."

Winston Ross is a reporter for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon and a regular contributor to Newsweek.com. He blogs irregularly at winstonross.wordpress.com.