LAS VEGAS, Nevada—Las Vegas police arrested a county official Wednesday evening on suspicion of murder in the death of a reporter he had previously accused of conducting a “smear” campaign against him.
The arrest of Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, a 45-year-old Democrat who oversees the securing of estates of people who’ve died, followed an hourlong standoff after Telles barricaded himself in his home. It also came hours after police first carried out a search warrant at Telles’ home and nearly a week after Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German was found dead outside his own home on Friday.
Telles was loaded out of his home on a stretcher and into an ambulance, according to a Review-Journal reporter. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday morning. Jail records indicate that Telles has been charged with open murder with a deadly weapon and will have his initial appearance Thursday afternoon.
Telles’ potential connection to German’s death came to light after some of German’s colleagues witnessed cops arrive at Telles’ home Wednesday morning. Detectives at the scene confirmed the search was related to the slaying of German, the Review-Journal reported.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Las Vegas Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said “the arrest of Robert Telles is at once an enormous relief and an outrage for the Review-Journal newsroom.”
“We are relieved Robert Telles is in custody and outraged that a colleague appears to have been killed for reporting on an elected official,” Cook added. “Journalists can’t do the important work our communities require if they are afraid a presentation of facts could lead to violent retribution. We thank Las Vegas police for their urgency and hard work and for immediately recognizing the terrible significance of Jeff’s killing.”
Cops have not yet released a motive behind German’s slaying. They said the 69-year-old was found dead outside his home on Friday, fatally stabbed in an “altercation” they believe took place the day before.
Detectives had released grainy pics of someone in a straw hat, gloves, and an orange long-sleeved shirt they believe to be involved. Police also described a vehicle of interest—a 2007 to 2014 red or maroon GMC Yukon Denali with chrome handles and a sunroof.
Reporters from the Review-Journal staked out Telles’ home this week, claiming to have spotted him in his driveway with an SUV that matched the one described by police on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the car was towed just after noon.
Rita Reid, a top supervisor under Telles who defeated him in the June Democratic primary, said she had faith in law enforcement and “that they must have seen something that was worth moving forward with.”
She declined to further discuss Telles’ arrest on the porch of her Henderson home Wednesday evening. The lights were off inside her home at about 8 p.m. She answered a knock at the door only after peeking through the shutter blinds on her front door and asking for identification.
“I had suspected that [the knock was a reporter] and hoped it wasn’t something else because right now we’re still quite uneasy,” she said before praising German for his reporting, which she said has helped the administrator’s office begin to better serve the county. German was an advocate for the workers in a “divided” office, Reid said.
“He was willing to speak truth to power and it cost him his life,” she said.
Telles was not shy about publicly declaring his hatred for the late reporter, and had just been defeated in a re-election primary race, for which he blamed German.
Most of Telles’ vitriol stemmed from a series of stories published by the Review-Journal this summer that claimed he was an abusive boss who had an inappropriate relationship with another county official at work.
To get the story, German spoke with people who worked under Telles. They described him as a hostile boss that played favorites. These workers also claimed estate coordinator Roberta Lee-Kennett enjoyed special powers in the office by virtue of her personal relationship with Telles.
Workers said they took a video of Lee-Kennett and Telles, who is married with kids, hanging in the back of his car at work, the Review-Journal reported. Telles, 45, denied each accusation, and Lee-Kennett likewise denied any kind of inappropriate relationship.
The last story published by German about Telles was to announce that he’d conceded in the primary race, having placed third.
With his days as a county official numbered after his defeat in June, Telles took to Twitter and his website to vent his anger toward German, while claiming Lee-Kennett wasn’t a mistress but someone he “could lean on” while trying to change his office’s atmosphere.
One tweet from Telles accused German of preparing “lying smear piece #4.”
“I think he’s mad that I haven’t crawled into a hole and died,” read another tweet.
In a rambling post on his former campaign website, labeled as “THE TRUTH,” Telles alleged German cost him the election along with the “rightwing” Review-Journal.
“You may believe that I betrayed your trust,” Telles wrote. “You may believe I am not the man that I have always portrayed myself to be. Some of you may not know all the good work that I have done for Las Vegas. I hope by the end of this page you will see what I know to be true. The article was false.”
After his defeat in June, Telles posted that he would return to practicing probate law.
Telles, who was seen returning to his home Wednesday in some kind of white jumpsuit, could not be reached for comment by The Daily Beast through messages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and text. He did not answer at a number listed in his name, and local journalists reported that he did not respond when police returned to the scene and attempted to knock on his door in the late afternoon.
The executive editor at the Review-Journal said German never communicated any concerns about his personal safety or threats made against him.
“The Review-Journal family is devastated to lose Jeff,” Executive Editor Glen Cook said in a statement. “He was the gold standard of the news business. It’s hard to imagine what Las Vegas would be like today without his many years of shining a bright light on dark places.”
Benjamin Donlon, a former candidate for Nevada Assembly, told The Daily Beast that he was not shocked by the news of the search warrant, saying, “it seems like everyone that gets on the wrong side of Telles has some trouble.”
“Telles is a piece of work,” he added.
Donlon, like German, has been on the receiving end of Telles’ public wrath, as he was accused of posing as an employee of the office in estate cases. The failed Republican candidate for the Assembly District 16 denied those allegations, insisting he works for a company that works with attorneys to find heirs for estates to see if they need representation.
Telles’ office is responsible for securing the property of recently deceased residents and searching for next of kin.
The county public administrator’s website currently features a banner that reads: “Please be aware that a man named Benjamin Donlon has been contacting families of deceased people. He has been claiming that he is a representative of this office. Benjamin Donlon is not, and has never been, an employee of the Clark County Public Administrator.”
For his part, Donlon believes that banner is still on the county website because Telles has been “a bit preoccupied” after his re-election loss.
He added that while he did not know German, he knew the reporter had an “excellent reputation in town.”
Indeed, German was praised early and often after his death by colleagues who admired his spirit and dedication to his work.
“Jeff was a tenacious reporter and he had been doing this kind of work for 40 years,” said Geoff Schumacher, a former colleague of German’s at the Las Vegas Sun. “He wanted the public to know about things that were going wrong, or injustices that were happening.”
Schumacher is now vice president of exhibits and programs at The Mob Museum in Las Vegas. He said that over the years, German’s reporting had rubbed some people the wrong way.
“People whose secrets or foibles were exposed in his reporting were certainly not happy with him,” Schumacher said. “Jeff is someone who would not have been afraid of something like this happening. He was fearless and stood his ground when he felt a story was right. He was prepared to deal with the consequences of it. But I don’t think he ever imagined it would lead to something like this.”
Nonetheless, German was devoted to his craft, Schumacher said.
“I think he had ink in his veins,” Schumacher said, “He was going to be a reporter from birth to death.”