Updated December 12, 2022 - 4:13 pm
New county records show that the day after the June primary, former Clark County public administrator Robert Telles blamed consultant Michael Murphy for making “a bit of a mess” in the office, and warned of potential ineptitude and theft as he lamented losing his re-election bid.
Murphy, the former coroner, was hired by Deputy County Manager Jeff Wells to handle office turmoil following a May 15 investigative story by Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German that revealed two years of employee complaints of bullying and retaliation.
In an email to Wells, Telles wrote, “The office is a little black box where it is easy for the public administrator and staff to abuse the office. This includes the potential for ineptitude, theft and kickbacks from vendors.”
The startling email seems to foreshadow Telles’ actions. Metro police are looking into allegations that Telles orchestrated a house-flipping scheme with properties he administrated, sources say, and the Nevada Supreme Court suspended Telles’ law license while it investigates whether he misappropriated client funds as a private attorney.
German was stabbed to death and a grand jury indicted Telles for German’s murder in what police say was retaliation for the articles.
The June 15 email, with a large section redacted by the county, also shows Wells had apparently supported Telles despite multiple workers coming forward with serious allegations. “I appreciate the vote of confidence from last night. I thought maybe you were right. I thought I had this,” Telles wrote. German’s story a few days later noted Telles was losing his re-election bid and had posted an angry letter on his campaign website.
The newest batch of county internal communications between Wells, Telles and Murphy show Telles consistently found fault with co-workers and vigorously defended allegations made against him in efforts to retain control of the small county office. And some emails indicate the elected official was worried German had more stories in the works.
County manager claims politics
The emails show top managers viewed the problems in the office in political terms.
In one, Wells, who has failed to properly oversee departments under his purview, including the public administrator , questioned the timing of German’s first article published in May.
“I know I can be a cynic when it comes to politics — but isn’t it interesting that this article came out just before early voting starts and (Assistant PA) Rita (Reid) is running in the primary against Telles,” Wells wrote the morning of May 16 to fellow managers. A March email from Wells to then-county manager Yolanda King shows their reactions to Reid deciding to challenge Telles.
“I’m not sure if you noticed but Rita Reed (sic) who works in the Public Administrators office has filed a primary challenge against Robert Telles,” Wells wrote King. “That should make for an interesting workplace over the next three months!!”
King responded: “Yes, I noticed she filed and thought the office environment should be interesting.”
Murphy, who was once publicly welcomed by Telles, remained the focus of Telles’ anger in late June. He accused Murphy of taking sides, records show.
He sent Wells emails stating Murphy did not know what he was doing and asking him to intervene to prevent Murphy from siding with the employees who were complaining.
“I am frankly shocked at the way (Murphy) has acted so far,” Telles wrote June 24. “If his contract states he is to back up the people from the article no matter what he sees in the office, he is doing his job well. I would appreciate it if you could have a talk with Mike about not immediately buying every little thing they say.” No email from Wells replying was included with the documents.
Telles explained to Wells that he believes the staff members are trying to make him resign and offers to work from home, adding: “The last thing I need is another article from Jeff German about my resigning and how it supposedly justified their claims. I’m sure they will persist in these silly little games because that is what they really want, another article.”
Murphy declined to comment for this story.
Reid, who had complained to the county about Telles’ behavior and subsequently defeated him in this year’s election, said Wells’ emails are “dismissive” of the problems public administrator employees brought to county management.
“They show a total disregard for the concerns I had voiced,” she said after the Review-Journal read her the emails obtained through Nevada’s public records law. “I guess I’m not surprised but I’m terribly, terribly disappointed.”
In the three months since German’s murder and Telles’ arrest, county leaders repeatedly have refused interviews. This includes Wells and Kevin Schiller, who was appointed county manager after King retired in November.
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom said the county has decided not to publicly address the matter.
“I don’t have the ability to comment about it,” he said, adding that he hasn’t seen the emails. “We’ve agreed not to talk about this because it is a criminal matter.”
Other commissioners did not respond to requests for comment last week and, in September, fled a county meeting to avoid questions from the Review-Journal.
Telles’ attorney, K. Ryan Helmick, declined to comment.
Workers not notified of arrest
The emails also contain details of Telles’ 2020 domestic violence arrest and how county leaders were notified.
On March 1, 2020, Sheriff Joe Lombardo, now Nevada’s governor-elect, forwarded an email to King from his staff about Telles’ arrest. Police say he was drunk, grabbed his wife’s neck, hit her arm and later resisted officers while being placed in handcuffs. His wife, Mae Ismael, told police that Telles yelled “Kill me!” She and their two children hid in a room.
King forwarded the report to Wells, but there were no emails detailing whether he took action. In fact out of more than 400 pages of records, the county provided only a handful of emails from Wells about Telles and the office as part of multiple record requests.
County employees say they were never informed of the arrest, even though some had documented to managers that they didn’t feel safe at work.
County spokesman Erik Pappa provided a statement saying the county did not think a domestic violence arrest was grounds for having Telles removed from office and that it did not impact his job duties.
On July 27, Telles writes Wells a long email titled “Current state of affairs” where he again complains about office staff and Murphy. “So, it seems that these folks are trying to get more fodder for Jeff German to write another article,” Telles wrote. “It appears that Mike and his wife may be in on this one to a degree.”
Telles charges that Murphy doesn’t understand the office and takes Murphy and an employee, whose name was redacted, to task for allegedly berating an unnamed part-time worker. “Mike and (redacted) will tell you he was a bad employee, but no employee responds well to abusive conditions.
“All the stories seem to try to drop that same allegation I was being inappropriate with an employee just to make it juicier,” he wrote. “They just need to be sure that I all around look like a monster.”
Contact Arthur Kane at (702) 383-0286 or at email@example.com . Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing.
What is the Public Administrator’s Office?
The county office oversees the estates of those who died and is responsible for securing the property of the deceased while the family or an executor is located, according to the county. The office also administers estates via the courts, when families cannot. The office head has been an elected position.
As of mid-May 2022, the office had eight-full time employees, three part-time support staffers, and roughly 15 part-time investigators who spend most of their days in the field. Several workers transferred to other departments after Telles’ arrest.
In May, the county brought in former county coroner Michael Murphy as a consultant to handle some administrative duties and contain friction between employees after the first investigative story published.
Forner Public Administrator Robert Telles, who was arrested and charged with murder, made $170,517.31 in salary and benefits in 2020, according to the Transparent Nevada website. Telles, who took the role in January 2019, was removed from office by the county in October.
Assistant Public Administrator Rita Reid, who won the November election to lead the office, will take over in January.