- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 9, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A former Nevada state court judge has been disbarred ahead of sentencing next month after he pleaded guilty in a federal fraud case, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The disbarment order issued Friday against Steven Jones by the Nevada Supreme Court was a formality and fulfilled one condition of a plea deal that could bring a 27-month sentence, defense attorney Robert Draskovich said.

“He’s fulfilling his part of the negotiation with the federal government,” Draskovich said.

Federal prosecutors said in the plea agreement that 22 investors lost some $2.6 million in the scheme between 2002 and 2012, with money that was promised to yield high returns instead funding the defendants’ living expenses and gambling.

Prosecutors dropped 19 conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges in return for Jones’ guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He is also expected to face a restitution order at sentencing on Jan. 26 with four other co-defendants.

Jones, 56, resigned from the bench after pleading guilty and submitted his petition for disbarment to the state high court.

He had spent 30 years as a lawyer in Nevada, including 22 years as a Clark County Family Court judge in Las Vegas.

Jones’ plea acknowledged that he abused his position while vouching for the credibility of his ex-wife’s brother, Thomas Cecrle Jr., and a claim that Cecrle had federal Department of Homeland Security connections to help gain big returns on small investments involving water rights in the Southwest.

The plea signaled an end to a three-year saga that included Jones’ suspension from the bench for failing to recuse himself from cases involving prosecutor Lisa Ann Willardson, who appeared before him while they dated.

The romance became public in October 2011.

Willardson, who denied the two had an improper relationship, was found dead last Dec. 26 with a lethal combination of prescription medications in her system at her home in Henderson. The death was ruled a suicide. She was 45.

Cercle, of Henderson, and co-defendants Mark Hansen and Terry Wolfe each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Co-defendant Constance Fenton pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

A sixth former co-defendant, Ashlee Martin, 30, of Las Vegas pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was placed in a one-year pretrial diversion program that could lead to the dismissal of the case against her.

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