Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo has confirmed that Metro is cooperating with a federal investigation into one or more former vice detectives.
The 8 News NOW I-Team broke the story in November, but this is the first on-the-record confirmation by law enforcement.
What’s more, Metro has already instituted sweeping changes in its vice unit, in part because of the FBI probe.
It’s a new day for Metro’s vice unit, as well as for the gang unit. Those two operations are now under the same command.
One impetus for change is that Metro is responding to an FBI investigation into possible corruption within the vice team a few years ago.
The I-Team first revealed the existence of the FBI investigation back in November but there has been no official confirmation from anyone in law enforcement, until now.
“It’s a continuing investigation,” said Sheriff Joe Lombardo.
He is limited in what he can say about the FBI investigation, but he acknowledged it is real, it is ongoing, and that the FBI sought and received information from Metro.
“We are cooperating. There has been requests of our intelligence unit to provide some information and documents we have, associated with the suspects in that case, not the officers identified but the suspects that were incarcerated as a result of those investigations. We have supplied that information,” Sheriff Lombardo said.
The suspects he mentioned could include two men serving life terms for pandering: Raymond Sharpe and Ocean Fleming. Both are now seeking new trials, and both have alleged in court filings that former star vice Detective Chris Baughman — the man who put them away — had sexual relationships with prostitutes who became key witnesses.
Also, named in court motions is Baughman’s former partner, Detective Al Beas. A third name that has surfaced is that of former Metro Intelligence Detective Warren Gray. Law enforcement sources say it was Gray who introduced Chris Baughman to rapper and escort service operator Molly Mall, whose home was raided by the FBI’s political corruption team in 2014 — the first public hint that agents were investigating vice cops.
News of the FBI investigation has made a tough job even tougher at Metro vice.
“It does. It can have an effect. It is very difficult anyway to investigate and prosecute these cases because of the fear of the victims,” Sheriff Lombardo said.
The FBI probe gave the sheriff extra impetus to enact sweeping changes at vice. Personnel changes were made, and now vice has been put under a new lieutenant and a captain, Devon Ballard, who will oversee a recently combined vice and gang unit. Lombardo had previously decentralized those functions but felt the change wasn’t working so he reconfigured both of those teams. This combination of vice with gangs is also a response to the evolution of gangs themselves. Hybrid gangs are now heavily involved in local sex trafficking.
“They’re dipping their toes in everything they can to make money,” Sheriff Lombardo said. “Well, prostitution is another venue for them to make money, so it’s a natural fit for the vice unit to marry with the gang unit and conduct joint operations, share information and share intelligence.”
The sheriff adds that he’s been given the money to hire more gang detectives and thinks the extra manpower and new command structure will produce better results. And in the wake of the FBI investigation, vice detectives will — in the short term — be under closer supervision but by definition they need freedom to make moves.
“They operate in their own world and that’s why leadership is the most important aspect of that, to make sure officers don’t lose their way as they are doing what they were originally there to do. So, it’s important to have oversight.
Reporter George Knapp: “Are you are confident you have the right people in there?”
Sheriff Lombardo: “Absolutely.”
As mentioned, the FBI will not comment on, or confirm, the investigation. No charges have been filed against Chris Baughman or anyone else. In addition to the two inmates who are asking for new trials, the I-Team was told that three or more other defendants are also working on motions of their own. Detectives in the new vice and gang team want to move beyond this matter so they can refocus on criminals.