Latest: Participants in Nevada water hustle found guilty

The charges include criminal conspiracy and trespass.

  • Michael Johnson, left, and Robert Coache during their arraignment in 2011.

    Sam Morris/ Las Vegas Sun

In May 2011, police in Las Vegas, Nevada, arrested Robert Coache, a recently retired state water regulator, and Michael Johnson, an employee of the Virgin Valley Water District. They were accused of conspiring to take $1.3 million in kickbacks from local businessman John Lonetti Jr., in exchange for brokering water rights at inflated prices to Johnson’s employer and the powerful Southern Nevada Water Authority (“The water hustle,” HCN, 11/23/15).

In November, a jury found Coache and Johnson guilty of conspiracy, extortion, bribery and dozens of money-laundering charges.
On Jan. 18, both men received three-to-eight-year prison sentences. Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo prosecuted the five-and-a-half-year-long case. “I got one hell of an education in water rights, and an even bigger education in public fraud,” says DiGiacomo, who normally handles murder cases. “Despite there being no dead victim, this was a very important case. They’ve been unrepentant.”

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