It took a Clark County District Court jury just over six hours to find former Virgin Valley Water District Chief Hydrologist Michael ‘Boomer’ Johnson guilty of all charges in a criminal case that dates back to 2008. Robert Coache, former Deputy State Engineer, State of Nevada Division of Water Resources was found guilty of 50 of 51 charges in the same case prosecuted by Clark County Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo.
In 2011 Johnson and Coache were each charged with 49 felony counts including extortion by a public officer, a public officer asking for and receiving a bribe, misconduct of a public officer, money laundering and 42 counts of illegal financial transactions. Each man was also charged with conspiracy to commit extortion by a public officer, conspiracy by a public officer, and conspiracy to use monetary instruments from unlawful activities; all gross misdemeanor charges.
The trial, delayed 11 times over the years, convened Nov. 7 and concluded Nov. 23. Sentencing of the two men is set for Jan. 12, 2017. Johnson resigned from the Water District in August 2010 and Coache retired from his job in April 2010.
Johnson and Coache allegedly arranged for water purchases and trades between wealthy businessman John Lonetti, Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Virgin Valley Water District in which the District says it came out $3,8885,000 on the short end. Former VVWD General Manager Michael Winters was also implicated in the transaction but charges were later dropped. No charges were ever filed against Lonetti.
The criminal complaint specified that Johnson and Coache received $1,327,000 from Lonetti for their alleged actions in the deal.
According to court documents filed in a civil case against the two men, “Johnson admitted to having engaged in the illicit 2008 transaction and the admission is on audio recording. Specifically, Johnson admitted that he was personally compensated by Lonetti in connection with the 2008 transaction between SNWA, Lonetti, and VVWD; that Johnson concealed from the VVWD Board Johnson’s real and personal involvement in the 2008 transaction; and that Johnson would not have been able to obtain his secret profits if VVWD had purchased [water shares] directly from Lonetti. Johnson also admitted that [he] and Coache used a portion of the secret profits to purchase a home in Las Vegas, NV in the name of their company Cibola Investments, LLC” among other purchases and investments.
After criminal charges were filed against Johnson and Coache in May 2011, the Water District filed civil charges against the four men for not only the 2008 water transaction but another one in 2005 in which the district allegedly lost approximately $8 million worth of water rights.
The civil case was settled in 2014 with Lonetti returning some of the water shares and money to the Water District and Johnson admitting to District Court Judge Robert Bare that he violated his fiduciary responsibility to the district.
Johnson’s civil case settlement requires him to pay $100,000 cash to the District. The agreement does not allow him to discharge the debt in any future bankruptcy action. He must also sign over the first $100,000 he receives from mineral (oil) rights.
In addition, the District is set to receive his interests in assets seized by Metro Police based on the criminal case guilty verdict which includes two houses and proceeds from the sale of a third house, all located in Las Vegas.
Publisher’s note: Ellestad is a member of the Virgin Valley Water District Board of Directors.