To say the wheels of justice turn slowly may be the biggest understatement associated with a criminal trial against former Virgin Valley Water District Chief Hydrologist Michael “Boomer” Johnson and his alleged co-conspirator Robert Coache, former Deputy State Engineer, State of Nevada Division of Water Resources.
After ten previous delays, subpoenas for various witnesses, including this reporter, were sent out over the last two weeks with the opening trial date set for Sept. 19. But once again, the trial has been delayed until Nov 7.
The last delay in April was the tenth time the trial had been delayed, all at the request of the defendants. Even as late as Sept. 8, attorneys for Johnson and Coache had requested another delay. However, presiding District Court Judge Richard F. Scotti denied the request saying in the court record that the “Trial in this case has been continued many times. The last continuance was at Calendar Call on April 12, 2016. The Court reset trial for September 19, 2016. The parties have known about this new date for five months. The Court is not inclined to reset the trial date once again, absent a stipulation from all parties or a noticed motion showing very compelling grounds, other than press of business or a competing trial schedule.”
This time the lead prosecuting attorney, Deputy District Attorney Mark DiGiacomo, asked for the continuance since he is involved in a three-defendant homicide trial that began Sept. 12 and is expected to last three weeks, according to his spokesperson.
It’s been six years since Johnson and Coache were charged with 25 counts of criminal conduct stemming from a sale of water rights in 2008 involving local wealthy businessman John Lonetti.
The charges against the two men include extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion by a public officer, receiving a bribe by a public officer, conspiracy to commit receiving a bribe by a public officer, misconduct of a public officer, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Johnson, Coache, Lonetti and former Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) General Manager Michael Winters, allegedly arranged for water purchases and trades in 2008 with Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) in which VVWD came out $3,8885,000 on the short end.
The complaint specifies that Johnson and Coache received $1,327,000 from Lonetti for their alleged actions in the 2008 deal.
According to court documents, “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 the [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.
Lonetti has not been charged in the criminal case. Criminal charges against Winters were dropped in 2014.
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.