LAS VEGAS (AP) - A federal judge expressed "severe reservations" Monday about a plea deal that would sentence a southern Nevada brothel owner to probation after he pleaded guilty to a felony corruption charge.
"I'm not sure I see a reason I should accept this," U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Jones told Joseph Maynard Richards and his lawyers after a federal prosecutor described a plea agreement to let the 75-year-old Richards remain free after admitting he tried to bribe a Nye County commissioner to relax bordello laws in 2005.
"I make it my intent to accept it," the judge concluded, "if properly persuaded at the final sentencing hearing."
Richards, who also uses the name Maynard Martin Richards, admitted that he paid $5,000 to former Nye County Commission Chairwoman Candice Trummell, a Republican from Pahrump, to try to get the five-member commission to relax laws so he could open another brothel.
Richards pleaded guilty to one count of a two-count wire fraud indictment alleging he schemed to deprive residents of honest governmental services.
"Guilty, your honor," he said.
The judge set sentencing for June 15, and made it clear he was troubled to be asked to depart from federal sentencing guidelines to benefit a man who tried to buy a favorable vote "for the purpose of benefiting an immoral business."
Richards would face 18 to 24 months in prison under the guidelines, prosecutors said.
"I will simply express some severe reservations," Jones said, who added that he knew prostitution was legal in Nye County. The judge said he might consider requiring Richards to give up the businesses as part of his sentence.
Exact terms of Richards' probation were not discussed.
Nevada allows prostitution in rural counties, but not in its most populous counties and biggest cities, including Las Vegas and Reno. Richards owns three of seven legal brothels in and around the Nye County community of Pahrump, about 60 miles west of Las Vegas. He also owns a Pahrump massage parlor and a strip club.
Trummell was cooperating with the FBI in at the time in a public corruption investigation that she said began before she was elected
to the county commission in 2003. She is no longer on the board.
If the judge rejects the deal, Richards can withdraw his plea and go to trial.
He was indicted in March 2006 on the two felony wire fraud charges. Each carries a maximum possible sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutor Steven Myhre, and Richards' lawyers, Tom Pitaro and Leo Flangas, said Richards has no criminal history and that he faces unspecified health problems.
Richards declined comment outside the courtroom.
Pitaro said he expected a confidential presentencing report will show the judge the plea deal is appropriate.
Gregory Brower, U.S. Attorney for Nevada, defended the agreement
and downplayed Richards' bribery attempt as unsuccessful and
"Our resources are limited," Brower said. "This defendant has been cooperating, he has accepted responsibility and admitted his crime. It was a small-time effort at bribing a county commissioner who reported the effort and cooperated with the FBI."
There was no public policy that was adopted as a result of this," Brower added. "He has no criminal history, he apparently has health issues, and he's 75 years old."