| Home | Books and Gifts | Photo Album | Mob Busters | Mafia Site Search |
Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Second Binion case goes to the jury
Judge's objectivity more in question now than ever

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
November 22, 2004
    Defendant Sandy Murphy       Judge autographing books describing alleged fellatio
    (Gary Thompson Review Journal)                                      (KLAS TV News)

LAS VEGAS - During the outset of the just completed Binion "murder" retrial, Clark County District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure was on good behavior. He sat silently and expressionless through the first four weeks of often boring testimony. He would joke with both sides, try to ease tensions, and make eye contact with whomever was speaking. However, the mood drastically changed when Becky Behnen, estranged sister of the deceased Ted Binion, began appearing in the courtroom during the final weeks of testimony.

As Behnen began watching from the third row, the judge's demeanor transformed into something familiar to first trial observers. He began to regularly berate the defense attorneys in front of the jury -- this time Michael Cristalli, accused murderess Sandy Murphy's chief defense counsel. In one instance, the judge told Cristalli (his former law clerk) to stop talking to Murphy while a prosecutor was speaking, and again screamed that Cristalli should "Show more respect," and address the judge as "Your honor."

He made no such admonishments to Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lalli, or co-prosecutor Robert Daskas, at least not while the jury was present.

The Judge also began giving obvious silent signals to the jury through his body language -- looking into space or taking notes when defense attorneys asked questions of their experts. When prosecutors rose to speak, the judge would be seen putting down his pen and making direct eye contact. The jury could not help but notice. 

In the meantime, some observers said the bailiff made adjustments to the thermostat in the courtroom each time the defense had the floor. Court observers said the temperature became uncomfortably warm during defense testimony, and cooled to a comfortable level during prosecution testimony. Defendant Rick Tabish's defense attorney Tony Serra made light of the alleged temperature changes during former Las Vegas mayor Jan Jones' testimony. Also, Judge Bonaventure was seen offering prosecution witnesses a glass of water during their testimony, but not affording defense witnesses the same courtesy.

Coincidentally, Clark County District Attorney David Roger also started showing up in the courtroom gallery about the same time as Becky Behnen appeared on the scene. The DA must not be too busy this time of the year to be able to spend so much time away from his office.

This is the same Judge and same soon-to-be DA that attended an August 11, 2001 book signing party at the Horseshoe casino formerly owned by Ms. Behnen. There they autographed dozens of books containing the following paragraph: "But the most enjoyable privilege might have been having sex with Murphy right under the noses of the guards. At one session, while the lawyers and other defense team members were talking with the two defendants, Murphy was observed slipping to her knees under the table and giving oral sex to Tabish. Defense team members could hardly believe their eyes as other team members continued the discussion as if nothing unusual was happening. The corrections officers, sitting outside the boardroom, apparently never saw Murphy disappear under the table."

The above statement appeared on page 284 of the books signed by Judge Bonaventure, the future DA, and a future judge -- all entrusted with the duty of seeking justice -- not self-engrandizement.
               "Keep well, Judge Bonaventure"                     Judge scolding Murphy

      "Best Wishes, Dave Roger"                 Future DA Roger           Future Judge Wall
    "Enjoy the book, David Wall"

Soon after Ms. Behnen's autograph party at the Horseshoe, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Judge Bonaventure made serious legal errors during the first trial and remanded the case back to his court for retrial. That's when he should have recused, but didn't. He said he could be objective, though he had promoted a book that demonized litigants still under his jurisdiction, and though several complaints were filed with the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline about his attendance at the book signing, he insisted on presiding over the televised retrial.

                        Rick Tabish

The secret complaint publicly surfaced when George Knapp of KLAS TV News reported hearing of it two weeks before the retrial was scheduled to begin. By then it was too late for the Commission to act, and defense attorneys wanted to get on with the case, especially after their clients had already served years behind bars for a purported crime that had never adequately been proven.

The Judicial Discipline Commission procrastinated for twenty-nine months while spending taxpayer money on a private investigation firm to verify the charges. At this late date, the commission has still failed to render a decision or give reason for their delay, and its yet to be officially determined whether Judge Bonaventure was unbiased when he went to Behnen's casino to promote a book about a case still on his docket. The Commission's lack of action for twenty-nine months cast a shadow over the objectivity of a judge, and could come back to haunt him in the event of a mistrial or second appeal.

During closing statements Thursday, Serra who lives and practices mainly in California, stated that the family that made its fortune in the gambling world wanted someone to be held responsible for Ted Binion's death. He also told the jury that the rich family paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to a private investigator who then paid tens of thousands to prosecution witnesses for their testimony. He also emphasized that if he -- being from San Francisco -- had paid defense witnesses to testify, the jury would have wanted him arrested. He went on to say that in Las Vegas, "what casinos want, casinos get," insinuating that there is a double standard of justice -- one for ordinary citizens, and another for the casino "barons," as he called them.

              Attorney Tony Serra

Such criticism of our town's only industry could not have been made by any local attorney who wanted to stay in business. To "fall on his sword," as did Serra for his client, would be the end of a local attorney -- or judge's -- career since the casinos wield unimaginable monetary and political clout. I should know. In 1991, while I was running for Mayor of Las Vegas, I walked into the Horseshoe unannounced and walked out with two hundred $100 bills stuffed into my pockets. (Click here for the story.)

While Serra was making his closing statement, Judge Bonaventure squirmed for all to see -- his face grimacing more and more with every word that demonized the casino business. Serra asked the jury to understand that no one has the right in Las Vegas to challenge the "Gods" of the casinos. That Ted Binion's fortune was destined to go back to his family even though he willed a large portion of it to Murphy -- a portion including his Palomino Lane estate where he was notorious for burying treasures underground and in the attic.

This may have been the reason Murphy appeared so distraught on a tape taken the day following Binion's death. Unauthorized persons including former Clark County Public Administrator Jared Shafer and attorney Jim Brown contaminated the death scene while Murphy was prohibited from entering until she could convince police she lived there after showing her Nevada driver's license. When she did gain entry the next day, she and other witnesses said the house had been looted.


During the retrial, it was obvious Judge Bonaventure is not a good poker player, and that Becky Behnen is. This was evidenced by their contrasting facial expressions during Serra's anti-casino closing statement, especially when he exclaimed, "We're here because royalty has been insulted." "The power structure will not allow the mistress to live in the hallowed ground of our royalty." "She is an outsider. We will destroy her," obviously referring to the Behnen family who paid witnesses cumulatively over $100,000 to help convict Murphy and Tabish, along with paying private investigator Tom Dillard an alleged $400,000 to gather and prepare certain prosecution witnesses for both trials.

Even when Serra yelled "Hail Caesar!" in reference to her, Behnen sat stone faced in the gallery.

Never in the history of Sin City have I seen a DA allow so much outside interference in a case his department was prosecuting, nor can I remember a time when prosecution witnesses were paid up to $20,000 each for their testimony.

This, while Becky Behnen reportedly hated her siblings during the years prior to Ted's death -- years when Ted was preparing to remove her from the Horseshoe and take back control. (Conspicuously absent from the retrial courtroom were Becky's husband Nick and son Benny.)

Becky and family mourning loss of Ted

In a gambling town, you don't diss the casinos or their esteemed owners, and here was a famous San Francisco attorney doing exactly that on national TV! The Judge and Becky's faces read like a book as Serra said, "How dare she" (Murphy) challenge the "Gods" of the casinos?

Judge Bonaventure may have been thinking about how, following the tarnished verdict of the first trial, former Binion case prosecutors David Roger and David Wall, along with their-then boss, ex-District Attorney Stu Bell, used the convictions to catapult into higher office.

Roger was elected DA, while Wall and Bell were elected District Court Judges. Also, Judge Bonaventure has often been mentioned as a contender for a seat on the Nevada Supreme Court. If the retrial jury returns an opposite ruling, it could have a devastating effect on the foursome's possible future political aspirations.

Everyone around here knows it's the casinos that make or break local political careers such as that of Joseph Bonaventure, or his recently elected 28 year old son Joe Bonaventure, who is about to be sworn in as a Justice of the Peace. It takes millions of dollars to run a political campaign in Nevada, and the casinos are the cash cows that make successful campaigns happen, especially for judges who want to someday sit on the state Supreme Court, or see their offspring elected to public office.

The trial ended and the jury went into deliberation late Friday afternoon.

The retrial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish in a monarchy like Las Vegas was an unnatural phenomenon. In the old days, those who dared challenge the "Gods" didn't see the light of a courtroom. Most ended up in shallow graves just over the state line. Benny Binion, Bugsy Siegel, Moe Dalitz, and Meyer Lansky must be spinning in their graves!

August 16, 2000
August 31, 2000
September 30, 2000
January 10, 2001
November 7, 2001
May 1, 2002
May 22, 2002
Inside Vegas/10-21-02

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here: Steve Miller's Las Vegas E-Briefs

Copyright © Steve Miller

email Steve Miller at:
div. of PLR International
P.O. Box 23
Cleveland, OH 44072-0023
216 374-0000

Copyright © 1998 - 2004 PLR International