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Review-Journal investigations broke news on fatal fire, COVID, child deaths

Updated January 21, 2021 - 2:49 pm

A fatal fire in downtown Las Vegas and the global pandemic dominated the news and the Review-Journal’s investigative efforts in 2020. But our investigative team also revealed failures in the county child protection system and state and court officials dropping the ball when it came to collecting restitution for Nevada crime victims.

The team also won a nearly four-year court battle with Clark County over the release of child autopsy records as part of an investigation into child protection actions in the county.

In 2021, we’ll continue to deliver reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and reveals wrongdoing in our communities.

Here is the top investigative and enterprise work from our team in 2020:

Alpine Fire

The December 2019 Alpine Motel Apartments fire was the deadliest residential blaze in Las Vegas history, killing six people. The investigative team dug deep for months, revealing missed inspections, clashes between government officials over the building and the questionable background of the owner.

Our reporting exposed failures in the city’s inspection system. The stories found that the city had failed to inspect the property for more than two years despite knowing it was in poor condition.

Did a gap in fire inspections put Alpine apartments at risk?

The Metropolitan Police Department repeatedly tried to close the Alpine, but city staff stood in the way, saying there were not enough violations to merit designating the property a public nuisance.

Police called Alpine “worst of the worst,” tried to close it. Las Vegas officials said no.

And the audible alarm, which could have warned sleeping residents of the fire, had been disengaged.

Records show fire alarm was silenced weeks before deadly downtown blaze

Exclusive records and interviews raised questions about the owner, who has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths.

Once a teacher, this secretive Vegas landlord built an empire. Then 6 died.

Alpine Motel owner was part of federal drugs, cartel investigation.

Records released in October also detailed residents’ attempts to escape the building.

COVID crisis

The coronavirus pandemic engulfed the world and Nevada’s economy, which relies on tourism, was hit particularly hard.

The Review-Journal continues the fight for state health records, some which have not been released. But the investigative team still dug deep into the impact of the crisis to keep readers informed and provided essential background explanation behind ever-changing COVID-19 data.

COVID-19 nursing home patients not isolated — 7 dead, 38 infected

More than 80% of Nevada’s nursing homes failed to meet infection standards

Obtaining public records sometimes took weeks of responding to initial denials from officials who refused to release key health information, then challenging their decisions using the Nevada Public Records Act.

Nevada hospital reports kept secret amid coronavirus spread

Strip casinos dominate COVID tracing list; Cosmopolitan on top

Nevada stops COVID exposure reports for workplaces, hotel-casinos

Reporters also wrote about the concerns of people who felt the governor overstepped his authority in closing the state.

Business leaders slam Sisolak on slow reopening plans

Western states start some reopening while Nevada waits.

Stories documented the impact on various communities and businesses.

Nevada’s 27 tribal nations say they were left behind amid pandemic

COVID could have imploded projects like Resorts World. Why didn’t it?

Postal workers see sudden surge of COVID in recent weeks

OSHA officials started to investigate the virus among postal workers after the story ran.

Rats moved to neighborhoods when COVID shuttered businesses

Reporter Michael Scott Davidson helped create a standing data page showing the pandemic’s impact on Nevada.

Criminal investigations, failures of CPS

While breaking news dominated 2020, the team was able to expose other problems with government, like failures to collect millions in restitution for Nevada crime victims and a criminal investigation of a lawmaker.

When criminals don’t pay

Police probe Las Vegas assemblyman’s use of campaign funds

The Review-Journal also obtained internal documents detailing interactions between county child protection workers and the family of 13-year-old Aaron Jones, whose decomposed body was found in an vacant desert lot. The records show repeated failures by county staff to remove the boy and his siblings despite warnings from school officials. The documents also detail a judge’s questionable decision to place the boy with the his father despite a recent child abuse conviction. The father is charged with killing Aaron.

A recipe for disaster

On the last day of the year, Clark County, under court order, produced 653 child autopsy reports dating between 2012 and 2017 that will help the Review-Journal investigate the actions of child protection workers in abuse cases.

Autopsy records released to Review-Journal after years of litigation

Black Lives Matter protests dominated national and local news in the summer and reporters looked into the people involved and questionable claims by a public official.

Records don’t match Fiore’s claims of intelligence to kill whites.

Boogaloo arrests reveal new extremist agenda to hijack protests

Crime enterprise

The team also broke some exclusive news and dug into high-profile court cases.

A story found that one key piece of evidence helped the FBI capture a sophisticated ring of armored car robbers.

One clue helped FBI-police solve daring armored truck heists.

An exclusive exposed an attempt to extort the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Dana White named as extortion victim in sex-tape case.

And a report showed how, when a Las Vegas entrepreneur promised to safeguard people’s money, things went horribly wrong.

Mr. Elliot promised clients his private vault was safe. He was wrong.

The team also updated readers on a 2017 investigation of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, reporting on the settlement of criminal charges. For three years, the Review-Journal investigative team showed the agency had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on questionable items like alcohol, pricey restaurants and night clubs. The stories sparked an audit that found tens of thousands of Southwest Airlines gift cards were used by top executives for personal travel. The audit led to criminal charges that were settled for several of the defendants in 2020, which drew substantial criticism.

Charged with felonies, tourism boss gets sweetheart deal.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reporting that holds leaders and agencies accountable and exposes wrongdoing. Contact other members of the team: Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3801. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter; Michael Scott Davidson at sdavidson@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Follow @davidsonlvrj on Twitter; Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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