Veteran investigative journalist Jeff German — recently murdered for his coverage of a Las Vegas elected official — left this world doing what he loved most: covering the news, particularly on politics and corruption.
A reporter to his core, once he glommed onto a particular subject, he pursued it to the end. His resolve was something to behold. While working with German, whose desk at one time abutted mine, I witnessed his tenacity to get the story right and his impressive work ethic. He taught me to never give up. And never let the subject of an article discourage you from your coverage.
A year-and-a-half after I joined the Las Vegas Sun staff in 1993, I switched beats from Las Vegas City Hall to the police beat and moved to a desk in another area of the newsroom. At lunchtime, German would appear at my desk and simply say, “Ready?” which meant it was time to leave for lunch. He always drove, even if the restaurant was just a block away. He wasn’t a walker because he was always in a hurry to get back to the newsroom.
The first double byline German and I had was for a mob story. One January morning in 1997, he hurried over to my desk and said, “Blitzstein’s been murdered. Let’s go.” I grabbed a notebook and we ran out of the newsroom to the photo lab, grabbed a photographer, and hurried to the scene on the eastside of the Las Vegas Valley to “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein’s townhouse. German, while driving, talked about Blitzstein and how he began writing about him years earlier after German had moved to the valley. Blitzstein was a high-ranking mobster in Las Vegas who helped oversee the city’s loan sharking and street rackets.
At the crime scene, we both interviewed Blitzstein’s neighbors and the homicide police lieutenant. We learned that Blitzstein had been shot in the back of his head execution style. Back in the newsroom, we sat at German’s desk and wrote the story on deadline. As a result, we were the first to report the news about the murder of Herbie Blitzstein, the last mobster killed in Las Vegas.
Yet police early on said it didn’t look like a mob hit. German, however, wasn’t buying it. So he and I pursued the story via each of our sources and learned that Blitzstein had indeed been murdered by the Los Angeles and Buffalo crime syndicate families: They had joined forces to take over Blitzstein’s operation. German’s instincts were right.
This should have been no surprise as by this point, German was an expert on the mafia. He arrived at the Las Vegas Sun, from the Milwaukee Journal, around 1982, during Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro’s hold over the Chicago outfit that ran the Las Vegas’ organization’s skim of the profits. German’s arrival was a year after the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department had rounded up Spilotro’s Hole in the Wall Gang for a burglary.
Mary Manning, who joined the Sun as a reporter in 1972, remembered when German first arrived at the paper as casino corporations began taking over the Las Vegas Strip.
“Jeff was hired to cover crime and mob influence,” she said from her Utah home. “He was an established reporter from Milwaukee. He came in looking like he knew what he was doing. He was very hard hitting in his approach to stories and never gave up. He was a star reporter. Jeff did not talk about his sources and he did not talk about where he was going with a story. But he went after the story, always.”
As for me, I arrived at the Sun a decade after German, long after he had honed his craft. Soon after we met, German invited me to basketball games at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It was a year after coach Jerry Tarkanian had left the team, and German, a big fan, raved about “Tark,” as he called him, and his winning record. During quarter intermissions, however, German talked generally about the news, not basketball, and he always asked what I was working on. He would coach me about my beat, telling me, “Be sure to talk to so-and-so about this or that,” or, “Don’t forget to ask about such-and-such.” He was always working and always eager to assist fellow reporters.
A few years after I left the Sun, Jeff and I sat in the courtroom gallery together as we each covered the murder trial of casino magnate Ted Binion. German and I each had contracts to write books about Binion and his drug-overdose death at what prosecutors said was at the hands of Binion’s live-in girlfriend and her lover. But German and I didn’t talk shop in the courtroom. As usual, German kept his take on the case to himself. I would have to wait to read about it in his book.
In 2009, Manning said, when the Las Vegas Sun downsized, she and German, along with others, were laid off. “We stood waiting to get our things from our desks,” she said. “Jeff was in tears and said he didn’t know what he was going to do. He had worked there for two-and-a-half decades. But the Las Vegas Review-Journal hired him and he landed on his feet.”
German remained at the Review-Journal until his death earlier this month, about 10 years after he began working at the paper that had been his longtime competition. Robert Telles, an elected Clark County official, has been charged with fatally stabbing German outside his home because of several scandals in Telles’ office that German had exposed with his reporting.
It was that doggedness to get the story — typically an exclusive one—that I remember the most about German. He worked the phones on deadline like his life depended on it. He could get talkative while one-on-one with friends, yet German was typically a man of few words when it came to newsroom colleagues. When his phone rang and it was a source, his chatter speeded up.
Years later, researching stories was still his thing. German’s Twitter bio read, “I’m a member of the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s investigative team, and I love digging up stories.” Jeff German did that with a vengeance, to the end.
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