Two mothers — one a former Las Vegas judge-turned-vigilante — committed suicide within five months of each other after they both spent years fighting the Las Vegas Metro Police Department over what they alleged was a cover-up of a still-unsolved double homicide tied to underage sex trafficking.
Judge Melanie Andress-Tobiasson, 55, who stepped down from the bench a year ago to avoid an ethics probe, killed herself Jan. 20 at her $2 million Vegas mansion. The Clark County coroner’s office said she died from a gunshot wound.
Andress-Tobiasson’s one-time friend Connie Land, 53, shot herself to death Aug. 10, 2022, at her Las Vegas home after crusading for six years for justice for her daughter.
Land’s daughter Sydney Land, 21, was murdered along with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Nehemiah “Neo” Kauffman, a reported pimp, in October 2016. The homicides remain unsolved.
A year before the murders, Andress-Tobiasson began tipping police off to what she claimed was underage sex trafficking in order to protect her own teenage daughter and others, according to her statements on podcasts and court documents.
But judicial officials said she overstepped her professional bounds when she began meddling into the murders of Land and Kauffman. Andress-Tobiasson believed that “Suga” Shane Valentine, the same man she claimed tried to lure her daughter into prostitution, had killed Land and Kauffman.
Valentine has been a person of interest in the Land and Kauffman murders twice but has never been charged in connection with them. The Post was unable to reach him.
The judge told the Baltimore Post Examiner she once went to Valentine’s house and kicked the door in. She also testified before the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline in Dec. 2019 that she indirectly threatened Valentine because she wasn’t getting help from the police.
It’s not clear why Andress-Tobiasson and Land ended their lives, although both women were in the midst of getting divorces. Their families aren’t talking to the press.
“I can’t tell you how many times Melanie told me, if I wind up dead remember I wasn’t suicidal,” Dana Gentry, a local blogger who knew Andress-Tobiasson, told The Post. “She was being followed, all sorts of things. She was unusual in the sense that she was willing to stand up for the truth even though she knew it might ruin her career.”
Andress-Tobiasson’s personal and professional decline began when her daughter, Sarah, then a 16-year-old student at a prestigious local Catholic school, began working at a clothing store, Top Knotch, in 2015. Sarah told her mother about the strippers and pimps there. (The store was shut down in 2016, after a murder in front of the place and after the owner, Marlon Brown, was arrested and sentenced to 45 years for shooting his ex-girlfriend.)
Andress-Tobiasson told Las Vegas cops that Top Knotch was allegedly a hub for sex trafficking and was an unlicensed, underage nightclub. She also told them that she was “terrified” of Valentine, who was among the characters hanging around the store.
“The first time I took the information to the police, I wasn’t so concerned because I figured within a week, the place would be shut down … ” Andress-Tobiasson said in a 2019 interview. “I subsequently learned that not only did the police know about this place when I first started giving them information, they knew about a lot of places like this, and they were kind of untouchable.”
Andress-Tobiasson and Land had become friends over their shared concern that Las Vegas police were turning a blind eye to local pimps and underage trafficking, and Valentine — the on-again, off-again person of interest in the murder of Land’s daughter — was let off the hook, possibly because he was a police informant.
Convicted felon Valentine has served time for burglaries and for shooting into the home of Kauffman’s mother just weeks before the murders of Land and Kauffman. He got out of prison in 2021 but was arrested again on charges of aggravated stalking in July 2022. In December 2022 he got a plea deal and pleaded guilty to attempted stalking and is currently out on electronic monitoring pending a March hearing.
“Connie Land was a powerhouse and she was relentless in the pursuit of who killed her daughter right up until the time she committed suicide,” said Doug Poppa, a former police detective and longtime Las Vegas casino security executive-turned-investigative journalist. He has exhaustively chronicled the two women’s saga on his podcast since 2018. “I talked to her a few hours before she killed herself. She seemed fine. It was devastating.”
According to Poppa, Andress-Tobiasson befriended Land in order to help her solve her daughter’s murder but then went too far, Poppa said, when she demanded Land turn over private text messages between her and the Las Vegas Metro detective handling the investigation. The two women later fell out.
“Melanie was more of an enigma,” Poppa told The Post. “Melanie told the truth but she also lied at times. The lies may have been to protect her daughter. But she got in too deep and went too far. A sitting judge has no business telling the mother of a dead girl to turn over all her communication with the homicide detective investigating the case.”
Andress-Tobiasson told local reporters over the years that pimps were targeting the daughters of judges and law enforcement officers to recruit them into prostitution, and accused Las Vegas Metro police of protecting some of the city’s most high-profile pimps.
According to Andress-Tobiasson, the daughters of another judge, a police officer and even a local reputed mafioso were among those reportedly involved with pimps at the time Andress-Tobiasson was trying to get police to investigate.
She later went to the FBI after Las Vegas police allegedly ignored her claims — and wound up being investigated by Nevada’s Judicial Discipline Commission for almost two years before she agreed to resign in 2021.
During the time Andress-Tobiasson was agitating for help from Las Vegas Metro, the department’s vice unit was under a five-year FBI investigation of corruption.
Allegations came out in court in 2017 that four of the vice cops being investigated — including one, Christopher Baughman, who wrote a book about his heroism in going after pimps — had been sleeping with some prostitutes who were witnesses in the trial of one pimp. Baughman was also involved with the deputy District Attorney prosecuting the case and later married her. No charges were ever filed against Baughman or any cop investigated by the FBI during the five-year case.
Sources told The Post that the tale of the two dead mothers shines a light on how many middle-class young women in Las Vegas become involved with men who they think of as boyfriends — but who turn out to be often violent pimps. The women are often pimped out for up to $10,000 a night but are given just a fraction of their earnings by the traffickers.
Some of the young women who were the daughters of judges and cops may have been recruited for a type of sexual blackmail, two sources told The Post.
“These were efforts to compromise judges and cops by pimping out their daughters,” Dana Gentry said.
The suicides of Andress-Tobiasson and Land also raised even more questions about the alleged ties between Las Vegas police and pimps on the Strip in addition to the FBI’s investigation.
Retired Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Sgt. Garry Dale said he was ordered to back off arrests involving child prostitution while conducting a surveillance operation with other detectives.
“I remember doing ops on Tropicana west of the 15 for robberies,” Dale, who retired in 2007, wrote in a 2019 Facebook post that can no longer be viewed. “Watching pimps walk 14 year olds out to sell them to men sickened us so much we determined to deal with it. Guess what we were told. Back Off!”
Some Vegas-based pimps are part of hip-hop culture. In May 2021, rap impresario and former “Love and Hip Hop” producer Jamal “Mally Mall” Rashid, who’s worked with artists including Justin Bieber, Tyga and Usher, was sentenced to 33 months in prison for running a high-end prostitution service in Las Vegas.
“They (the young women) don’t know what these guys are into,” Poppa said. “But once they get their hooks into the girls, they basically say, ‘I’m a pimp and I am going to kill you and your family.’”
A number of women trafficked in Las Vegas have lived to tell the tale by escaping their pimps.
Last year’s documentary “Surviving Sex Trafficking“ told the story of women like Angela Williams, who said she spent 15 years being trafficked by a number of men — including producer Rashid — across Texas, California, Nevada, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York City. Angela’s ordeal began, she said in the film, when she began a romantic relationship in Las Vegas with Tyree Wright, who police said doubled as her pimp.
Williams said she was beaten and choked when she failed to meet the daily $2,500 “quota” Wright allgegedly forced her to earn by having sex with countless other men. Wright is now serving a 29-year prison sentence for sex trafficking, second-degree kidnapping and battery related to what he did to Williams.
“They’re grooming a lot of high-class women into being hookers,” said anti-trafficking activist Rebecca Bender, 41, of Dallas, Texas, who said she was trafficked for six years as a high-end escort in Las Vegas. Bender claimed she “walked the carpet” at top hotels like Mandalay Bay before finally escaping with her daughter.
“You meet these guys — we call it the point of recruitment — and you fall in love with them and think they are successful men and that they will be your boyfriend. The grooming can sometimes take months and by then it’s too late,” she said.
Bender now runs Elevate Academy which bills itself the largest online school for survivors of human trafficking in the world.
“The traffickers brainwash you,” Bender told The Post. “They do it with trauma bonding and anything else that will get you in their thrall. They make you think you’re think you’re an empowered sex worker and that you’re contributing to family pot as if you are in a cult. But, in fact, you’re a prostitute with a pimp.”
The Las Vegas Metro Police Department did not respond to a call or email from The Post.
The post Inside the mysterious suicides of two Las Vegas moms who accused cops of cover-up appeared first on New York Post.