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Craig Titus & Kelly Ryan Investigation » Blog Archive » BODYBUILDER CASE: Police tried ruse of phony corpse

BODYBUILDER CASE: Police tried ruse of phony corpse

BODYBUILDER CASE: Police tried ruse of phony corpse
Authorities suspect murder-for-hire plot

This story can be found at the Review Journal. Thanks to Glenn Puit for another interesting story related to this case.

Anthony Gross is very much alive.

But in June, when Las Vegas police suspected that Craig Titus had ordered the slayings of Gross and two other witnesses in the bodybuilder’s murder case, Gross agreed to play dead.

According to police reports, Gross posed as a corpse at the behest of detectives, and he was photographed by police in the trunk of a car — bound with duct tape, bloodied and seemingly lifeless.

Las Vegas detectives planned to use the bogus death photos to make Titus believe a hit man had killed Gross.

But Titus, who was locked up at the Clark County Detention Center, didn’t bite on the law enforcement trickery.

When the bodybuilder received a postcard at the jail from the supposed hit man, Titus turned it over to his attorney instead of calling the hit man on a police-monitored phone or wiring the hit man money, as detectives had hoped he would do.

Clark County prosecutor Robert Daskas declined to comment Monday.

Titus’ defense attorney, Marc Saggese, said he thinks authorities crossed the line in the investigation. Saggese said Titus’ actions in the face of the police ruse confirm what Titus has said all along, that he had nothing to do with the murder-for-hire plot.

“It is just more evidence as to the great lengths the state and police will go to smear the character and reputation of my client,” Saggese said.

The particulars of the murder-for-hire investigation are detailed in a 28-page police report.

Titus, a former Mr. Olympia competitor, and his fitness-champion wife, Kelly Ryan, are charged with killing their live-in personal assistant, Melissa James, at their southwest Las Vegas home a year ago, then burning her body in the desert.

Gross is charged with helping the couple drive James’ body into the desert. Gross told police that he was duped into participating in the scheme and that he never knew he was helping Titus and Ryan dispose of a corpse.

In October, police arrested an acquaintance of Titus, Nelson Brady Jr., on charges of trying to hire a hit man to kill three witnesses in Titus’ case.

One of the individuals authorities said was targeted in the plot was Gross. Two other witnesses targeted, authorities said, were Megan Pierson Foley and her husband, Jeremy Foley, who have said Titus and Ryan made incriminating statements about James’ death.

Titus has not been charged in the murder-for-hire plot, but authorities have voiced suspicions that he was behind the scheme.

He was recorded twice on jail phones talking to Brady about a “book deal” and screenplay, which authorities suspect was code for the murder-for-hire plot.

According to police reports, the origins of the murder-for-hire inquiry date to March, when a jailhouse informant named Deen Cassim approached authorities and claimed “he had been solicited for the planned killing of Anthony Gross and the possible contract killing of two other witnesses in the case against Craig Titus.”

Cassim later told detectives that Brady had solicited him while both men were in custody at the detention center.

Over the following weeks and months, police carried out an elaborate investigation with the help of Cassim working in the role of informant. Cassim was still in custody at the time, but Brady was out of jail.

According to the reports, police decided the best way to maintain contact between the two men was to have a detective pose as an investigator with the public defender’s office.

The detective would call Cassim, who then made three-way calls to Brady without Brady suspecting the phone line was being recorded because calls between the public defender’s office and inmates at the jail are not recorded.

The police reports said that Cassim was in repeated contact with Brady. Three separate meetings were set up with Brady in which he was scheduled to meet with an undercover detective posing as a go-between for a hit man named “Fred,” but Brady failed to show at each meeting.

A fourth meeting was arranged by Cassim, and this time, Brady showed. Police alleged that during the meeting and a subsequent meeting, Brady paid an undercover detective $1,500 as a down payment to have the three potential witnesses killed.

On June 15, the reports said that detectives met with Gross, his parents and his attorney, James Oronoz. Gross was on house arrest at the time and wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that allowed authorities to track his whereabouts under the terms of his release.

“Several photographs were taken of Gross while laying on his side in the plastic lined trunk of a white Lexus wearing his (employee) uniform,” the report said. “Gross had his wrists duct taped together, a strip of duct tape across his mouth, and fake blood dripping down the side of his head and face. The fake blood was pooled around Gross’ head and upper body.”

Police set up an “undercover” checking account at the Bank of America, and detectives obtained a cellular phone that could be called directly from the Clark County Detention Center.

Police contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was given a letter authored by Detective Rob Wilson. The letter was to be printed on attorney stationery and mailed by the FBI to Titus at the jail.

On June 21, police met with Gross again at a Home Depot parking lot and “cut the ankle monitor attached to his left ankle” to make the situation look like Gross had disappeared. He was kept at the police homicide office until 5 a.m. the following morning, then taken to McCarran International Airport and flown to Chicago.

But police had not told Gross’ house arrest officer of the murder-for-hire investigation, and on June 23, Gross’ father called police because the officer monitoring the house arrest status “seemed to be very upset about Anthony having gone missing.”

Police told the father that the officer monitoring Gross’ house arrest could not be told the real reason he had gone missing.

“Gross’ (father) was told a high-level supervisor with the House Arrest Section had been advised,” police wrote.

That same day, the officer monitoring Gross’ house arrest called homicide detectives to let them know he had secured a warrant from District Judge Jackie Glass’ court to arrest Gross.

On June 26, the prosecutor on the case, Daskas, met with Glass and Gross’ attorney, Oronoz, regarding Gross’ disappearance.

“Judge Glass was informed of the actual circumstances regarding Gross’ disappearance and his current location/status,” the reports said.

On July 11, detectives told Daskas they were going to send a postcard to Titus from the supposed hit man, then see whether he called the cell phone or whether any money was placed in the bank account for the purported hit on Gross.

The postcard sent to Titus from the supposed hit man read: “In town for a few days. Thinking of you and wondering why I haven’t heard from you with that address. I’m running short on funds. No money in my bank account. Waiting for payday. Will be heading back to LA on the 16th, so I won’t be here for your ‘big day.’ Expect to hear from you before then. Fred. 702-469-1942.”

The card was addressed to Craig Titus with a return address of “Fred Hitterman.”

Saggese said that when Titus received the postcard, he immediately turned it over to his prior attorney, Richard Schonfeld.

“He knew the pseudo code it was using was a trap,” Saggese said.

“He was initially shocked, then he found it comical. That same day he contacted his previous counsel, obviously knowing it was underhanded government work.”

Saggese also said that based on the contents of the police report read to him by the Review-Journal on Monday evening, he plans to explore the timing of the meeting with Daskas, Oronoz and Glass, and whether procedure was followed.

According to the police report, the prosecutor and Gross’ attorney met with Glass in June about Gross’ disappearance, but there is no mention in the documents of the previous attorneys for Titus and Ryan — Tom Pitaro and Schonfeld — being present at the same meeting.

Judicial rules prevent a judge from meeting with one party of a case without all other parties to the same case being present.

Such a meeting is referred to as an ex parte communication, and ex parte communication is prohibited.

In July, nearly a month later, Glass denied motions from Titus, Ryan and Gross to dismiss the criminal case against them. The judge made no mention of the prior meeting with Gross, his attorney or the prosecutor.

“I have no choice but to explore it,” Saggese said. “I have to protect the procedural due process rights of my client.”

Louis Palazzo, an attorney representing Gross in his criminal case, said Friday when contacted by the Review-Journal that he was not involved in Gross’ assistance of the police investigation.

He said Gross retained another attorney for representation in that matter, and that attorney is identified in the police reports as Oronoz.

Oronoz declined comment Monday night when reached at his home.

Palazzo has maintained that Gross has not entered into any plea deals with prosecutors in the case. He repeated that contention Friday.

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