One journalist was killed for his work. Another finished what he started
Updated February 7, 2023 at 9:42 PM ET
A story that a slain reporter had left unfinished was published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and The Washington Post last week.
Jeff German, an investigative reporter at the Review-Journal with a four-decade career, was stabbed to death in September. Robert Telles — a local elected official who German had reported on — was arrested and charged with his murder.
Soon after his death, The Washington Post reached out to the Review-Journal asking if there was anything they could do to help.
German's editor told the Post, "There was this story idea he had. What if you took it on?" Post reporter Lizzie Johnson told NPR.
"There was no question. It was an immediate yes," Johnson says.
Johnson flew to Las Vegas to start reporting alongside Review-Journal photographer Rachel Aston.
Court documents tucked into folders labeled in pink highlighter sat on German's desk. Johnson picked up there, where he'd left off.
The investigation chronicled an alleged $500 million Ponzi scheme targeting members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some of whom had emptied their retirement accounts into a sham investment.
The people running the scheme told investors they were loaning money for personal injury settlements, and 90 days later, the loans would be repayed. If investors kept their money invested, they'd supposedly get a 50% annualized return. Some of the people promoting the scheme were Mormon, and it spread through the church by word of mouth. That shared affinity heightened investors' trust.
But there was no real product underlying their investments. Investors got their payments from the funds that new investors paid in, until it all fell apart.
"It was an honor to do this reporting — to honor Jeff German and complete his work," Johnson wrote in a Twitter thread about the story. "I'm proud that his story lives on."
German covered huge stories during his career, from government corruption and scandals to the 2017 Las Vegas concert mass shooting. In the Review-Journal's story sharing the news of his killing, the paper's editor called German "the gold standard of the news business."
Sixty-seven journalists and media workers were killed in 2022, a nearly 50% increase over 2021. At least 41 of those were killed in retaliation for their work.
"It was a lot of pressure to be tasked with finishing this work that someone couldn't complete because they had been killed," Johnson says. "I just really tried to stay focused on the work and think a lot about what Jeff would have done."
Ben Rogot and Adam Raney produced and edited the audio interview.
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