LAS VEGAS -- A billionaire California technology firm founder and his friend took no-jail plea deals Wednesday that had them donate $1 million to charities while not admitting guilt in a Las Vegas Strip hotel room drug investigation.
Henry Thompson Nicholas III and co-defendant Ashley Christine Fargo stood with their attorneys in court and entered so-called “Alford pleas” to two felony drug possession charges. Their pleas acknowledged that prosecutors could have presented evidence of guilt if the case had gone to trial.
Nicholas’ and Fargo’s criminal cases can be dismissed in one year if they do not commit crimes, fulfill 250 hours of community service and undergo twice-monthly personal drug counseling, according to the plea agreement their attorneys negotiated with prosecutors.
Defense attorney David Chesnoff said Nicholas and Fargo together donated $400,000 to drug prevention and treatment programs at both the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada and the Foundation for Recovery in Las Vegas. Another $200,000 went to the PACT Coalition for Safe & Drug Free Communities in Las Vegas, Chesnoff said.
“The defendants maintain their innocence,” Chesnoff told Clark County District Court Judge Jacqueline Bluth.
Chesnoff said police had no fingerprint or forensic evidence linking Nicholas and Fargo directly to the heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and several psychedelic substances that police reported finding in travel cases in the couple’s hotel room in August 2018.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson dropped five more serious drug trafficking charges as part of the agreement.
Nevada state lawmakers this year passed laws reducing penalties for personal drug use and the charges against Nicholas and Fargo would have resulted in no more than probation if they had been brought next year, Wolfson said. That factored into his decision to offer the plea deals, he said.
“On top of that, they offered to contribute $1 million to drug facilities and programs from which hundreds and hundreds of Clark County residents are going to benefit,” Wolfson said.
Prosecutor Brad Turner told Bluth there was no evidence that Nicholas or Fargo intended to sell or distribute drugs.
“The only evidence we have, the way it was packaged and where it was, it was for personal use,” Turner said.
Nicholas is 59. Fargo said she’s 38. Their attorneys filed documents in July denying they owned the cases with drugs, and Turner said Wednesday that possession could have been hard to prove to a jury.
Nicholas co-founded Broadcom in 1991 in a Southern California condominium, earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from UCLA in 1998 and retired in 2003 from the publicly traded computer software, semiconductor and infrastructure company. Forbes estimates his current net worth at almost $4 billion.
Chesnoff and attorney Richard Schonfeld, representing Nicholas, have emphasized their client’s philanthropy and financial backing for the crime victim advocacy law known in California as Marsy’s Law. Attorney David Brown represented Fargo. Both defendants live in the Newport Beach, California, area.
Marsy’s Law is named for Nicholas’ sister, Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend in the 1980s. Nevada is among several U.S. states with a version of the law, which aims to codify rights for crime victims and their families to confer with prosecutors and attend court proceedings. Wolfson was among elected officials who endorsed the measure in Nevada.
Their defense attorneys said in a statement the pleas and payments let Nicholas and Fargo “put this matter behind them while making meaningful contributions to Las Vegas organizations focused on fighting the scourge of drug addiction.”
Turner told the judge that that neither defendant had a criminal record.
However, Nicholas was indicted in California in 2008 on federal securities and drug charges after being accused of providing methamphetamine and ecstasy to business executives. Charges were dismissed in 2010 when a judge cited misconduct and witness intimidation by prosecutors.
In Las Vegas, Nicholas told police he was locked out of the couple’s suite at the Encore resort after he and Fargo partied at a strip club.
Wynn Resorts security officers broke through the latched door and found Fargo "unresponsive" with a semi-deflated balloon in her mouth and a nitrous oxide gas canister in the room, according to a police report. Nitrous oxide is commonly known as laughing gas.
Police said Nicholas told officers he brought the canister to Las Vegas aboard his private jet for "recreational use.” Possession of nitrous oxide is not illegal.
Police also said hotel video showed a man and a woman who appeared to be Nicholas and Fargo each carrying a black hard-sided, airtight protective case about an hour before Fargo was found in a bedroom.
The cases were in a common area of the suite where Turner said several people had been.
If Nicholas and Fargo fail to meet the terms of their plea deals, they face possible sentences of probation or up to four years in prison.
Their attorneys characterized them as eager to begin their community service.
Marsy's Law for All, a campaign lobbying for similar victim advocacy laws in more states, said in a statement Wednesday that Nicholas still leads the organization.
This version corrects that criminal cases, not convictions, can be dismissed in one year.