Mr. Corvette Meets the Ultimate Fighters: A Reno Tale

“You are only as good as your client,” goes the adage about civil law. I learned that the hard way on an epic civil case in Reno that covered from 1999 to 2003. Along the trail I chased after UFC (Ultimate Fighting Champions) fighters, drove all over Reno looking for witnesses, came to like my deeply flawed client, had an awesome time, learned a lot and, sadly, never saw a big pay day on case that once looked like gold.

I knew my client, Steve Khera, legal name Khamiljit Singh Khera, for a couple years before I started working on his big civil case. He was a flamboyant manager of “Mr. Corvette,” an auto dealership in Fremont that used to promote by having bikini babes parading out in front of the shop. I met him on a criminal defense case for one of his body guards, who got arrested over an issue with a firearm at a San Francisco night club. I knew Khera was shady and figured he might be into loansharking or other forms of “collections.” I had also heard that there were always cops snouting around his car dealership.

Khera called me one day in 1999 to say that he had just had the crap kicked out of him up at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada. He needed an attorney. I thought about it for a bit and took him to Eric Safire, a successful San Francisco attorney. We came up with a plan: Safire would pay my costs on the investigation but I would only get paid for my time after a successful trial or settlement. I essentially agreed to take the case on contingency, decent for attorneys but very bad for an investigator without deep pockets.

Khera had the misfortune to run across some very violent and liquored-up Ultimate Fighters, including but not limited to Frank Shamrock and Jerry Bohlander of Lion’s Den Mixed Martial Arts. It seemed that the fighters had been upstairs at a bachelor party in an Atlantis night club, where witnesses told me that they were grabbing women’s asses and generally acting like jerks.

You might recognize the Shamrock name as Frank’s brother is Ken Shamrock. (I just noticed in Ken’s bio that Ken omitted his being sued in connection with a 1987 lawsuit in Reno in which he was alleged to have stomped and beaten then BYU football star Trevor Molini. Ken went to train in Japan and a judgment could never be obtained from him.)

But back to the Atlantis incident. Khera and his date Renae were just coming into the Atlantis at about 1 a.m. on a Saturday from another casino when the fighters accosted Renae. Bohlander was heard to remark to Renea: “Hey, you look like a hooker!” Renae went to slap him and he put her in an armbar. Khera saw his date being manhandled and proceeded to throw a Nolan Ryan fastball with a cocktail glass, which bounced off the fighter’s head.

Bad move. For the next few minutes, with no hotel security in site, the fighters proceeded to chase Khera around the hotel lobby until they got him on the floor. When Khera tried to defend himself with a stanchion, one or more of the fighters stomped him until they caved in an eye socket. Khera and his date flew home and he went to a hospital the next day.

How could you have a donniebrook in the lobby of a major hotel, on a weekend night no less, with no security in sight? Didn’t the Atlantis or any other business owe a duty to protect its customers?

Hotel cameras apparently captured footage of the van where the fighters fled to and drove away. Police finally got involved in the case but no arrests were made because no one would cooperate. But I had the names of a few of the staffers at the Atlantis. Several of them game me recorded statements in which they acknowledged that they knew the fighters were drinking and being jerks but that they just did not want to remove them or keep them separate from other patrons.

We needed to partner with an attorney in Nevada, and I found the right man, Joseph Cronin. I picked him because he had been successful in another “inadequate security” case against the Atlantis. So Khera and I would fly up to Reno for me to work on his case, chasing after witnesses. I toiled while Khera and his roll of $10,000 in cash worked the blackjack tables of Silver Legacy and the Peppermill.

Things were looking good on the case. There was no sense in chasing after the Ultimate Fighters as defendants since they did not have deep pockets and would be moving all the time. Witnesses were falling into place and giving me names of other witnesses. Safire and I sweated Khera about his own background, trying to make sure he didn’t have too many skeletons in his closet that would make him unsympathetic to a jury or for a settlement. Khera had a juvey robbery beef that he beat and some reckless driving stuff but nothing major.

But like the dice hitting craps or that doubledown that loses to the dealer’s six-card 21, the case against the Atlantis began to fizzle.

The first setback was the death of Nevada attorney Cronin. We had heard that it was a suicide, which meant we had to find and partner with another Nevada attorney. Meanwhile, I had racked up more than $20,000 in billing and was wondering if I would ever get paid.

More bad news. Medical experts found that Khera had a pre-existing brain condition. The doctors said that if it weren’t for the beating and the examination, his main injury would never have been detected. In essence, the fighters had done him a favor by smashing his eye-socket! (I had taken photos of Khera’s wounds, nasty. The whole side of his head had to be repaired and stapled shut.)

With settlement talks looming, I got a call one day from Eric Safire. It seemed that Khera had just been picked up on several federal drug charges. Bye-bye payday.

I knew Khera really, really liked to gamble. Court documents show that over several years, Khera had become involved in dealing MDMA, pot, cocaine, methamphetamine. I knew he liked to hustle but wow.

The feds raided his home in San Ramon in 2003, where they found $35,000 cash and several handguns. Khera was essentially a middleman in a drug organization. The court records mentioned that he had a “sizable surgical scar” on the right side of his head from the beating at the Atlantis. One Sacramento County jailer wrote a letter of commendation to the federal court outlining what a good inmae Khera was being, from translating Punjabi to alerting jail staff to a suicidal inmate.

Khera turned down plea deals. After being found guilty he was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison, or 30 years. (Jerry Bohlander is now a Napa County sheriff’s deputy.)