"I just want to make sure they can connect before I leave. Can we just make sure they can connect, OK?" the agent asks.
"The thing is, you can't go in there right now," replies the butler.
When that ploy failed, the agents came up with "another trick," according to defense lawyer Tom Goldstein: "We'll dress up as technicians, we'll come inside, we'll claim to be fixing the Internet connection — even though we can't, 'cause we broke it from outside — and then we'll just look around and see what we see."
Once inside, the agents wandered around the premises as they covertly photographed the rooms, entering the previously off-limits media room. Inside, they saw a group of men watching the World Cup soccer game and looking at betting odds on their laptops — perfectly legal in Las Vegas.
What else the agents saw is not entirely clear at this point, but when they left, they seemed satisfied they had enough to get a search warrant.
"Yeah, we saw what we needed to see," an agent is heard on the tapes saying. His partner responds, "Very cool."
Defense lawyer Goldstein contends that not only was the search illegal, but the government knew it was and tried to cover it up. He contends that the materials submitted to a federal magistrate judge in seeking a warrant later carefully eliminated all indications that the federal agents had themselves cut the Internet line so that the villa occupants would ask for repairmen to come to the villa to fix the problem.
"They just managed not to tell the magistrate what it is they had actually done," says Goldstein.
Indeed, Goldstein notes that he and his clients never would have known that it was the FBI agents who cut the line were it not for one slip of the tongue that the agents made — recorded on tape — when talking among themselves. He adds that when the defense asked for further recordings, the FBI provided two blank CDs, claiming the recording devices malfunctioned.
"There's no real way of looking at this other than to say that it is a cover-up," contends Goldstein.
Cover-up or not, the legal theory used here by the Justice Department and the FBI would change the legal rules of the road dramatically if adopted by the courts.
"The theory behind this search is scary," says George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg, author of a leading criminal law text. "It means the government can cut off your service, intentionally, and then pretend to be a repair person, and then while they're there, they spend extra time searching your house. It is scary beyond belief."
And it's not just Internet service that could be cut off. Cable TV lines, plumbing or water lines — the list in the modern world is a long one.
Saltzburg, who has himself worked for the Justice Department, is frankly puzzled by the brazenness of the search here.
"It's very difficult to understand, unless they want to try to push the law of consent beyond where it's ever gone before," he says.