Friendship with "criminal elements"
jeopardizesnew Golden Nugget gaming license and funding
Wall Street downgraded its outlook on $155 million in secured notes from "stable"
to "negative" following harsh action by the Nevada Gaming Control Board
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
January 26, 2004
Tim Poster, left, and Thomas Breitling
(REVIEW-JOURNAL FILE PHOTO)
(PHOTO by MIKE CHRIST)
"I am also very knowledgeable regarding some of
the criminal elements here and those with unsuitable or shady type backgrounds,
so I'm very familiar with this Mr. Rick Rizzolo... People
such as you, very successful, very young, are considered marks. People
in organized crime try to set you up, to get some of your funds. And I
think that's what they were trying to do with you." -
Nevada Gaming Control Board member Bobby
Siller (KVBC TV News, 01/08/04)
"I want there to be a conclusion of the FBI's investigation
of Rick Rizzolo (before Poster and Breitling's limitation ends)." -
Nevada Gaming Control Board member Scott
Scherer (Las Vegas Review Journal, 01/21/04)
LAS VEGAS - Two young, purportedly naive entrepreneurs and their partner,
tennis legend Andre
Agassi, last week came within an inch of being denied a gaming license
to take over the Downtown Las Vegas and Laughlin Golden Nuggets.
Tim Poster and Thomas Breitling were given a lecture
that lasted for more than 2-1/2 hours about their friendship with embattled
topless bar owner Rick Rizzolo. They were told to steer clear of the mobbed-up
bar owner or face losing their new Nevada gaming licenses.
Using the term "the individual" to refer to Rizzolo,
Poster said he used poor judgment by continuing the relationship with "the
individual," and that "the social relationship has ended."
"Why did you pick Rick Rizzolo for this social
relationship?" Control Board member Bobby Siller asked while a crew
from Fox network taped the entire meeting for an upcoming reality show
about the takeover of the downtown casino by Poster and Breitling.
"He and I had some mutual friends, we frequented
the same restaurants and we knew mutual people," Poster answered. "It wasn't
a conscious decision. It was something that just developed." Then he admitted
borrowing money from Rizzolo. "Whenever I borrowed money from Mr. Rizzolo,
it was always for the purpose of gambling. We had been out gambling together
and a variety of circumstances might have arisen in which either I did
not have a credit line at the particular casino we were at, or I would
have exhausted mine and I used his ($1 million) credit line to use money
to gamble with."
Based on this information, the Gaming Control
Board limited Poster Financial to a one year conditional license, something
rarely done because of its possible negative effect on funding. The limitation
would require Poster and Breitling to appear before regulators one year
from now to prove they're worthy of keeping their license for a longer
The limitation immediately sent up a red flag
on Wall Street. $155 million in secured notes were downgraded to "negative"
from "stable," notes the prospective owners of the Golden Nugget agreed
to sell to partially fund their $215 million acquisition. Even with Wall
Street finding a risk based on Poster Financial executives having an unsavory
relationship with a person with ties to organized crime, Poster and Breitling
promised to go through with the purchase.
Two weeks later, the Nevada Gaming Commission
increased the limitation to four years at the request of the buyers' lawyers
who believe that the extension of the limitation will alleviate most Wall
Street concerns and the concerns of the Nevada Gaming Control Board members
Poster didn't go far enough to sever his relationship with Rizzolo.
Commission Chairman Pete Bernhard offered Poster
and Breitling a chance to explain
why they need to be concerned about their friendships and associations
with persons such as Rick Rizzolo.
Poster and Breitling told regulators they have
since terminated their relationship with Rizzolo and have never been involved
in any business deals with him or his associates.
"I fully appreciate the consequences of my actions
and decisions," Poster said. "A gaming license is a privilege and not a
right. I believe a gaming licensee needs to avoid even the appearance of
Bernhard accepted their explanations and the Golden
Nuggets officially changed hands the evening following the hearing.
Potential "marks" Thomas Breitling
and Tim Poster
(LAS VEGAS SUN PHOTO by STEVE MARCUS)
Rizzolo has been accused of running a business
that is a front
for Chicago organized crime figures. His bar has also been the scene of
dozens of violent episodes that have attracted the attention of the FBI.
His chronic gambling has also attracted IRS scrutiny.
Nonetheless, he has a cadre of fans in high places.
"We were looking to put something together for the children, the underprivileged,
that have been in this community for a long time. We did a Thanksgiving
dinner for 'em. We've done Christmas dinners for 'em. We've raised money
for 'em. We granted presents for 'em. And one of the major contributors
and powerhouses, among all the pillars of the community that have been
involved with this, and many, many that are very strong and would probably
take offense to some of the things that might be said here -- is one of
'em is Mr. Rizzolo...And he has given thousands upon thousands upon thousands
of dollars to this community for the children," stated former LV Councilman
Mike McDonald on August 16, 2000
after living rent free for two years in a golf course villa
owned by a close associate of Rizzolo.
The associate, Nevada Black Book member Joey Cusumano, is the former
law client and current buddy
of Sin City Mayor Oscar Goodman. Goodman has often been accused of doing
"Mr. Rizzolo has a good name in the community," stated Judge Nancy M.
Saitta on May 17, 2001 after accepting
a $5,000 campaign contribution from the bar owner for an election in which
she was running unopposed. On January 6, 2003, Judge Saitta presided over
trial that relieved Rizzolo's employees from responsibility in the
1995 beating death of a bar patron.
Since the above endearing comments surfaced, Rizzolo succeeded in catching
the attention of the local Sheriff who had less flattering things to say.
6, 2003, Clark County Sheriff Bill Young said that a fellow police
officer was "Consorting with persons of ill repute," referring to Rizzolo.
He demoted the 27 year veteran officer who retired shortly thereafter.
Tony Sgro, Rizzolo's longtime lawyer, said the gaming board's action
was "a joke, absurd. It shows the lengths to which the government will
reach, applying pressure socially to his (Rizzolo's) friends." He compared
Siller's remarks to tactics used by Nazis in World War Two. He says it
reflects frustration by federal agents who've been unable to find any wrong
doing by his client.
Rizzolo is about to face a civil Attempted Murder lawsuit that was filed
against him personally -- a suit resulting from a 2001 beating
by his employees that rendered a Kansas tourist a quadriplegic. The trial
is set to begin in the Fall of 2004. Meanwhile, the Federal Grand Jury
is currently taking testimony in the organized crime probe of Rizzolo's
In his admonishment to Poster and Breitling, Gaming Control Board member
Siller, the former Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas office of the FBI,
made this statement: "When you have all these ongoing FBI investigations
and searches, and trust me, this is my judgment, they will come to some
type of conclusion and they won't be pleasant."
Regarding the Gaming Control Board's action, the
12, 2004 Las Vegas Review Journal EDITORIAL
exclaimed, "Such diligence is vital to protecting the reputation of Nevada
gaming, demonstrating why the imprimatur of a Nevada license carries such
weight, and why other jurisdictions -- if they're wise -- seek to mirror
this state's standards."
All Las Vegans wish Messrs. Poster, Breitling
and Agassi good luck on their new venture, but the three young gentlemen
should always remember that you are always judged by the company you keep.
Copyright © Steve Miller
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com