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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Timing is Everything!
Opportunity knocks, but Rick Rizzolo is
too preoccupied to respond

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
October 13, 2003
Michael Galardi (right) and attorney, Robert Rose entering San Diego      Frederick Rizzolo leaving LV
courthouse      (HOWARD LIPIN / San Diego Union-Tribune photo)      courthouse     (LV RJ Photo)

LAS VEGAS - At a time when opportunity is knocking loudly on his door, embattled Crazy Horse topless bar owner Frederick "Rick" Rizzolo is nowhere to be seen.

Rizzolo's chief competitor Michael Galardi last week announced a forced sale of two of his most lucrative Sin City topless clubs, the recently opened $15 million Jaguars, and the Leopard Lounge located nearby. A buyer has yet to be announced, but it's a sure bet that Rizzolo will not be bidding on the properties any time soon.

Galardi pleaded guilty on Sept. 8 to a federal charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud as part of a political corruption probe in San Diego. Wire fraud, a felony, is considered a crime of moral turpitude by Clark County and is cause for the removal of county business and liquor licenses. The City of Las Vegas where Rizzolo's Crazy Horse, and Galardi's Cheetahs is located has less stringent requirements and has not yet determined a cause of action against Galardi. In the meantime, speculation abounds as to who will relieve Galardi of his two lucrative county properties at a bargain basement price.

If this were a more forgiving world, Rick Rizzolo would be first in line to reap such a harvest. But at this time in his history, that's not the case. Even with a slew of friends in high places in city and state government, few if any public officials would want to step forward to help their generous friend Rick obtain Galardi's up-for-grab licenses when he too is the subject of a federal political corruption probe. For Mr. Rizzolo, this is a classic case of bad timing!

Just this week, the feds who have had Rizzolo's phones tapped since at least 1999, began advising persons they've been intercepted during phone conversations as part of an ongoing investigation into possible links between his business and organized crime. All the more reason for squeamish politicians to back away from their erstwhile friend at his moment of opportunity, especially if they were mentioned or participated in tapped conversations.

If Rizzolo were to bid on Galardi's clubs, he would immediately be forced to face off with the Clark County Commission acting as the liquor and gaming licensing board, and the new Sheriff who in August referred to him as a "person of ill repute." This at a time when past and present members of the Clark County Commission and Las Vegas City Council face indictments for their activities involving strip clubs.

Furthermore, any politician who assists Rizzolo in obtaining Galardi's licenses would most likely place themselves in the fed's sights, especially if their names turned up in intercepted phone conversations.

If things were different, it would not be the first time in his history that Mr. Rizzolo stepped forward at the eleventh hour to make an offer for a troubled adult business. In 1994, Club Paradise, a gentleman's club located across from the Hard Rock Hotel, filed for protection under Chapter Eleven. A hearing was scheduled in federal bankruptcy court. As the property's landlord, I attended the hearing. At the hearing, Rizzolo's representative approached me and offered to buy out my tenant's interest. I walked away before a price was mentioned.

My tenant came through the bankruptcy with flying colors and has enjoyed great success ever since, but Rizzolo was reportedly not finished. It became apparent that if Rizzolo could not own the competition, he would do all in his power to secretly cause problems for it.

At the time, Rizzolo was suspected of having a stooge on the Las Vegas City Council who doubled as a Vegas cop. Both Rizzolo and then-Councilman/Metro officer Mike McDonald denied the allegation, but it was soon revealed that a number of Rizzolo's close friends including Nevada Black Book member Joey Cusumano's father in law had contributed indirectly to McDonald's political campaign and startling change in lifestyle. McDonald obviously owed Rick big time, and was doing him favors.

In 1993, McDonald had been verbally reprimanded by his police superiors for showing confidential police information on my tenant to a county commissioner in order to cause Club Paradise problems. McDonald had obtained the confidential information from his sources at Metro. When the word leaked out, it would be the first of many times Rizzolo was accused of trying to use his political influence to drive a competitor out of business.

In 1998, Metro Police Internal Affairs investigated McDonald after receiving an anonymous letter saying McDonald is allowed "to use his position as a police officer for obvious favors received from Rizzolo, McDonald has his fellow officers target Little Darlings, Club Exotica," the letter says. "McDonald is always at the Crazy Horse on Industrial Road with Rizzolo. He is able to entertain his fellow officers who target the other strip joints." The charges were never substantiated.

Several years later, Rizzolo would again allegedly use the same modus operandi to try to squelch competition.

In 1999, an ordinance was introduced before the County Commission with McDonald's help that if passed would increase the distance between the property lines of adult-oriented businesses to 1,000 feet from 500 feet. The proposed law looked to be custom designed to keep the 75,000 square foot Sapphire from opening within 1,000 feet of the Crazy Horse. The Commission dumped the suspect ordinance after hearing testimony from Councilman McDonald who played hooky from a City Council meeting in order to attend, along with hearing from a local priest with ties to Rizzolo.

McDonald testified that he had seen a rise in police calls for service in that area linked to the increase in such businesses. He neglected to mention that the Crazy Horse alone had been responsible for 737 police calls in just three years including nine assault and six robbery cases involving Crazy Horse employees over a 2-year period.

The priest stated that his parishioners were concerned about rumors that another adult club was in the works. The priest, however, had not protested in 1999 when the Crazy Horse located closer to his church, expanded by 6,000 square feet without permits. He also did not mention that Rizzolo was one of his parishioners and had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the church. Following his appearance, church leaders protested the priest's unauthorized appearance at the hearing and he was soon reassigned to chaplain at Indian Springs Prison.

Sapphire received its license and opened two years later.

In July 2000, there was an attempt purportedly by Rizzolo to stop Treasures, another nearby gentleman's club, from being licensed. A storefront "church" operated by Rizzolo's sister mysteriously opened in the shopping center across the street from the proposed site just two days before a City Council vote on the tavern license. Of course, Rizzolo and McDonald denied having anything to do with the "pop up church," however the newspapers had a field day exposing the subterfuge.

For the past four years, when not allegedly plotting ways to stifle competitors, Rizzolo has been attempting to expand his own club. During his effort he ran into an unexpected barrier, his next door neighbor "Buffalo" Jim Barrier and his auto repair business. Barrier, for 27 years, has had an unbreakable lease at thirty three cents per square foot for his 8,000 foot garage, and Rizzolo has steadfastly refused to speak to Barrier about anything including a buy out of his remaining eight year lease. In the meantime,  newer and larger clubs were built.

Compared to the expense and improbability of Rizzolo being approved to take over Galardi's licenses, expanding the existing Crazy Horse would not require additional license hearings, just a short presentation before the City Planning Commission and the acquisition of Barrier's lease. The license and zoning are already in place.
                   Rizzolo                                       Barrier                         Artist rendering recently removed from Crazy Horse website
But the silent treatment continued. Maybe Barrier's scruffy appearance or lesser social status inspired the dapper club owner described as a "Pillar of the community" to refuse to have anything to do with the man who stands between him and his dream club. This, after Barrier made several attempts to resolve their differences.

Weeks after it looked like a highly publicized deal was cut, Rizzolo suddenly said "Buffalo Jim is full of shit," thus widening their rift. Rizzolo's remark was based on his assumption that the state would soon use eminent domain to remove Barrier at taxpayer's expense. However, politicians once again ran for cover at the thought of aiding a politically inspired eminent domain taking for an alleged mob associate, especially in light of ongoing FBI investigations.

Then, without explanation, Rizzolo removed the artist rendering of the new club from his website.

"It looks like I'm dealing with an idiot," Barrier told a reporter after Rizzolo made fun of  the buy out deal and bragged about the condemnation of his garage for a curving driveway into the proposed new club.

In the meantime, instead of talking man to man with Barrier about moving out to make room for the expansion, Rizzolo has been seen flipping him off as he drives by his garage.
After all his failed attempts to block competitors, the feds threw a monkey wrench into his opportunity to buy out a rival. Then when he attempted to expand his present business, he ran headlong into a barrier created by his own ego.

For Rick Rizzolo, timing is everything.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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