| Home | Books and Gifts | Photo Album | Mob Busters | Mafia Site Search |
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:

Did Ted Binion overdose,
or was he murdered?

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
October 18, 2004

LAS VEGAS - As you read this, the retrial of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish will be underway. The appeal court found that the first trial was severely flawed and remanded the case back to the original judge, Joseph Bonaventure. This judge has often been accused of bias in this case, and was once asked to step down. He refused.
Murphy and Tabish wave at family members in court     Judge Bonaventure admonishes Murphy

Now, speculation is that there will be new witnesses who will tell a story about a secret plot to kill the drug addicted multi-millionaire, steal his fortune, then blame his demise on his girlfriend and her lover.

Had Sandy Murphy not been convicted of his murder at the first trial, she would have inherited a large portion of Ted Binion's estate including his mansion where it was suspected he had buried treasure. Because of her conviction, Binion's entire fortune went to his family members, and the Palomino Lane estate -- after months of suspicious activity -- was sold

Immediately following Murphy's conviction, I began to drive by Binion's Palomino Lane estate on a daily basis. Each day I observed several white panel trucks in the driveway. I suspect that the trucks contained x-ray and ground penetrating radar equipment in addition to infrared cameras to completely survey the house and grounds, but I could be wrong. My suspicion was based on a September 30, 2002 Writ of Mandamus filed  in Federal Court by Tabish attorneys J. Tony Serra and Shari L. Greenburger to compel the Department of Justice to order the FBI to produce evidence that was unavailable to lawyers representing the defendants.

Tabish's attorneys contend that Ted Binion was the subject of a twelve-year investigation, beginning in 1981, in which the former casino executive was the target of at least three RICO investigations by the FBI.

The Writ states, "In December 1999, FBI Special Agent Gerald McIntosh sought and obtained a warrant for a wiretap, seeking to intercept the communications of various members of a criminal enterprise, which allegedly included Mr. Binion before his death, in September 1998... In (an) intercepted conversation on January 30, 1997, between Pete (Caruso) and Johnny (Branco), John says he wants Pete with him because he is a good burglar guy. John says he can help Pete with that thing with Binion, and that John can get him in there as long as he knows that Pete will be loyal. They discuss the layout of Binion's house. They say they can do it without whacking the guy, but will do whatever is necessary."

The Writ then states, "In an intercepted communication on February 6, 1997, John Branco, Joe DeLuca, and Pete Caruso discuss what Ted Binion likes to drink, and the value and location of riches hidden in his house, including silver dollars, gold bars, jewelry, and diamonds. Further, Joe discusses his knowledge about how much is buried on Binion's ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, and the fact that Binion has marked it but forgotten. They discuss 'the thing in the garage that even the cop's won't be able to find things in.'"

The Writ tells about a hiding place in a vent in Binion's kitchen containing $80,000 worth of gold coins.

Had Sandy Murphy inherited the house, the alleged riches would have been hers which inspires speculation that she may have been set up to take the blame for Binion's sudden demise so the house and its purported treasures would go to others.

FBI Special Agent John Plunkett testified at the hearing on Tabish's motion for new trial. Plunkett said that beginning in February 1997, he learned of an intended mob hit on Ted Binion, as well as a plot to rob him, and passed this information on to Las Vegas Metro Police detective Mike Franks. Agent Plunkett testified that he believed it was more appropriate for Las Vegas Metro to tell Binion of the threat.

Plunkett stated, "In an intercepted communication on January 29, 1997, two individuals identified as Pete and Johnny Branco discuss silver dollars in Ted Binion's garage, stating 'he has them in barrels in the garage... they are brand new.' Pete tells Johnny that he is looking into getting the silver dollars. Notably, there is 'talk of whacking him (Binion) and how much money he has in his drawers.'"

Then there was that mysterious drive-by shooting at Binion's estate. In a June 4, 1997 police report, Ted Binion identified three of the shooters as Grover Chance LeSueur, Avery Church, and Ted Binion's nephew Benny Behnen. The DA who later prosecuted Murphy and Tabish refused to prosecute the accused shooters.

On April 30, 2004, George Knapp of KLAS TV News reported that Avery Church reportedly "told federal agents that he knows plenty about Ted Binion's death because he was hired to carry out a hit on Binion, along with at least two other men. The new information shows the local FBI warned Metro Police about Avery Church's claims back in December, but -- there was no follow-up."

Knapp also reported, "Avery Church is serving a life term in a Nevada prison for a long list of serious crimes, so his credibility might be considered shaky. But, he was considered to be of enough value to the FBI that, last fall, agents from California took him from prison and spent six weeks debriefing Church about a host of crimes, including the Ted Binion murder."

Behnens grieving at first trial (L to R) Benny, Becky, & Nick

Leading up to the shooting incident is an eyewitness statement made by Murphy telling a story of three unwelcome visits to the Palomino Lane house by the Behnens or their associates during the weeks prior to the drive-by shooting.

Through sources that wish to remain anonymous, INSIDE VEGAS obtained exclusive copies of Nevada Gaming Control Board Intelligence Reports, a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Report, and an answering machine tape and written transcript produced by the Nevada Gaming Control Board that for unknown reasons were not entered into evidence at the first trial. The documents and tape may shed light on others yet unnamed who had severe animus toward Binion, and as some believe, should be considered suspects in his mysterious death.

According to Murphy, in 1998, three unwelcome visitors were ordered off Ted Binion's Palomino Lane property at gunpoint. The visitors reportedly were Ted's brother-in-law Nick Behnen and his son Benny, along with Grover "Chance" LeSueur. The "Nick" and "Benny" referred to in the CONFIDENTIAL transcript are purported to be the same father and son.

The obvious animosity between the Behnens and Ted Binion surfaced publicly in June of 1997 when Binion filed a police report accusing his nephew and others of participating in the drive-by shooting.

One of the accused drive-by shooters, "Chance" LeSueur, is referred to on the answering machine tape. On the tape transcript, Nick Behnen reportedly told LeSueur, "Trust me. You're not going to throw down. You come to rob me...Now you tell this guy this. You ever had this gun to you before?...Oh you think this is funny. Cause this is how they look, this is how they read out of the book see, this just like it happens, everybody just kind of visits and then pretty soon -- pop."

LeSueur was reportedly being held against his will at the time of the taped calls, some think as a method of frightening him into keeping his mouth shut about any plot to kill Binion.

Following the drive-by shooting, LeSueur was initially charged with attempted murder, but eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges. On May 24, 2001, LeSueur, was found dead of unknown causes in Mesa, Arizona. He was 24.

In confidential state Gaming Control Board documents, Murphy described an event wherein she claimed to witness Nick and Benny Behnen visiting Ted Binion's house. She said both Behnens were intoxicated and engaged in a "screaming match" with Binion in the garage. Binion reportedly grabbed a shotgun and cocked it saying "Get the hell out of here." The Behnen's left the property, however Nick Behnen called Ted later that night and left the eleven messages on his answering machine.

In another incident according to Murphy, a Behnen associate named Russell "R.D." Matthews came over to Binion's house with Benny Behnen wishing to talk to Ted. She said she opened the door "like a dummy." They allegedly forced their way in. Murphy stated, "I tried to shut the door on them, but they pushed me aside. I said Ted is in his room sleeping, but he got up and began yelling at R.D. and Benny, and it got to be a scene. Then R.D. left and told Ted that he was 'going to be sorry.'"

The day before his Sept. 17, 1998 death, Binion gave $50,000 to an unsuccessful candidate for Nevada Governor. It was speculated that the money was in exchange for reinstating Binion's gaming license prompting further speculation that he might try to take back the Horseshoe from his sister and her family, a family that was becoming increasingly dysfunctional. This, at a time when the Horseshoe was losing money (or possibly being skimmed to death) though Becky Behnen strongly objected to stories I authored and denied her business was in dire straights before or after her brother's death.

During my series on the death of Ted Binion, I received the following e-mail.

Mr. Miller;
First I will give you some of my background.  I am an member of LCN crew...  I also was with John (name withheld) and Fat Tony (name withheld) when they planned to have Fat Herbie killed... They then brought up getting Ted. Musso had worked for him and knew about his money.  Musso's girlfriend also is friends with Sandy M.  They all did the grand jury thing.  They wanted to take care of Ted.  I listened.  That Little Binion Kid came to Orange County, CA and met with me and my buddies.  Chris (name withheld) wanted us to steal some of Ted's hidden cash.  The Little Binion was behind this.  We decided that we did not like either Chris or Binion and we were going to hurt them and take there watches and cash... Then Ted dies and they moved up the time table.  It was not the silver that Rick tried to dig up.  I sent some of my Crip buddies to Las Vegas to help steal the cash.  It did not work out because of some other law enforcement problems. I am saying this...  We talked of killing Herbie and Binion.  there were two different wires there.  Tony and Bronco. Both guys were killed Herbie and Binion and the FBI had warning.  I am saying both of these guys could have been saved.  I have done horrible stuff in the past.  I am not just one of these talkers.  I have beaten, kidnapped, Extorted, shot, Stabbed I have been around and my record speaks for itself...  I can go on.  I can tell you about Rick R. and Vinnie F. at the Crazy Horse. This is a tidbit. check out what I just gave you.  You will find I am right on.

I did check out his information, and learned that my source was considered quite credible.

Its yet to be determined if those who seemed so desperate to gain immediate access to Binion's Palomino Lane estate on the eve of his death were opportunists, or had completely honorable intentions. But many are curious to know if the county officials who entered the house took advantage of the fact that the death scene was unsealed? After Binion's body was discovered, Murphy was inexplicably barred from entering the house for over 24 hours. In the meantime, the death scene was allegedly contaminated by persons other than police while the house was apparently being looted.

When Murphy was allowed re-entry the day after the death, she hired a videographer to follow her as she took inventory. On the tape she emotionally pointed out that most of the valuables were missing and it was visible on the tape that the house had been ransacked and looted.  One of the items missing was a ten million dollar check which Binion was believed to have recently received for his share of the proceeds from the sale of a casino game called "Caribbean Stud" to Mikohn Gaming. In addition to the check, cash in excess of $20,000 was reportedly missing.

On the night of Binion's death, TV news showed then-Clark County Public Administrator Jared Shafer entering the house. The Public Administrator is someone who had no apparent business entering the house of a decedent who had an up to date Last Will and Testament, and next of kin. In the case of Ted Binion, he had both. At the time of death, the Clark County Coroner ruled the cause as an overdose of narcotics, so there was little or no reason for Shafer to be there.

At the first trial, the District Attorney never questioned the fact that non-police personnel had been allowed to contaminate the crime scene, and that no yellow crime tape was apparent. Also, based on the fact that no police officers were called as witnesses in the first trial, questions regarding the reason for not sealing the crime scene were never asked. Jared Shafer was also not called as a witness.


In the video Murphy commissioned, she is heard using four letter words to describe the disappearance of valuables during her absence.

The tape was shown to the jury at the first trial and Murphy's anger and harsh language didn't help her case. Last month, against the pleadings of defense attorneys, Judge Bonaventure again ruled that the tape is to be shown at the retrial. The defense then asked that the audio be turned off because it was prejudicial, but the judge ruled the audio will be played in its entirety.

A motion for mis-trial was made, but the judge denied the motion.

In the meantime, after 29 months of CONFIDENTIAL letters from the Executive Director, and thousands of taxpayer's dollars expended on private investigators, the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline has yet to make a determination as to whether Judge Bonaventure violated Judicial Canons for an event that occurred on August 11, 2001, or if he is fit to preside over this now ongoing case.

The retrial is expected to last six weeks.

Additional information:

COURT TV Live Gavel to Gavel Coverage

KLAS TV webpage:

Daily commentaries about the trial.

Death in the Desert: The Ted Binion Homicide
By Cathy Scott

Conspiracy to commit Ted Binion murder probed by FBI
By Steve Miller

Judge, Prosecutors Reveal Prejudices
© Copyright Las Vegas Tribune, Inc.
November 7, 2001
By Steve Miller

Murphy Files for New Trial - New Allegations Surface
© Copyright Las Vegas Tribune, Inc.
May 22, 2002
By Steve Miller

Attorneys for Tabish file Motion for Writ of Mandamus in Fed Court
Names of others surface as possible killers
© Copyright Las Vegas Tribune, Inc.
October 16, 2002
By Steve Miller

Bad Judgment
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
February 24, 2003

New evidence may surface in Binion case
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
April 7, 2003

Vegas Judge should be sanctioned
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
June 16, 2003

The assault on the Stupaks at Piero’s
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
June 30, 2003

Binion murder convictions overturned
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
July 21, 2003

Vegas judge should recuse from Binion retrial
Judge autographed books alleging "dalliances" between litigants scheduled for re-trial in his court
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
December 8, 2003

Others yet unnamed...
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
December 15, 2003

Names of others surface as possible killers
New corroborating evidence to be presented in re-trial of Binion case
after the original verdict was overturned by the Nevada Supreme Court
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
February 9, 2004

Like Father, Like Son
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 27, 2004

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here: Steve Miller's Las Vegas E-Briefs

Copyright © Steve Miller

email Steve Miller at:
div. of PLR International
P.O. Box 23
Cleveland, OH 44072-0023
216 374-0000

Copyright © 1998 - 2004 PLR International