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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:

There's a book in all of us
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
October 25, 2004

Often times I'm asked, "Why don't you write a book?" I usually answer that I wouldn't know how to write the final chapter because my Las Vegas experience is still unfolding. Nonetheless, I've written a few loosely connected chapters for a  book proposal or screen play and sent them to dozens of East Coast publishers, with no takers -- so far.

The publishers usually ask, "Why don't you write about dead people? They can't sue for libel!" But, too many stories have already been written about dead Sin City wise guys who are long past seeking retribution -- a safe subject indeed. But I need a book publisher with the guts to put out a contemporary piece of work, however, such book publishers are few and far between based Vegas' litigious reputation.

Then there's Rick Porrello, publisher of Rick has fearlessly allowed me to share with his loyal readers my Las Vegas life including the names of current local players and corrupters, most whom would rather not have their names found in a search of articles.

Through Rick's cooperation I have learned what interests readers most about my fascinating town. Subjects such as our mobbed-up mayor, or embattled topless bar owner Rick Rizzolo have inspired the most response. Also commentaries about the death of Ted Binion gained INSIDE VEGAS new readers. Thanks to, I now know where to aim the subject matter of the next chapters of my yet-to-be published book.

Its been suggested that a proper cut off point or last chapter of my literary masterpiece will be the long-anticipated indictments of Rizzolo and the crooked politicians, judges, and cops who keep his blood soaked bar in business. But I'd rather wait until their trials to finish the book.

The following is what I hope will be the first chapter of a book with the working title, Greed, Power and Corruption: An Inside Look at Modern Las Vegas. It gives a little insight into the hidden political world that still keeps Sin City ticking, and the reasons I feel compelled to keep the pot stirring.


It was spring 1987. And here I was being welcomed into Las Vegas City Hall by staff members four weeks before the general election and the day after the primary. I had beat out my opponent in the primary election, a first in the city's history. But winning in a primary election wasn't my only sin; I won against a man -- incumbent Al Levy -- who, together with his father Harry, had held the Ward One seat for 24 years! I had amazed myself. I had done it.

Before the election, my new and soon-to-be best friend Bob Stupak told me, "You haven't got a chance," as he handed me what is known in Vegas politics as "chump change." I welcomed his $500 contribution with humility since my entire campaign had raised just a paltry $16,000, and that had come in the form of a loan from my mother. "Nobody can beat a Levy. You're wasting your time, but here is a little to tide you over until you lose," said Stupak two weeks before the May 7 election.  I accepted my first political donation and ran for the door of Vegas World, Stupak's popular bargain hotel and casino located on the north end of the Strip.

Little did he know then that less than four years later I would be the one to author the FAA Aviation Safety Study that cleared the way for the building of the tallest tower west of the Mississippi: Bob Stupak's Stratosphere Tower, all 1,150 feet of it. Today, it is a world-renowned landmark an the icon of Las Vegas.

From flight instructor and Grand Canyon tour pilot to becoming the city councilman whose ward oversaw downtown Las Vegas' "Gambling Capitol of the World" -- I had run the gambit of occupations in a town I learned to love and hate simultaneously.

Four years later, when my council stint was over, I came away with the greatest gift of all: I absolutely knew who my friends truly were -- and who were not.

That first day at City Hall, I was just a visitor -- an unwelcome one at that. But I soon found myself the biggest curiosity that had ever dared to enter those hallowed halls. Al Levy's replacement -- me -- was wandering the halls while Al sat alone at his desk upstairs in the towering office I was to occupy in four weeks. My presence was causing heart palpitations throughout the building. Would we run into each other after our acrimonious, but short, political campaign? How would he react to me invading his and his father's private domain?

As I shook hands and introduced myself to my soon-to-be staff and colleagues, I kept my eyes open for the inevitable moment when Al and I would come together. I knew how I would react because I take pride in being a gentleman, but Al was seen crying on TV the night before when an errant newswoman caught him in a candid moment on camera walking down a Las Vegas street. He had outspent me by ten to one, and never in his wildest dreams could he imagine his political fate at the hands of an unknown novice. Nor was I prepared for what his friends and business partners had in store for me that first year in office.

Within hours of my visit to City Hall, Barry Perea, president of the local transit bus company, called to offer an unsolicited, after-the-fact $10,000 donation to my campaign fund to "help with any deficits." I turned it down. Several years later, during a city audit, it was discovered that the financial records for the bus company were loosely kept. Perea's company's franchise, as operator of Las Vegas's only public transit system, was revoked after 43 years based on an investigation I headed. A new system -- and operator -- later replaced the old one. Perea sued me for my official efforts. The City Attorney refused to provide me a defense, so I turned to my homeowner's insurance company who settled out of court. I was infuriated, and felt set up. To my enemy's dismay, I was also inspired.

That first week at City Hall revealed several masters of the pay off, such as a prominent lawyer who was the son of a powerful elected official. He came into my office and announced behind closed doors that he was "the bag man." He told me he collected $25,000 for each successful zoning application he represented, then he distributed the money in $5,000 increments to four council members and kept $5,000 for himself. He told me that I could make a million dollars in my first term if I went along with his program.

But the most shocking offer was made by the head of the local public housing authority, Art Sartini, who would later resign from office under a cloud. He invited me to his agency's warehouse to look around. He extended an invitation for me to place purchase orders for "carpets, drapes, furniture, guns, tires, jewelry, steaks, wine," or anything else I desired. He would write the procurement orders for whatever I wanted at his agency's cost. He never clarified whether I would be asked to reimburse the housing authority after receiving the goods.

Three years later, Sartini faced a Federal Grand Jury because of my efforts. The jury held a series of confidential hearings after which Sartini, his son, daughter, first cousin, brother-in-law (all of which were housing employees), and his board of directors including Al Levy's father abruptly resigned. It was never revealed whether Sartini cut a deal with the Feds. He just up and left immediately following the hearings.

Then,  there was this:

"Where do you like to go on vacation?" asked a prominent developer. He simply walked in, unannounced, to my 10th floor office. I was sitting behind Al's giant rosewood desk for the first time when the casual developer came in and sat himself down across from me.

Having just been sworn in that morning, and with Al Levy vacating his plush office moments prior to the ceremony, for the first time since winning I felt uncomfortable. Now, one of his best friends had just plopped down, uninvited, in a leather chair in Al's former office.

"I usually go to Catalina when I have the time," was my answer to his question.

He said, "Well, let me know when you want to go and I'll have you flown down to John Wayne Airport in my company jet. There, we'll take you and your guests to my yacht for the trip to the island. You can bring as many as five guests. Stay as long as you want. We'll take real good care of you."

Just that morning after I took my oath of office, an oath I took very seriously, City Manager Ashley Hall had presented me with a shiny gold badge in a leather case. It had the city seal on it next to a nameplate engraved with "Councilman Steve Miller." When Ashley gave it to me, he did not include any instructions, so I made up my own.

"I fly my own plane when I take a vacation, but thanks anyway." This particular developer often appeared before the council with special requests for approval of projects that, unfortunately, were not always first class.

"Hey, look at this." I flashed my shiny new badge. "You know, this thing makes me feel kinda like a cop. In fact, I think I should arrest you for just now trying to bribe a city official. That vacation you just offered me was worth in excess of $10,000 and you don't even know me. I think you're showing disrespect for this office, and on behalf of my constituents, I ask you to leave immediately."

He bolted out the door and ran the 50 feet to his friend Mayor Ron Lurie's office. Several moments later, Lurie, the just-elected mayor of Sin City, stormed in. "You've always treated me like shit," he said.

Lurie was an experienced council member. Before being elected mayor, he served 14 years on the council. But he ended up being a one-term mayor, leaving office, with my help, because of a scandal. Ron Lurie was driven from office after the Nevada Ethics Commission found him guilty of violating ethics laws six times by not disclosing who his partners were prior to zone changes that improved the value of land he and the City Manager had an investment in. An investment group put together by my predecessor on the council.

Ron's response shocked me. I hardly knew him other than as kids when I ran the teen dances in town and he stacked produce at nearby Market Town, a neighborhood grocery. I asked him why he would say such a thing. He responded that the developer I asked to leave was a good friend of his and didn't deserve to be treated that way.

I told Ron, "If your friends want to bribe a councilman, please tell them to stay away from the Ward One office." Ron responded with, "You're nuts!" I answered, "No, just honest. Keep your buddies away from me." He stormed out of my office and down the hall to his.

That was the beginning of the four most miserable but challenging years of my life. Welcome to the underbelly of Las Vegas.

(To be continued)

My four years in Sin City Hall answered most of my questions, and since then little has changed. I knew after leaving office that if Las Vegas was ever to mature into a modern day city that's fit to live in, the underbelly of our local government had to be exposed, an underbelly that has become more savvy and covert over the years. I have devoted my life to exposing that underbelly ever since.

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

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