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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:

A perfect storm?

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
May 26, 2008

LAS VEGAS – Buffalo Jim Barrier called several of his friends just hours before his death. He said he had received a foreboding letter that warned, “He’s using people to get close to you. He’s discussed using a female to get access to your business.” In his Orange County Weekly column on May 22, writer R. Scott Moxley wrote, “In a 2006 interview at OC Weekly—one in which we discussed at length the hierarchy of organized crime figures on the West Coast, Barrier told me that he wasn’t worried about being whacked, but, he said, if it happened, they’d use a woman to lure him somewhere."

Barrier called Las Vegas Review Journal columnist John L. Smith, former Las Vegas Weekly writer Joshua Longobardy, former FBI agent Robert Clymer, and myself on Saturday, April 5 to say he would not let a woman place him in danger. He died that night.

Barrier discussed his enemy Rick Rizzolo who had been released from federal custody on April 4, the day before Barrier's death. He told us that he expected Rizzolo to try to retaliate for Barrier helping the FBI and federal prosecutors put Rizzolo in prison and making 15 of his employees felons for their criminal activities at the Crazy Horse Too strip club located next to Barrier's auto garage on Industrial Road in Las Vegas.

The afternoon following Barrier's phone calls to friends, his lifeless body was identified by his 15 and 20 year old daughters lying on a made up bed in the Motel 6 on the Boulder Highway. According to a representative of the Clark County Coroner, he had succumbed between 7 and 9 PM the night before.

On the night of his death Barrier told his daughters he would be home by midnight. When he didn't return, Jerrica Barrier, 15, placed numerous calls to her dad's cell phone asking where he was. When police discovered Jerrica's number on his cell phone, they informed her of her father's death.

When Jerrica and Elise Barrier arrived at the death scene, they described their father as having a "serene" look on his face.

His calm appearance made them feel that he was still alive, they said, and because of it, the shock of his death was that much harder for them to deal with.

I'm very concerned for the younger daughter's psychological well being for having suffered such an experience, and question the tactics of the police officers who allowed her into that motel room.

Keep in mind that Buffalo Jim Barrier was once a professional wrestler and would not have gone down without a fight. The look on his face at the motel and later at his funeral viewing did not indicate anything stressful happened at the time of his death.

As an investigative journalist and friend of the family, I have conducted extensive research to try to understand what took down my best friend. In conversations with other writers, some of my thoughts have been published.

I received several critical emails based on the last paragraph of Scott Moxley's OC Weekly column that stated, "But the death—which authorities say wasn’t caused by a heart attack or brain aneurism—has left Barrier’s daughters claiming foul play. Steve Miller, a Las Vegas journalist and mob expert, former city councilman and longtime Barrier friend, says he’s leaning against a homicide, but is waiting for the toxicology reports before he reaches any conclusions. 'I believe that if this is a mob hit, it would have been much more dramatic and clearly meant to send a message to people who oppose the mob’s new business ventures,' Miller told me."

This inspired a loyal INSIDE VEGAS reader to email, "Dear Steve, Did you really say you DIDN'T think it was an LCN HIT on Barrier ???? As a life-long Criminal up til 1992 (with some insight and connections) I see this as NOTHING BUT an LCN always take out the biggest, most-feared guy on the other side and everyone else folds....and now Jim is gone, I see that's happening . If you're afraid-that's o.k.-but don't start makes you lose credibility and dishonors Barrier. (Rick) Rizzolo had him hit...he had to do it (from Rizzolo's viewpoint). We live in an Era of Nobody Cares and Nobody Wants To Get Involved. The Bad Guys win."

Another reader emailed, "Good ploy, Steve but remain very careful."

My answer is that I'm not afraid to speculate as to what may have happened on April 5. To investigate thoroughly and then express in writing my alternative suspicion is not a ploy to draw heat away from myself.

Barrier was a huge man usually weighing over 300 pounds. He was considered to be at least 85 pounds over weight for his height. He also had an enlarged heart and, according to the county pathologist, two coronary arteries with 40% blockage.

None of these conditions taken separately would have killed a man who just the week before his death was deemed healthy by his physician. Barrier who died at 55, was also a health fanatic eating mostly vegetables, and had long since abstained from drinking alcohol or taking drugs though he admitted to being a heavy drinker and of taking drugs in his younger days.

But there was one other important factor about Barrier's health that bears mention. He was a type 2 diabetic.

Buffalo Jim told his friends that he successfully controlled his condition through diet, and was not on medication.

Barrier would not let an hour pass without downing a tomato juice or something else containing carbohydrates.

This brings to mind another finding of the county pathologist. Barrier's stomach at the time of autopsy was empty.

According to a physician consulted for this column, a person with type 2 diabetes can quickly go into hypoglycemic shock or coma when their blood sugar drops below acceptable levels.

If not revived, death can occur within 4 to 8 hours. Barrier had not taken his usual tomato juice before his death.

Several years ago I was with a friend who passed out during a road trip. When he went unconscious, his hands and feet began to tremble. I pulled into a gas station and called 911. Because we were far from civilization, the operator asked several questions including whether the man was a diabetic. I told her that he had recently been diagnosed with diabetes, but was not on medication. The operator told me to go to the nearest candy machine and buy a Snickers bar then place it under his tongue. I did, and my friend immediately revived.

On the night of Buffalo's death he reportedly had company. At 9 PM and again at 10 PM the phone in Barrier's residence recorded a message from someone named "Lisa" asking if he were OK? The same woman also called Barrier's cell phone at around 9 PM and according to police asked the same question.

"Lisa" was located and interviewed by police. She reportedly told them she was with Barrier in the motel when he had a seizure and that she left him there without seeking help.

If what she said is correct, she described the beginning of a "perfect storm," the death scenario of a diabetic man who had not eaten for several hours.

According to Barrier's daughters, they had enjoyed their last meal with their dad at 3:30 the afternoon of his death. According to the coroner, Barrier had an empty stomach sometime between 7 and 9 PM the same day. This was highly unusual.

I have traveled with Buffalo on numerous occasions. He always without fail would stop to buy a tomato juice or bagel at least once every hour. He never varied this routine during our three trips to San Francisco, vacation in Catalina, and family ventures to Disneyland or Universal Studios.

He would explain that he was beginning to feel weak and needed to get a snack. He didn't need a needle prick meter to know it was time to increase his blood sugar. After the snack, he was always full of energy.

The family hired a separate pathologist who conducted an independent autopsy. We are still awaiting her findings. But the third doctor who I have been consulting has expressed his opinion that all the physical problems -- if combined -- could have killed Buffalo.

How the Mafia could pull this off still baffles me. I always thought a bullet through the forehead was their norm, especially when it came to people they consider snitches. It was supposed to send a message.

But in the case of Buffalo Jim Barrier, the manner of his death in that motel room breaks all the rules. What is the message? Was there any message at all?

If his death was intended to stop reports or criticism of Rick Rizzolo and the goons he hangs out with, the message did not come through.

Writers are still writing, and the FBI is still investigating.

How many people would it have taken to conspire to kill a federal witness? And what about this Lisa person? Why did she identify herself if she was working for the mob?

I inquired at Barrier's business about the woman, and an employee said a Lisa had called Barrier several times over the past three years. According to the employee, Barrier would always take her calls.

On the night of his death he also took a call from Lisa. It lasted for just over seven minutes.

He said he wouldn't let a woman lure him into a compromising position. But was Lisa just any woman, or was she a trusted friend?

How many times had they gotten together out of sight from Barrier's daughters? Was there something about Lisa that Buffalo didn't want his family or friends to know?

He never mentioned her to me even when I asked him about someday finding a companion and getting married. I used to joke with him that he should find a woman who also looks like a buffalo.

He always laughed, and said he would.

I believe Barrier was waiting for his youngest child to go to college before bringing a woman into his life. He understood that his daughters still love their mother and like many children from broken homes hope their parents will someday reunite.

So he may have sought out female companionship away from his daughter's eyes. There's nothing wrong with that. He was single. And Lisa appeared to be someone he had known for some time and trusted, so his explanation about not letting a female get him into a compromising position may not have applied to her in his mind. She was special.

As I said, this is all still just speculation on my part. Whether it was a "perfect storm" that killed Buffalo, or a mob assassination by a hit woman with extraordinary skills, will not come clear until we receive the two toxicology reports, one from the county, the other from the family's private pathologist.

And then there's that mysterious video tape of Barrier purportedly checking in to the motel while appearing in "good spirits."

The tape has yet to be shown to the family, though police swear it was him depicted. If the tape is as described, what does it reveal?

At first I thought my friend was kidnapped and taken to the motel to make it look as though he had ventured into dangerous territory and fell prey to a street whore or pimp. After new information emerged, that does not seem feasible.

Will Lisa tell her story truthfully, or does she have something terrible to hide? Why did she leave a "friend" in such a dire condition? And what happened to Buffalo's roll of cash? Will the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police complete this investigation and bring charges if foul play occurred -- even if it was not mob connected?

It's been seven weeks since his death, and little has been revealed. We all deserve to know the answers, and if Barrier did meet with foul play, who's next?

But if he died of natural causes based on being a 55 year old over weight man with heart problems and diabetes, we also deserve to know.

The mysterious death of Buffalo Jim Barrier must not go unsolved.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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