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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:

Two Lousy Lawyers, a Conflicted Judge, and a Silent Mayor
If I've ever seen a set up in the works, this is it!
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
June 21, 2004

              Treasures - the $30 million dollar prize                         The Honorable George Assad

"I never should have made a promise our firm cannot live up to. I was an idiot. I had no idea what I was saying." "What a moron I was when I said there would be no convictions." "It is absolutely beyond (the owners') control." -- Treasures attorney Mark Fiorentino

LAS VEGAS - Municipal Court Judge George Assad on August 30 is expected to make a decision that could lead to the closure of the $30 million dollar Treasures Gentleman's Club, and make an idle promise worth its weight in legal gold.

Some background: In 2000, the Reverend, Dr. Annette Rizzolo-Patterson, the sister of Crazy Horse Too skin joint owner Rick Rizzolo, with the help of then-City Councilman Mike McDonald, conspired to set up a “pop up church” next door to Presidential Advisor and former Ambassador to Iceland Sig Rogich’s property which is now the site of Treasures Gentleman's Club. The site is located just down the street from the embattled Crazy Horse Too.

The transparent reason for the "church" was to squelch the liquor license of Treasures before it could be built so it would not compete with the Reverend's brother's business, and to kill any chance the politically influential Rogich would ever have of selling his property for use as a topless bar because adult businesses are not allowed near schools or churches.

Rev. Rizzolo

The "The House of Holy Hooters" as it was playfully called, moved in -- then abruptly closed when the Las Vegas SUN revealed it was anything but holy, a move that almost landed Councilman McDonald in the slammer.

Mayor Oscar Goodman consoles McDonald on
the eve of his 2003 election loss

During the weeks it was open, several city officials including Councilman Gary Reese were reported to have attended "services" at the Universal Church for Life Enhancement giving it an appearance of legitimacy.
                    Las Vegas Review-Journal, 07/22/00, Page 9D

Now, four years later, the preaching has stopped and Treasures is left on thin ice -- some of its' own making -- but not fragile enough to close it down as many desire.

The problem is that in 2001, after being chided from the dais by Mayor Oscar Goodman, Treasures' attorney Mark Fiorentino in order to overcome the influence of the politically powerful Crazy Horse Too and Cheetah's, promised the Mayor that Treasures would be held to a higher standard than its nearby competitors. He went so far as to promise that if even one infraction of law took place, his clients would voluntarily surrender their liquor license and not fight the City in court. The Mayor and his subservient Council reluctantly accepted Fiorentino's legally questionable offer and begrudgingly granted Treasures a temporary liquor license fully knowing such a promise could never be kept.

After $30 million dollars was invested in a palatial building, the bar became a roaring success to the dismay of its nearby competitors along with city fathers who would not even permit it to have a proper sign. In the meantime, word was that competitors planted girls at Treasures to purposely break the law and get caught.

Treasures off-premise signage is limited to a rented reader board on the corner leading to the club

This week, to his professional credit, Fiorentino fell on his sword for his client. In a humiliating display of loyalty, he publicly rescinded his legally-challenged promise. Though his rescindment fell on deaf ears, Fiorentino painfully self effaced by telling the Council: "What a moron I was," and "I was an idiot," in his pleading to release him from his "no convictions" vow.

Attorney Mark Fiorentino

However, two other Treasures lawyers did not follow Fiorentino's lead by falling on their swords for their client.

Last year, to the glee of competitors (and the Mayor), several Treasures dancers were arrested for soliciting prostitution from undercover police officers who along with a slew of City Business License Inspectors spent a disproportionate amount of time hanging around the plush topless bar. Nevertheless, under questioning from Councilman Larry Brown, City Business License officials apologetically confessed that Treasures had fewer arrests for prostitution during the same time period than three other city clubs that enjoy good standings with the Mayor and Council. That fact made little difference to several Councilmembers who seemed Hell bent to close this one business. In the meantime, the Mayor found an excuse to abstain.

On June 16, Councilman Gary Reese acting as Mayor pro tem proclaimed that a conviction could close Treasures. "If there had been a conviction today, there would have been problems." "The bottom line is there was a promise. I don't know how anybody can look back on a promise," he threatened.

Councilman Gary Reese

Las Vegas Metro Police Detective Stacy Rodd then told the Council that the point was not whether Treasures was the same as other clubs. "We were looking to them to follow through what they promised," he said.

A "promise?"

You can't legally single out a business that promises to set a standard higher than that of its competitors, competitors including one infamous topless bar only a few blocks away that's being investigated by the FBI and IRS for extortion, tax evasion, prostitution, credit card fraud, coercion, racketeering and mayhem -- a business that nonetheless is not under scrutiny by the City Council. A dangerous new standard will be set if a broken promise is the basis for a Municipal Court verdict intended to result in the shutting down of a prosperous business and put its building up for grabs.

Four Treasures dancers are about to stand trial on misdemeanor charges in Judge Assad's Court. If convicted, Treasures is expected to be forced into keeping their promise and surrender their license to the cheers of nearby competitors (vultures) who are waiting to grab the $30 million dollar building for dimes on the dollar.

Ross Goodman (yes, the Mayor's son), and Louie Palazzo were both hired by Treasures for the sole purpose of defending the accused hookers in Municipal court, and to possibly cause the outspoken Mayor to abstain based on conflict of interest.

Last Wednesday at the City Council meeting, both lawyers were told authorities would not enter a plea bargain agreement with any Treasures dancer, though at competing clubs, police testified that strippers accept plea deals in 85 to 100 percent of the cases. The same police officers told the Council that since Treasures agreed in 2001 to be held to a higher standard, no plea agreements would be accepted in their upcoming court case.

Strangely, no objection to the dual standard was lodged by either Ross Goodman or Louie Palazzo, while Mayor Goodman was conveniently out of the room.

Ross Goodman capitalizes on his father's name and connections, while Palazzo is best known for almost single handedly losing Rick Tabish's defense in the Binion trial. Treasures could have done much better, but was evidently sold a bill of goods.

Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge George Assad who was appointed to his first term on the bench by Oscar Goodman, asked Ross and Louie to submit briefings on what they contend was entrapment and return to his courtroom Aug. 30. In the meantime, both young attorneys and the Mayor had to have knowledge that the Judge's political campaign was financed by people who have a stake in his upcoming decision -- but the lawyers neglected to ask that he be removed. Their lack of action sparked considerable discussion among court observers.

According to information easily available from the City Clerk and on the Internet, Honorable George Assad on 01/16/03, accepted an in-kind contribution of a party worth $3,875 at a well known mob watering hole owned by one of Rizzolo's and Galardi's buddies. On 01/22/03, the Judge accepted a $5,000 campaign contribution from RICBAR LLC, a company owned by embattled Crazy Horse owner Rick Rizzolo -- Treasures' nearest competitor, along with a $1,000 contribution from Patti & Sgro, Rizzolo's attorneys. On 02/05/03, Rizzolo's personal attorney Tony Sgro contributed $550 of in-kind services to Assad's campaign. And on 02/19/03, Judge Assad accepted a $5,000 contribution from indicted Cheetahs owner Michael Galardi, another nearby Treasures competitor.

Altogether, Judge Assad accepted over $15,000 in cash and in-kind contributions from contributors who have close ties to persons who would love to see Treasures hit the auction block. His two main contributors include a man who is under federal indictment for bribing public officials, and another who is facing federal indictment for racketeering. But as far as the Judge, Ross, and Louie are concerned, there's no problem.

Cannon 2 of the NEVADA CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT states: "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary," but this Judge seems oblivious to Cannon 2.

With so many vultures circling Treasures -- many who have invested heavily in Judge Assad's political career -- wouldn't it have been prudent for Assad to have recused on this case in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety, or maybe for the defense attorneys to file a preemptory challenge and have him replaced with someone perhaps not so conflicted? Hence, my suspicion there's a setup in the works -- a setup to remove and replace the present Treasures owner with another who has more friends in the local political arena.

To prove there's a double standard, on October 2, 2002, the Vegas City Council ignored testimony from Randall Sayre, the Nevada Gaming Control Board's chief of investigations, and obediently granted a permanent liquor license to Albert J. Rapuano to be the general manager of the Crazy Horse Too. Sayre presented a stack of evidence alleging Rapuano had mob ties, but the Council couldn't care less. Based on that decision, an ethics complaint was filed against mob-lawyer-turned Mayor Oscar Goodman, but it was later dismissed.

Now the same Council is holding Rapuano's nearest competitor to a much higher standard.

Rapuano's easy licensing proved that it wouldn't be a problem for someone else who's less than desirable -- but politically acceptable -- to obtain a license to operate the Treasures building in the likely event Ross and Louie fail to convince Judge Assad that the strippers were just socializing with the undercover cops, not soliciting them for prostitution, or that they were entrapped.

Then there's the silenced Oscar Goodman. The Mayor at great expense put his son Ross through a prestigious law school. Now when an issue on the Council agenda might put hundreds of city residents out of work, the Mayor mysteriously abstained so his son could make a few thousand dollars defending some accused hookers in Muni court. A transparent move based on the fact that the vultures circling Treasures include many of lawyer Oscar Goodman's former criminal defense clients, guys that made him a rich man and may now be throwing clients Ross' way.

Maybe Goodman's nonchalance is because he knows that Treasures -- in the event Judge Assad rules against it -- won't be dark for very long, and because this may be the perfect opportunity for him to pay back some big favors while appearing to not be involved.

And, if I were Ross Goodman's dad and I had just paid a small fortune for my kid's college education, I'd tell my son to avoid causing me the embarrassment of having to abstain on such an important issue, especially knowing that my Council predecessor would jump all over me in his column. But, I'm not the extremely popular Mayor of Sin City who is impervious to criticism in the eyes of Vegas voters.

In the event Judge Assad does what I expect, someone very close to the Mayor is probably waiting in the wings to steal the Treasures building -- that's if the owners don't wise up first, dump Ross and Louie, and challenge the conflicted Judge.

If the owners of Treasures can't see the emblazoned writing on the wall by now, they never will.

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