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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:

The life of the party
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 12, 2005

A question I'm repeatedly asked by readers is, "When I'm in Vegas, where should I go to see the mob?" I usually try to be vague, but lately, two party givers and their restaurants stand out every time I write about political corruption in Sin City, and the new mob that I strongly believe has taken over the town's government.
         Fred Glusman                              Piero's, Las Vegas                              The Ritz, New Port Beach, California

It seems to me there's a golden
spaghettini tying some local and out of state mobsters to compromised Vegas politicians, crooked judges, greedy developers, and the FBI. Three posh eateries, two in Sin City, and one on California's Gold Coast, come to mind.
Billy Walters at city hall (
                         Cili Restaurant

Political polls are taken by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitor's Authority, Nevada Resort Association, LV Board of Realtors, Steve Wynn, Harrah's, and other big money entities in town each election season. Its no mystery that these corporations want advance knowledge of who may soon be deciding their financial fates from the dais of the Clark County Commission, or Las Vegas City Council.

In 1991, my name appeared on the top of all the polls as becoming the next mayor of Las Vegas.
Unfortunately, what was so politically promising was about to come to an abrupt and painful end.

But in the meantime, I had achieved a 73% favorable rating in a poll conducted by the Las Vegas Review Journal. It took over a decade for another elected official to match me; mob lawyer-turned mayor, Oscar Goodman, after he won his second term in 2003.

However, I was also hated by the power brokers, but many showed their hypocrisy by hosting a series of unsolicited fund raising events for my mayoral campaign at local restaurants frequented by Vegas' cafe society where I was temporarily the life of the party.

Invitations were printed even before I was informed of the next fund raiser. My Santa Barbara, California based campaign manager and his staff planned my schedule so I could continue my councilman duties uninterrupted. At daybreak, I would receive a faxed printout of that day's fund raising activities including breakfast, lunch, cocktail parties, and dinner -- all at Sin City's finest restaurants. There, between my city hall duties, I met those who up until then despised me. I was handed un-ask-for checks and cash, sometimes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars per day. I reported all contributions.

In the meantime, attorneys who wouldn't acknowledge my presence four years earlier invited me to their plush offices to personally introduce their clients and their check books. Frank Schreck, the attorney for my arch enemy Steve Wynn, became an unofficial fund raiser for my mayoral campaign, once escorting me into his board room to meet a New York developer who presented me with a check for  $10,000. At Schreck's behest, Wynn even asked me to "do lunch" where he reluctantly slipped me a check for $7,500 -- chump change by Vegas political contribution standards.

Then there was the dinner party put on by Ed and Fred Doumani in Izzy Marion's restaurant at the La Concha on the Strip. There I met some of Vegas' less than well known campaign contributors.

After the party, I was approached by the publisher of a weekly tabloid who tried to hand me $10,000 cash he said was from the proprietor of several escort services. I turned it down. That same week, I received, and immediately returned, a generous check from then-fledgling strip club operator Rick Rizzolo.

Today, the method is the same, only the restaurants, hosts, and locations have changed. Also, it falsely appears to be easier to slip a bundle of cash in the pocket of the next mayor, council person, or commissioner without prying eyes watching.

Laundering unreported cash into local political campaigns is easy in Nevada. The donor just gives the politico the cash, and the candidate reports it as a "loan" from his or her personal bank account at a later date. But that's not all. The money raised at special events such as those held at posh restaurants is not delineated from other contributions. The candidate sometimes sits on the checks for a week or two. That way the dates of deposit won't indicate the money was raised all in one evening, or where, or by what host. Therefore, the host of the event is seldom known, or what special interest he represents.

Campaign contribution reports will usually indicate an "In kind" donation made by the host restaurant, but its usually listed only as several hundred dollars so as not to raise suspicion. The guest list is never revealed in state campaign contribution reports.

In the meantime, every effort is made to exclude reporters, and spies from other camps from attending the special events. In that way, pay day loan companies, escort services, and certain strip clubs with illicit business practices, can secure their futures in the local courts, councils, commissions, constable's office, or even the DA's office.

Golf course developer Billy Walters is a party giver. His posh Cili Restaurant on the grounds of the Bali Hai Country Club has been the scene of lavish fund raisers for many suspect local politicians, and that may have been the reason he got the sweetheart of sweetheart deals from the Clark County Commission of 2001. Today, former commissioners Erin Kenny, Lance Malone, Dario Herrera, and Mary Kincaid Chauncy have either been indicted, copped a plea, or have been convicted of political corruption. Kenny pleaded guilty to accepting cash in exchange for votes. Malone was convicted in San Diego's Operation G-Sting, The others still profess their innocence and are facing trial in federal court.

At Cili, like at a Greek wedding, invited guests are often seen stuffing checks (and possibly cash) into the pockets of Walter's selected candidates, while gorging on hors d'oeuvres and champagne. As I said before, the money generated does not have to coincide with the date of the affair.

In 2001, the Clark County Commission with the help of Malone, Herrera, Kenny, and Chauncy, gifted Walters 320 acres of public land at no cost with the understanding he would build two much needed golf courses. A year later, he returned to the commission and successfully lobbied to rezone 40 acres of that land to commercial and office/professional, considered a much more lucrative use. The golf courses were never built, and last week, the commission turned over to Walters -- without charge -- the 40 acres where he now plans to build an upscale shopping center.

In a sweetheart deal, circa the 1999 Las Vegas City Council of Mayor Jan Jones and Councilman Michael McDonald, Walters was sold 160 taxpayer owned acres for only $894,000 to build a golf course. Last month, Walters was back before the council asking to rezone the acreage to residential, automatically raising its value to over $50 million dollars.

Michael McDonald was thrown off the council in the election of 2003, but is currently building a $1.5 million dollar house while being the subject of an FBI investigation of political corruption. He is also spending a lot of time in Newport Beach, California.

Speaking of Newport Beach, Glusman's Ritz Restaurant there is the hangout of choice for a new Vegas crowd who own beach side estates and commute to Vegas from nearby John Wayne Airport. The Ritz, once off limits, is now under heavy surveillance by people wanting to know the real inside goings on in our desert town. LV Mayor Oscar Goodman, Rick Rizzolo, Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, former Mayor Jan Jones, and a slew of other Vegas big wigs own properties in nearby Laguna Beach and other neighborhoods by the sea that are only a thirty minute biz jet flight from Sin City.

Glusman's son in law is Tom Letizia, Oscar Goodman's campaign manager and fundraiser. Letizia is also the consummate party giver in the desert, or near the surf.

            Goodman and Letizia

Letizia doubles as the PR man for the Crazy Horse Too strip club purportedly owned by Rizzolo who is a subject in a federal investigation of racketeering, and is also a well known campaign fundraiser. Letizia's local venues of choice are Piero's and Cili. Other local political fund raisers include Rizzolo's legal team of Dean Patti and Tony Sgro who have been known to throw extravagant parties at Rizzolo's Canyon Gate estate in the hills west of Vegas. These events are mainly attended by judges, and the hoodlum clients of their law firm.

I often refer on these pages to Clark County District Attorney David Roger, and District Court Judge Nancy Saitta. Both have been recipients of parties thrown by Letizia at Piero's, and Roger even received a fund raiser held at Rizzolo's LV estate. Both have been suspected of doing favors for Rizzolo.

In 2003, I worked on the campaign of the woman who defeated Michael McDonald. McDonald had long been a suspected minion for Goodman, Rizzolo, and Walters during his two terms on the LV City Council. During the campaign, I advised my candidate to stay away from Letizia and Walters. She pledged she would, but was lying. She also lied to Letizia saying I was not involved. When we both learned otherwise, it hit the front page.

"I told her early on that if Steve Miller is involved with this in any way, then I'm out," Letizia told Ed Koch of the Las Vegas SUN. "She assured me that Steve Miller was not involved during the campaign. She gave me the indication that she never has been involved at any time with him."

After reading this, I received a call informing me that my candidate had accepted an offer of a Letizia hosted fundraiser at Cili. My informant told me that Letizia had pledged to raise $700,000 at the event. I went into action. I hired several photographers and stationed them on the public streets in front of the entrances to the Bali Hai Country Club. I then sent an E-Brief to thousands of subscribers stating that all vehicles entering and exiting the event would be photographed and their occupants identified in my next E-Brief.

The event bombed. Instead of $700,000, the event reportedly generated only $75,000, a far cry from what Letizia is famous for, and a big let down for my once-loyal candidate, then a newly elected city council woman.  The day after the event, I received a call from her boy friend, a prominent casino owner, blaming me for ruining the party. It proved just how paranoid some of our local political campaign contributors have become if the mere threat of having their names mentioned by me would thwart their attending a lavish dinner party.

My contact in Newport Beach is a regular at the Ritz. He's a high roller, and would never be suspected of eavesdropping.  Here in Vegas, another high roller keeps me informed of who's schmoozing who at Piero's and Cili. There is no longer a safe haven for Sin City politicians, and those who buy them like pigs at an auction.

* 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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