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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:

Vegas Mayor Embroiled
in Another Controversy

Elder Abuse Being Alleged,
Ethics Complaint To Be Filed,

State Bar Complaint Being Considered
Against Mayor's Son

If anybody tells me I can't help my son, who I love, they can drop dead! -- Mayor Oscar Goodman
They felt this was a helpless woman, a confused woman. -- Attorney Ted Cohen

LAS VEGAS Mayor Oscar Goodman kisses his son
Ross after leaving the state Ethics Commission
hearing.Goodman broke ethics rules by using his
office to promote his son's business, the panel said.

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 13, 2004

A stunningly beautiful French woman arrived in Las Vegas in the 1950s to dance in a lavish European spectacular on the Las Vegas Strip. Deciding to settle in our desert town, Christina thrived in early Vegas, marrying artist Francis Von Sturm and raising a wonderful family. During those formative years, the Von Sturms wisely bought land in downtown Las Vegas. A lifetime later, the story of Christina is front page news.

Chez Christina was the dream of the Von Sturms following Christina's retirement from show business. The French restaurant occupied a space they owned on Las Vegas Boulevard -- the "Strip." After years of running the popular bistro, the Von Sturms decided to retire and lease their building to a bar called the British Bulldog. The bar did not succeed and in the mid 1990s the building became vacant. However, recently widowed Christina who always loved Las Vegas, maintained the vacant property so it would retain its value and not detract from the redeveloping inner-city neighborhood.

In the meantime, a new Federal Courthouse was built across the street from Christina's property drastically raising the value of the one acre parcel, though she wasn't paying much attention because she doesn't read the English language. Furthermore, in July 2004, the City Council paid 75 year old Greek Immigrant Carol Pappas $4.5 million for a tiny 6,000 square foot parcel only four blocks north of Christina's property. That's when troubles began brewing for Christina.

Criminal defense attorneys Ross and Eric Goodman and their partner Louie Palazzo operate out of an office once used by Ross' dad, mob lawyer-turned mayor Oscar Goodman. They also reportedly receive inside information available only to the Mayor about redevelopment projects planned nearby. Its suspected that the Mayor's secretary who is engaged to Eric Goodman, passes inside information on to the law firm. The same secretary sat on the selection committee that made the decisions for the future use of Christina's land and other nearby parcels located in the Downtown Redevelopment Area, several that have recently been purchased by Ross and Louie.

The Goodman Law Group's office is just a block from Christina's property. Goodman and Palazzo evidently saw an opportunity to purchase Christina's land on the cheap, and soon reportedly tricked her into going to a motel to meet with them in a dark room. There they induced the 85 year old woman to sign papers she could not read or understand. She did so without her family, lawyer, or realestate help nearby. When a deposit check was not forthcoming and the contract went void because of non-payment, Ross and Louie falsely claimed she orally agreed to an extension. Christina did not agree to an extension orally, however. In response to this less-than-legal shenanigan, Mayor Goodman bragged, "I guess my son is smarter than other people."

After Christina disagreed with Ross and Louie's account of what happened, she received a threatening letter.

On Thursday, September 9, Las Vegas SUN investigative reporter Jon Ralston broke the story about what appears to be one of the worse cases of ELDER ABUSE in the history of our city. On Sunday, September 12, he followed up with an in-depth column about the attempt to take Christina's land.

I have known the Von Sturms for over fifteen years, so I was provided a copy of the original threat letter to include in this article.

Word of the threat letter first surfaced in Ralston's Thursday story. He reported that it originated from The Goodman Law Group and was addressed to Christina's Las Vegas attorney, a young lawyer with a firm that, unbeknownst to Christina, has close ties to the Goodmans.

At the top of the letter are the words "Of Council, Oscar B. Goodman, ESQ." Mayor Goodman and his obedient Council possess the ability to use or abuse the power of Eminent Domain -- a frightening thought to a downtown land owner like Christina.

Conspicuous by its absence in the letter is any reference to the laws that require such transactions to be in writing, but the Mayor's name on the letterhead is unmistakable. This is causing observers to believe the letter was a ruse to try to intimidate an elderly woman into selling her land at far below market value -- a clear example of financial exploitation of the elderly!

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, in Nevada if an older person suffers a loss of property by exploitation, the offender may be ordered to pay up to two times the actual damages incurred. If the offender acted with recklessness, oppression, fraud, or malice, the court shall order the person to pay the attorney's fees and costs of the person who initiated the lawsuit. This law does not provide special privileges for a lawyer who is the son of a mayor. Even the greediest of attorneys can fall within its purview.

When Christina didn't submit to Goodman's threats in the August 6 letter, including one that would put a lien on her property, The Goodman Law Group waited only six days and abruptly filed a lawsuit against her in District Court. That's when Christina's family decided to call Jon Ralston.

In Nevada, there is a law called NRS 111.210 Contracts for sale or lease of land for periods in excess of 1 year void unless in writing. (emphasis added)

It states: 1.  Every contract for the leasing for a longer period than 1 year, or for the sale of any lands, or any interest in lands, shall be void unless the contract, or some note or memorandum thereof, expressing the consideration, be in writing, and be subscribed by the party by whom the lease or sale is to be made. (emphasis added)

Because Christina's land is held in a family trust, the following law also applies:

NRS 111.235 Grants and assignments of existing trusts to be in writing or are void. Every grant or assignment of any existing trust in lands, goods or things in action, unless the same shall be in writing, subscribed by the person making the same, or by his agent lawfully authorized, shall be void. (emphasis added)

When Christina saw the letter with the Mayor's name prominently listed at the top, the frail woman remembered the sad story of another immigrant widow, Carol Pappas, who suffered the illegal taking of her 6,000 square foot shopping center by the City to be turned over to casino owners including Goodman's predecessor, former Mayor Jan Jones, then a stockholder in Mirage Resorts who owned the downtown Golden Nugget. Mrs. Pappas refused to cash the City's check for $475,000, and took Jones and her Council to court. She finally accepted an offer of $4.5 million to end the decade long litigation.

Now, Christina fears she's about to become next in line to go to war with the City because the Mayor's name appears on the top of the letter threatening her.

As you will see in the following transcript of the letter, it states in harsh words that Christina was about to be sued and her property tied up for years if she did not live up to her (non-legally binding) verbal agreement. Note the absence of NRS that prohibits such verbal transactions:
Goodman Law Group
A Professional Corporation
620 South Forth Street
Las Vegas, Nevada 89101

August 6, 2004

Ross C. Goodman, Esq.
Of Counsel
Oscar B. Goodman, Esq.

                      Re: Escrow 04-05-0093KR

Dear Mr. Brandon:

We have become aware that it is your client's intention to breach the agreement concerning the sale of real property situated at 511 & 515 Las Vegas Boulevard South by virtue of recently receiving proposed cancellation instructions of the pending escrow.

We are contemplating closing on the subject property no later than January 12, 2005 based upon the agreement reached between your client and the undersigned of which your client's accountant was present and witnessed. Therefore, we
intend to honor the terms of said agreement as modified and will be ready, willing and able to close on the subject property as scheduled.

Once your client demonstrates a willingness to honor the amended terms of the agreement, the escrow officer will authorize the distribution of the periodic payments contemplated pursuant to the terms of such amendment. Failing which we will be forced to initiate litigation and will be filing a lis pendens against the subject property to safeguard our rights and interests herein.

Please govern yourselves accordingly.

Very truly yours,
Ross C. Goodman, Esq.

Could you imagine what effect Goodman's threat would have on another elderly person in the wake of the highly publicized illegal Eminent Domain taking suffered by Carol Pappas? Especially when the threat was made on stationary containing the Mayor's name at the top of the page! Mrs. Von Sturm could have died as a result of the stress this has caused, and, if so, would the Mayor still have said "I guess my son is smarter than other people?"

When asked by Las Vegas SUN City Hall reporter Sito Negron if he was aware his name was prominently listed on the letterhead, Mayor Goodman said he was not aware of the offer or his name on his son's stationary -- stationary that has reportedly been used by The Goodman Law Group for many years.
September 10, 2004 
Mayor says he's not aware of land deal
By Sito Negron 
Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said Thursday that he didn't know about a downtown land deal that led to his son suing a woman to force her to sell the property to a company owned by the Mayor's son's partner... Mayor Goodman also said he did not know about an Aug. 6 letter sent by his son threatening to sue if the land sale did not proceed. The letterhead includes the mayor's name. The mayor said he didn't know his name -- which lists him as being "of counsel" to Goodman Law Group -- was on the letterhead.

This is the second time in the past month that Mayor Oscar Goodman has conveniently been unaware of something that could adversely affect his political well being, and his city's already tarnished image.
                                Goodman during happier times

His first denial came on August 12, after a topless bar owned by a group of his former law clients that had been the scene of over 700 police responses in just three years including 9 for assaults and 6 for robberies involving bar employees, inspired a bloody DATELINE NBC segment that aired on August 8. Following the nationally televised segment, Goodman had this to say when reporters touched a raw nerve during a televised press conference:

MICHAEL SQUIRES - LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL: This week Dateline NBC had a program on the Crazy Horse Too...

MAYOR GOODMAN: I did not see that.

His selective memory and "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" response to the above two questions that either involve his family or former clients has inspired local ethics watchdog Robert Rose to bring Mayor Oscar Goodman back before the Nevada Commission on Ethics. During Rose's most recent complaint against the Mayor, the Commission ruled on May 13, 2004 that Goodman broke state ethics law when he promoted and hosted a Washington, D.C., cocktail party to benefit a business venture of  his son Ross. When asked about his ethics travails, Goodman angrily responded, "If there's anything wrong with that, I'm going to keep on doing it, and I'll have my face in their face as long as I'm the mayor of the city of Las Vegas."

        Goodman responds to Rose's first complaint
    Las Vegas Review-Journal Photo by Cariño Casas

In his first complaint, Rose said Goodman's actions appeared to be a clear violation of the ethics laws. "He used his name and title to promote a business for his son."

Following the Ethics Commission ruling when asked if he would continue using his Mayoral title to help his son make money, Goodman defiantly said, "I would do it again." "If I felt I did something wrong, I wouldn't have done it," he said. "I'd do it tomorrow. If I can't help my son, who can I help?" "If anybody tells me I can't help my son, who I love, they can drop dead!"

This bravado did not go over well with the staid Commissioners who would probably love to get a second bite of this apple, or with 77 year old Mr. Rose who felt the "drop dead" remark was used in reference to him. (Possibly another example of elder abuse?)

During the week of September 13, Mr. Rose says he plans to file a new ethics complaint, this one regarding the Mayor's name being improperly used to allegedly try to intimidate a senior citizen.

                     Robert Rose

Mr. Rose will include a photo copy of the Goodman Law Group letter that I will gladly provide, along with a slew of newspaper clips and news videos including Ralston's Face to Face program in his package to the state Ethics Commission.

Christina De Musee, Von Sturm's daughter, told Sito Negron of the Las Vegas SUN,  "this has got to stop. This is my mother's nest egg. She's worked hard all her life. She's been here in Vegas for 50 years. She had a restaurant here, she had all sorts of businesses. She bought land. And now in her old age, when she should be most comfortable, my mother is totally crying all the time.

"My mother's been through a war. My father's a war veteran. They come here and work hard like everybody and she did very well for herself and she's going to keep this property. If I have anything to do with it, nobody's going to take anything from my mother."

On Ralston's Face to Face TV program, De Musee stated, "I find out this strange deal occurred with these two lawyers ... (they) gave her nothing down. An oral agreement, no legal counsel or real estate agent. I said 'That's not going to happen. Now they're suing my mother." Von Sturm's California attorney Ted Cohen then added, "They felt this was a helpless woman, a confused woman."

If the Commission finds probable cause as they have with most of Mr. Rose's former complaints against wayward public officials, "The Happiest Mayor in the World" may again find himself facing off with the Commissioners, along with a beautiful grand dame, and Mr. Rose, the elderly citizen activist he so disrespected last May.

Steve Miller is a former Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner.

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