INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
November 24, 2003
Las Vegas Review Journal Editorial Cartoon by Jim Day
"Using innovative technology, OnStar can provide
you with the latest information and assistance. Just press the blue OnStar
button and you'll be connected to the OnStar Center where trained, knowledgeable,
live Advisors are ready to help. Plus, some OnStar vehicles give you the
ability to send and receive calls like you would using a wireless phone
minus inconvenient dialing. Benefit: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, OnStar's
only a button away. And if your front air bag deploys, OnStar will try
contacting you." - Excerpt from OnStar onboard
communications system advertisement
But, what happens when the "trained, knowledgeable,
live Advisors" are agents for federal law enforcement agencies, and you
think conversations in your new Cadillac or Hummer are confidential, especially
when they involve the bribing of public officials? If you're so inclined,
you could inadvertently end up a plea bargaining felon heading for time
in a federal penitentiary.
Las Vegas has long believed that what happens
here stays here. However, we would have to clean our own house in order
to retain such exclusivity. Lately, our house cleaning has become so slovenly
that we ended up attracting outside help in the form of the U.S. government.
What has always been commonplace in Sin City -- the bribing
of our beloved politicians -- became a form of domestic terrorism in the
eyes of the feds. It all started on Thursday morning February 21, 2003
when after years of surveillance, 80 agents raided
the Crazy Horse Too. Local politicians
ran for cover. But that was just the beginning.
The dictionary describes "terrorism" as "The unlawful
use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized
group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or
In Sin City's recent "Operation G-Sting" investigations
of topless bar owners, the term "terrorism" has become the keyword. Its
meaning has been translated into many manifestations including the recent
use of the Patriot Act to look into money laundering by known targets.
It has also opened the door to the use of high tech listening devices including
onboard communications systems.
In the case of Jaguars owner Mike
Galardi, "force" comes in the form of money paid to politicians and
police officers to do his bidding, a mild form of domestic terrorism. In
the case of Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo,
"force" is more in line with "violence" -- terrorism per se.
Enter the federal government.
For years, Vegas officials turned their backs
or worse -- allegedly participated in the get-rich-quick schemes of the
two topless bar owners. Galardi pleaded guilty to racketeering. Rizzolo
is suspected of racketeering and political corruption in addition to credit
card fraud and coercion.
"There are numerous audio interceptions and video," according to assistant
U.S. Attorney Dan Schiess. Noted defense attorneys say the government's
case is rock solid.
Drawing largely from those wiretaps, prosecutors allege Galardi had
been bribing politicians, funneling $200,000 to $400,000 to San Diego politicians
and police officers along with paying off Las Vegas officials.
Prosecutors say Vegas elected officials "controlled and harassed" Galardi's
competitors. In one case, certain county commissioners whom Galardi admitted
paying bribes tried to create a distance requirement to squelch Sapphire
-- a competitive club -- by saying it was too close to another adult business.
A lawsuit against the county prevailed and the law was repealed. But in
the interim, the sale of the property was stalled costing the future developer
additional millions. The scheme was eventually disclosed in court records.
In Rizzolo's case, numerous witnesses have come forward alleging they
were threatened with physical violence if they didn't sign inflated credit
card tabs. Others reportedly were beaten up by bar employees when they
attempted to leave the club without paying disputed charges. Several assault
and battery cases have been settled
out of court for undisclosed sums, while an attempted murder civil case
is scheduled for trial in January 2004. No criminal prosecutions have occurred
adding to the political corruption speculation.
The difference between Galardi and Rizzolo is vast. Rizzolo professes
his innocence while Galardi has agreed to forfeit $3.85 million to the
government, pay $200,000 in restitution to both the city of Las Vegas and
the county, and give up ownership of his clubs in order to draw a lighter
sentence. He also agreed to testify against the public officials he bribed.
Rizzolo appears to be in a state of denial even though the trail leading
to his bar is covered with the blood of hapless patrons. The trail to Galardi's
bar is covered with cash bribes -- no violent episodes have been revealed
in his case. The dichotomy between the two cases causes speculation that
Rizzolo may be the fed's main target because of the physical violence aspects
of his case.
As far as the talking cars that may have been responsible for revealing
much of the information being used in both the Galardi and Rizzolo cases,
the company that manufactures the system has taken the matter to court.
A federal appeals court on November 18 ruled against the FBI in its efforts
to eavesdrop on private conversations through the communication systems
installed in vehicles.
In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned
the decision of U.S. District Judge Lloyd George of Las Vegas, who allowed
the FBI to use the roving "bugging devices" in vehicles to gain information
about criminal activity. The appeals court said the FBI eavesdropping interfered
with the operation of the system. The court said the onboard
communications system operator could not assist the FBI without
disabling the system, and that violated the condition of a "minimum of
interference requirement" in the law. "In this case, FBI surveillance completely
disabled the monitored car's system," the ruling stated.
Judge Richard Tallman dissented, saying the majority opinion creates
"a wide-ranging form of protection for the legitimate targets of government
So, for the time being, thugs can relax in their new cars. Big Brother
can't eavesdrop there anymore. But that may come as little comfort to Galardi
and Rizzolo this late in their game.
Copyright © Steve Miller
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com