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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:

Old California money shuns Vegas "neuvo riche"
Beware of newcomers bearing gifts

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
December 5, 2005

NEWPORT BEACH, CA.- For the past decade, a group of Las Vegas movers and shakers have lived part time in lavish beach homes in Laguna Beach and Newport Beach, California. Those residing in the private enclaves comprise a list of colorful expatriates who need complete privacy to conduct their business affairs, especially those dealing with their Sin City fortunes, and the lives of those who live in Las Vegas full time.

This privileged group is not subject to the humiliation of walking barefoot through T.S.A. checkpoints at public airports, or fighting traffic on I-15 to access their esoteric sanctuaries. Our barons and baronesses whisk back and forth to the coast in just thirty minutes from private jet facilities at McCarran International Airport in Vegas, and John Wayne Airport in Orange County. Both executive terminals are secluded and heavily guarded to keep out the general public or snoopy reporters.

I'm quite familiar with such places. I once owned a small charter airline service based at McCarran. Though I flew propellor driven planes, the privacy of my clients was my foremost goal, including keeping secret their passenger lists, destinations, and schedules.

 Las Vegas Executive Terminal - McCarran Airport      Atlantic Aviation - John Wayne Airport

Sometimes, if I had a good repore with a client and liked where they were going, I'd take the day off from office duties, put on a pilot shirt and leather bomber jacket, and fly the plane. John Wayne Airport was a regular stop. On several occasions at Orange County, my passengers asked me to drive them to their favorite beach side restaurants or shops. (a generous gratuity usually followed). On those occasions, I was exposed to the world of the Las Vegas Jet Set -- folks who enjoyed spending money and bragging: "I'd like to introduce Steve, my personal pilot." Then I would enjoy a great lunch or dinner while being completely ignored.

Sometimes, my clients would want to spend the night and fly off to another destination the following day. On such occasions, they would put me up in one of Laguna or Newport's finest hotels while paying for my down time. Those were the days!

Of course, my list of clients is confidential, but it didn't include any of those who comprise the current group of beach home owners who hang out at their own exclusive Fashion Island watering hole where they call the shots for the future of Sin City, and now wish to pick and choose the next Sheriff of Orange County.

Built exclusively for them by Vegas restaurateur Fred Glusman (and a few suspected others), the Newport Beach Ritz was designed to be the gathering place for the new Vegas invaders.

Folks including former Mayor Jan Jones, current Mayor Oscar Goodman, topless nightclub owner Rick Rizzolo, MGM CEO Terry Lanni, Stations Casino owner Frank Fertitta, Jr. and COO Blake Sartini, and Bruce Becker who owns Becker Gaming Inc., and their guests make the Ritz a hot spot.

Like my former clients and passengers, the latest crowd covets privacy, hence their propensity to hang at Glusman's place -- a restaurant too expensive for snoopy reporters and average FBI agents.

Nonetheless, the Orange County Register
last month Mike Carona. According to the Register, Carona is having a problem keeping away from mob type characters and folks with questionable pasts. Guess who were identified as having questionable pasts? All of a sudden, the Vegas crowd's coveted privacy became a public spectacle!

On November 28, Register columnist Martin Wisckol identified several of Glusman's best
Sin City customers including Rizzolo, Fertitta, Becker, and Sartini. His description of these men is anything but flattering. In Vegas, these guys are considered "pillars of the community," and are mostly off limits to bad press. But in Orange County, a long time resident told me they're quietly being called "neuvo riche," or "carpetbaggers," and are fair game for the local press.
Orange County is the conservative stronghold of mainly liberal California. Recently, the ultra conservative readers of the Register were treated to some scandalous, but seldom known information about Vegas' pillars -- people who represent Sin City businesses with outrageous advertising budgets that for years have kept their executive's names out of the paper, unless it was for something they approved such as their generous gifts to charity.

Carona's colorful cast of campaign contributors
The Orange County Register
Monday, November 28, 2005

If Sheriff Mike Carona ever has cause to bone up on the casino business, he won't need to look further than his campaign donors. That list includes at least four Las Vegas entrepreneurs whose businesses have had brushes with the law. Each has contributed the maximum $1,500 to Carona's re-election bid.

Earlier this month, the Register wrote about Rick Rizzolo, owner of the Crazy Horse Too strip club. The club is under federal investigation for racketeering. In 1985, Rizzolo pleaded guilty to attacking a patron with a baseball bat. Carona adviser Mike Schroeder tells us that the sheriff is returning that donation.

The others:

Frank Fertitta Jr. is founder and former chairman of Station Casinos. Federal investigations linked him to a money-skimming operation in 1985, but he was never charged or sanctioned. Nonetheless, Missouri gaming officials in 1992 refused to issue a gambling permit to Station unless the company guaranteed Fertitta would have no part in its management, according to published reports.

Bruce Becker owns Becker Gaming Inc., which donated to the sheriff. In 1995, Becker was charged with 18 misdemeanors for allegedly misleading regulators on an application for his gaming license, according to published reports. The charges were dismissed because the one-year statute of limitations had expired.

Blake Sartini is co-founder and former chief operating officer of Nevada-based Station Casinos. While he was with that business, Station lost its Missouri gambling license after other company executives ignored a subpoena to testify in a corruption probe. Sartini was not called to testify. Station later paid more than $1 million in fines for several offenses, including allowing juveniles to gamble.

Schroeder said that Carona knew none of these contributors and that they apparently had been invited to the same May fundraiser by a Carona supporter who knew them.

"There's no way we're going to know the background on all these people," Schroeder said. "Besides Rizzolo, I don't think any of these guys have been convicted of anything. Give me something about what they've done wrong, and I'll look at giving their money back."

Copyright 2005 The Orange County Register


It was the Orange County Register that first exposed Ocean Drive homeowner Rick Rizzolo's conviction for felony battery with a baseball bat. Since then, questions are being asked around Vegas law enforcement circles as to why Rizzolo is still in possession of a privileged business license? Not only was he convicted of a felony, but he kept it a secret from Vegas liquor licensing authorities for over twenty years! Still, no public official in Nevada has had the guts to take action, though his sordid background has become the talk of the town in parts of Southern California.

Suspicious Timing:       

                 ( photo by Mike Christ)
On April 26, 2005, Mayor Oscar Goodman made a surprise first-time visit to my home. Coincidentally, just one day earlier, Goodman's former client, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, was indicted in connection with 18 murders. Lombardo is a suspected hidden owner of Rick Rizzolo's Crazy Horse Too strip club. In the street, I scolded Goodman for protecting his former clients at the blood soaked bar. Goodman's excuse for not taking action against Rizzolo's license? "I can't take action in the middle of a federal investigation." However, one year earlier, on March 4, 2004, the city council fined Crazy Horse competitor Jack Galardi one-million dollars in the middle of a federal investigation! Could his stubborn refusal to stop the Crazy Horse carnage be the result of concern for his personal safety, or fear of other retaliation from one or more of his murderous former clients? Or is Mayor Goodman just paying them back for helping start his criminal defense attorney career? Meanwhile, since his mysterious visit, bar patrons continue to be extorted, beaten, and robbed.
Rick Rizzolo is well known for his mob associations, and his ability to hang out with respected casino owners and politicians. The shocker came when the Orange County Register revealed for the first time that he was a convicted felon! That had been an amazingly well kept secret in Vegas until the Register's first article linking Rizzolo with Carona.

We were also surprised to read about Fred Glusman's strange behavior in Newport Beach. Fred's Piero's in Vegas is a known mob hang out, but Fred mainly keeps to himself -- at least around Sin City. However that's not the case in Newport Beach. According to a November 14 story in the Register, Glusman, an Orange County Sheriff's Reserve Officer -- and major campaign donor to Sheriff Mike Carona -- resigned amid allegations that he flashed his badge during a July 4 dispute over a parking space.

"The 'badging' incident involved a hard-to-find parking spot last Fourth of July outside a coffee shop at Island and West Balboa, according to Newport Beach police Sgt. Bill Hartford. The shop owner flagged a traffic-control officer to complain that Glusman had parked in a customer-only spot. Hartford said Glusman showed a badge, which the shop owner took. 'Words were exchanged. Some were unpleasant,' Hartford said. A patrol officer arrived, gave the badge back to Glusman and instructed him that he could not park on private property. No report was taken, but Hartford said he pieced together the incident after talking with the officers involved. Sheriff's officials said a written complaint was received by their department and an internal probe was immediately launched," according to investigative reporters Tony Saavedra and Chris Knap.   

This incident and Glusman's subsequent "resignation" again proves how intolerant Orange County residents are to Vegas-style shtick. And after the embarrassing story hit the morning paper, Sheriff Carona vehemently denied selling badges to his campaign contributors -- a charge often leveled by his political enemies.

However, the Register's revelation of Glusman's cop fetish, and Rizzolo's criminal conviction, didn't prepare us for their expose' on Fertitta, Becker, and Sartini.

The rest of the story:

In 1976, Frank Fertitta, Sr., the father of Frank, Jr., bought the off-Strip Bingo Palace with a partner, Carl Thomas. The casino later became known as the Palace Station.

Both Thomas and Fertitta had other jobs at the time. Thomas was chief executive officer of four casinos owned by the Argent Corp., where he brought Fertitta in to be general manager of the Fremont.

But Thomas also had other partners including "Nick" Civella and Carl "the Cork" Civella, brothers and bosses of the La Cosa Nostra chapter in Kansas City. In the 1980s, federal prosecutors charged that Thomas, the Civellas and others conspired to skim money from Argent casinos. After a 1985 trial in Kansas City, a dozen defendants were convicted. Thomas, who by then was serving a 15-year sentence for a skimming conviction in a related case, testified against his former partners in return for immunity from prosecution.

In his testimony, Thomas did not implicate Fertitta, Sr. who had bought out Thomas' interest in the Bingo Palace when the skimming charges first surfaced. The price he paid for the thriving casino was reportedly only one dollar!

Fertitta, Sr., has consistently denied any involvement, and never was indicted or charged. His casino empire, Stations Casinos, has since grown to be one of the largest casino operations in Nevada operating thirteen properties in Nevada and one in Northern California.

Because of Station's generous political campaign contributions combined with those of Harrahs, no politician in Nevada (with the exception of former State Senator Joe Neal) has dared suggest that Nevada based companies with California holdings, pay increased gross Nevada gaming taxes for the privilege of sucking profits and gaming tax revenue from Laughlin, Downtown Las Vegas, Reno, or Tahoe -- areas that have been directly impacted by California gaming.

Stations' Thunder Valley Casino and Resort located outside Sacramento, California has devastated casinos in Lake Tahoe and Reno, and is seriously impairing our northern Nevada tax base. Harrah's Rincon Casino and Resort in Valley Center, California has also devastated the Laughlin, Nevada tax base. However, Stations and Harrahs extra-Nevada exploits are never mentioned when Nevada's tax shortfalls are discussed.

Frank Fertitta, Sr. also had a daughter, Delise Fertitta, who married Blake Sartini. Blake is the son of the late Arthur Sartini.

When I served on the Las Vegas City Council, I called for an investigation of the Las Vegas Housing Authority. Arthur Sartini was the agency's executive director. My efforts led to a federal investigation. The public housing agency in the late 80's was accused by H.U.D. of bilking tenants and converting funds. Millions of dollars were unaccounted for. Sartini, who employed a number of family members at the public agency including his first cousin, brother in law, son Blake, and daughter Julie, suddenly left his position under a cloud of suspicion after 23 years at the helm. The millions were never recovered and the agency soon fell on hard times -- boarding up hundreds of desperately needed public housing units. No one was convicted of a crime.

Today, Delise and Blake Sartini together with the Fertittas control about 28 percent of Stations stock and about 50 percent of Stations outstanding options. The couple spends much of their time at their Laguna Beach estate.

Bruce Becker with his father Ernie and brother Barry, started Becker Gaming with the first neighborhood casino ever built in Las Vegas. To the dismay of thousands of nearby homeowners including hundreds who attended the 1986 city council meeting in protest of "Arizona Charlie's," the Beckers received permission to build a obtrusive hotel and casino in the middle of a bedroom community on Decatur Blvd., miles from the Strip or Downtown.

The mayor at the time, Ron Lurie, spearheaded the highly controversial zoning and licensing. After leaving office four years later, he accepted a high paying job as a top executive with the company. Since Arizona Charlie's opened, the taxpayers have had to shell out millions of dollars to increase sewage capacity, widen roads, and fight crime in the close-by neighborhood that rapidly fell into a state of disrepair.

But what bothered many Vegans most was that Arizona Charlie's was placed within walking or rolling distance of two of the city's poorest public housing facilities, James Downs Towers, and Arthur Sartini Gardens (Yes, they named a facility after him). Today, persons living on public assistance make up the majority of patrons at Arizona Charlie's, while former Mayor Ron Lurie stars in TV commercials luring the poorest of the poor into the casino that runs specials on the days just before and after welfare and Social Security checks arrive in the mail.

Another Las Vegas expatriate, former Mayor Jan Jones, is now a part time Newport Beach resident. She is also Vice President of Harrah's Entertainment. Her job? Promoting competitive-to-Nevada casinos, though she's still considered one of Las Vegas' leading citizens.

Why Las Vegas is in the dark:

Stations and Harrah's Casinos combined buy tens of  millions of dollars per year in local TV and print ads. Arizona Charlie's Decatur and its sister property on the Boulder Highway are also no slouches in the advertising department. What TV news department or publisher would want to bite the hand that feeds it by insulting executives from several of Las Vegas' largest advertisers?

As with many other Sin City sacred cows, its amazing how a generous ad budget can beget anonymity when it comes to adverse news coverage of the activities of some of our town's biggest spenders. That's why three hard hitting articles in one of Southern California's largest newspapers have yet to be mentioned by any mainstream Las Vegas news media outlet. Its as if local reporters, all of whom receive copies of the Register articles and columns, have buried their heads in the sand.

Though this story doesn't register a blip on the Sin City radar screen, the citizens of Orange County have much to be concerned about based on the backgrounds of several of their new residents. But one good thing stands out. Orange County can rest assured their watchdog newspaper is paying close attention to the fascinating Vegas newcomers who arrive bearing gifts.

Previous stories on this subject:

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