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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:

Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh.
Here I am at Camp Granada
- Rick Rizzolo, Vinny Faraci, Mike Galardi

                                           Taft Correctional Institution Satellite Camp   
                                                                       ( photo by Steve Miller)

INSIDE VEGAS  by Steve Miller
March 19, 2007

TAFT, CALIFORNIA - Though the classic song, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh.
Here I am at Camp Granada," may be a very entertaining parody, the harsh reality of a visit to a real "camp" is not at all amusing.       

                    Rizzolo, Faraci, Galardi                                                                                       
On Sunday March 11, I had the opportunity to visit the Federal Prison Camp about to become the temporary home of ex-Las Vegas topless bar moguls Rick Rizzolo, Vinny Faraci, and Mike Galardi -- soon to be known to their fellow campers as the "Vegas Three."

I wanted to know first hand if they were being sent to a "country club."

Last Sunday was an unseasonably hot and dusty day in California's San Joaquin Valley. As I tried not to speed down the straight 25 mile stretch of Highway 166 leading from I-5 to Maricopa -- a notorious speed trap -- Allan Sherman's clever song kept rolling through my mind.

I arrived at Taft Correctional Institution Satellite Camp (TCI) at 11 AM just as inmates were beginning their late morning activities -- activities that are a far cry from those described in "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh," or at any country club I've ever attended.

There are no fences around the Camp (located at the upper right in this photo) though it sits next door to a very imposing medium security prison surrounded by tall fences and razor wire -- a visual warning to Camp inmates not to stray. Every inch of the Camp is under constant video surveillance as is the one narrow road leading into and out of the facility. And to make sure no one tries to make a hasty exit with a camper stowaway, the road includes axle breaking speed bumps and a perimeter gate.
The prison is also completely surrounded by miles of barren desert patrolled by Kern County Sheriff's helicopters with infrared cameras. That coupled with six head counts a day reminds me of the lyrics from the Eagles' 1976 hit song Hotel California; "
You can check-out any time you like, But you can never leave!"

Not exactly "Camp Granada," but Warden Jeff Wrigley gets consistently high marks after every State and Federal inspection of his facility.

I wasn't at TCI long before I heard complaints that there's absolutely nothing to do. Other than the almost complete isolation and loneliness, boredom appears to be the biggest form of punishment. And that not only goes for the inmates. Family members wanting to spend time visiting an incarcerated loved one are discouraged from making repeat visits by an almost total lack of amenities in nearby towns. Otherwise its an hour drive to Bakersfield to access accommodations more fitting to the tastes of Vegas residents.

When not receiving visitors in the main building, inmates either sit around in the shade, many chain smoking to kill time, or walking aimlessly around the grassy portion of the yard.

During the summer when temperatures often exceed 110 in the
shade and humidity is overwhelming because of irrigation from nearby farms, many prisoners retreat to their air conditioned dorms to spend the hottest portion of the day reading, napping, or watching TV. Otherwise, there's a small library.

inmates are allowed to volunteer to outside agencies and organizations in the community.  The inmates are not paid for this outside work, its done strictly on a voluntary basis.  These inmates are escorted by staff or specially trained people from the community when outside the facility.  As a part of this program, Camp inmates assisted in the building of three homes for Habitat for Humanity.

Another program involving inmates is Striving Toward A New Direction (STAND).  This program brings at-risk youth to the Satellite Camp for inmate presentations about how their choices resulted in their incarceration. 

(It would be interesting to hear Rick Rizzolo or Vinny Faraci lecture youth about their choices that landed them in prison!)

All inmates are required to be involved in work or educational programs.  Inmates can either take General Educational Development classes, or English as a Second Language.  Inmates may also work in various jobs ranging from kitchen help to general maintenance.  Inmates can also learn horticulture if they wish to work outdoors and can earn from 12 to 40 cents an hour depending on their job assignment. 

TCI is the first publicly-owned, privately-operated Federal Bureau of Prisons secure institution. TCI was built in 1997 and is located on 200 acres of land approximately five miles south of the tiny City of Taft, a 5 1/2 hour drive from Las Vegas. Including the medium security facility, current occupancy is approximately 2350 inmates.  There are approximately 360 on staff. That total includes two doctors, one dentist, and 35 medical personnel.

The Camp's two-story housing unit has two wings of dorms with low partitions forming 64 cubicles per wing per floor. Counselors’ offices, TV rooms, multi-purpose rooms, toilets, showers and laundry rooms are shared and grouped together in the central portion of the building. The Camp houses just over 500 inmates at the present time and is slightly over capacity.

    Steve chills out in Al Capone's cell at Alcatraz
              ( photo by Jerica Barrier)
(At least Al Capone didn't have to share his toilet with strangers like the Vegas Three will be forced to do! Capone had a private cell
at Alcatraz complete with his own commode and basin.)

Each unit is managed by a unit manager, case managers, and counselors who are located in the core area between the wings. Inmate beds are in open dorms with little privacy offered by the portable partitions. Each inmate cubicle is equipped with a bunk bed, desk, chair, and storage locker. Each partitioned area sleeps two to three inmates.

Inmates are expected to be responsible for themselves without close supervision by guards. Prisoners have assigned times to eat, attend classes, turn in laundry, clean their housing space, and perform various other activities, and are expected to accomplish them as scheduled without further direction from the prison staff. If inmates fail to meet expectations, they are disciplined individually, rather than everyone in the barracks also being affected by the failure of one individual to perform his duties.

(There are no private maids, valets, chefs, concierges, gardeners, or bodyguards allowed at Taft. This ain't Vegas!)

A compost project is in operation at the prison using donated green waste and other waste matter. The compost is used on the prison farm and at local community projects in Taft. The inmates grow trees and shrubs for local schools, parks, churches and forests. Approximately 90 trees are provided for the community each year.

The age of TCI inmates ranges from 18 to those in their early seventies. Drug-related crimes account for approximately 60 percent of inmate population, and sex offenders are not segregated from the general population and have so far posed no problems according to prison staff.

Taft's Most famous Satellite Camp inmate was Tommy Chong, half of the legendary duo of Cheech and Chong. Chong, who was released in 2004, wrote a book; "The I Chong: Meditations from the Joint" about his experience at Taft. In it he says the Camp was full of pot-growers, who were easy to spot: "They all worked in the prison garden. ... They grew the best gardens."

It's not yet known whether the Vegas Three will work in the garden, attend class, volunteer in the community, counsel at-risk youth, make compost, or just sit around smoking, but two of them will certainly have enough time to make up their mind.

And based on the fact that all three are multi-millionares, its not likely they will want to associate with lowly convicted pot growers or meth producers during their stay at Taft, and discuss with them the extreme change of lifestyle incarceration offers for guys who once lived in mansions, were waited on hand and foot, and drove around town in Ferraris, Maybachs, and Lamborghinis.

Rick Rizzolo's 12 month sentence starts on May 22, and Galardi's 30 month stay begins on June 22. Faraci's short 5 month sentence starts on July 1.

But it might be Rizzolo who will soon be singing; "Take me home, oh muddah, fadduh. Take me home, I hate Granada! Take me home... Oh, please don't make me stay... I might get eaten by a bear," after his buddy Faraci is released later in the year.

You see, it was Rizzolo's tapped phone conversations that steered the FBI to Mike Galardi and his Cheetah's strip clubs in Las Vegas and San Diego!  Rizzolo was secretly trying to squelch Galardi's competitive business which is located a few blocks away from Rizzolo's Crazy Horse Too in Vegas.

For years Rizzolo was overheard telling friends about Galardi paying off the same politicians he was bribing. Rizzolo was paying then-Councilman and former cop Mike McDonald $5,000 each month to allegedly keep the cops at bay so bouncers at his Crazy Horse topless club could rob and beat customers who refused to sign bogus credit card tabs. However, Rizzolo was also heard bragging how stupid Galardi was for not using the same techniques to pump up his own profits while Galardi paid off McDonald who did little in return for Galardi's $6,000 per month. All the while McDonald secretly remained loyal to Rizzolo and worked to destroy Galardi's business behind his back.

It was Rizzolo who was accused of paying McDonald to repeatedly send City of Las Vegas inspectors and a few crooked cops to Mike Galardi's topless bars to harass patrons and management before McDonald coerced Galardi (with Rizzolo's prompting) into paying him to stop.

Time and again, Mike Galardi was duped by Rizzolo; the man who will soon be his cell mate; the man who received one and a half years less time than Galardi after committing much more serious offenses.

Rizzolo was convicted of tax evasion and racketeering. Galardi was only convicted of bribing public officials. Rizzolo reportedly did not become a government witness. Galardi did. Rizzolo got 12 months. Galardi got 30 months after thoroughly cooperating with authorities resulting in the conviction of four Clark County Commissioners. Former Councilman McDonald has yet to be indicted however.

A source inside the Federal investigations that nailed the Vegas Three told INSIDE VEGAS that someone in Washington D.C. "got to" the Department of Justice and caused them to "go easy" on Rizzolo and Faraci. Coincidentally, Daniel Bogden, the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Rizzolo was just fired.

                         Brown, Goodman, Chesnoff
Rizzolo is a close friend of LV Mayor Oscar Goodman who is the business and law partner of attorney Jay Brown who is the business partner of U.S. Senator Harry Reid.  Brown is currently the lawyer for the Crazy Horse and once served as Rizzolo's corporate agent along with Goodman. Vinny Faraci's lawyer, David Chesnoff, is also Goodman's law partner and works in the same 520 S. Fourth Street law office as Brown.

Goodman is running unopposed for his third term as Mayor.

                      Senator Reid                            Dario Herrera             Rory Reid
Another just-fired U.S. Attorney, Carol Lam, prosecuted Senator Reid's protégé, ex-Clark County Commissioner Dario Herrera.

Herrera, with Reid's endorsement, stepped down from his seat on the County Commission to run for Congress. Reid's son Rory was immediately appointed to fill Herrera's Commission seat while the Senator went to work on Herrera's campaign. Herrera's criminal conviction was a great embarrassment to Reid.

To Senator Reid's dismay, Herrera received 50 months in Federal Prison. Coincidently, Carol Lam was fired soon after Herrera's sentence was announced. Meanwhile, Rory Reid was appointed Chairman of the Clark County Commission.

Maybe by now Galardi has had time to figure out just who fingered him, and wonder why he's getting so much harsher a sentence than Rizzolo who obviously has much better political connections. And after Faraci vacates TCI and leaves Rizzolo unprotected, Galardi, who's as big as a bear and was a standout University of Nevada Reno football player, will have seven months alone with Rizzolo to ask questions and settle their differences. At that time, Rizzolo's political connections may not be able to help him.

More about the Rizzolo/Galardi relationship next week.

Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh
Lyrics by Allan Sherman
Music from Ponchielli's "Dance of the Hours" from La Gioconda
Recorded by Allan Sherman, 1963

Copyright © Steve Miller

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