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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:

Escaping Steve Wynn’s legal ax
He's no Donald Trump!
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
March 8, 2004
  Trump (NBC The Apprentice)     Wynn (Associated Press photo)

Donald Trump got his startup money the old fashioned way, he inherited it. Las Vegan Steve Wynn, well, we're still speculating on how he became a rich guy so early in his career.

"Dealing with the latest development first, it can be shown that there are numerous strong connections between GNI (Golden Nugget, Inc.), some of its officers and so called "key employees" and the Genovese Cosa Nostra family based in New York and New Jersey... The strong inference which can be drawn from the new intelligence is that Stephen Wynn, the President of GNI, has been operating under the aegis of the Genovese family since he first went to Las Vegas in the 1960s to become a stockholder in the New Frontier casino."

These are ostensibly the words of Detective, Chief Inspector D. Sparks and Detective Constable Summers of New Scotland Yard in a 1983 intelligence report prepared in response to Wynn's request for a gaming license in the United Kingdom. Wynn later withdrew his request.

In 1994, a third-generation photocopy of the 113 page Scotland Yard confidential report on Wynn was delivered to two journalists in Nevada. Las Vegas Review Journal columnist John L. Smith received one set, I received the other. The fallout caused by our dissemination of information contained in the report has been resounding in courtrooms ever since.

After first reading the report, I immediately called Scotland Yard and asked to speak to Inspector Sparks. He did not agree to speak to me. I ask his secretary if she had knowledge of the report and she would not confirm nor deny its existence.

I began contacting local writers and reporters to inquire whether they had also received the same intriguing package. After a half dozen inquires, I was informed by John Smith that he had received the report the same week as I. We both confirmed that to the best of our combined knowledge no other writer or reporter had been sent a copy. We wondered why we had been the only ones selected to receive this information?

We were probably selected because both of us had generated investigative reports on Steve Wynn. Smith often wrote of Wynn in his Review Journal column, and I often reported Wynn's activities on my 2 hour daily radio talk show.

My program became of interest to radio stations in New England at the time when Wynn first made a proposal to build a billion dollar hotel/casino in  Hartford, Connecticut. He wanted to compete with the ultra successful Foxwoods Casino operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, and New Englanders wanted to know more about him while the Connecticut legislature pondered changing the law to accommodate his plans.

Because of the burgeoning interest in the subject of casinos, my program was picked up by super station WTIC in Hartford and WICC in Bridgeport. Listeners up and down the eastern seaboard joined in the discussion with Las Vegas callers and my guest reporters. It seemed that everyone Back East wanted to know what we already knew about the plus and minus sides of gambling, and especially about the mysterious Mr. Wynn.

On one of the programs, then-Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones called into WTIC's toll-free line to express her belief that Wynn’s casino would be a benefit to the citizens of Connecticut. She also stated that "Steve Miller does not represent the mainstream of Las Vegas society."

Her statements caused many in Nevada to raise an eyebrow at a time when extra-Nevada gambling competition was proliferating and gaming revenues in Downtown Las Vegas were diminishing because of outside competition.

This was not the first time Jones was caught doing Wynn a favor.

That same year, Mayor Jones appointed Kenneth Wynn, Steve's brother, to be in charge of the largest public works project in the history of the City of Las Vegas; the $64 million dollar canopy over historic Fremont Street. Under her direction, the City Council failed to put the project out to public bid as is always required.

Though he did not hold a Nevada General Contractor's License, Kenneth Wynn was nonetheless allowed by the City Council to supervise the construction and appoint sub contractors.

Kenneth Wynn's gaming license at Mirage Resorts had been suspended for a narcotics violation several months prior to Jones appointing him the project manager. When asked, Jones defended her decision and downplayed Kenneth Wynn's narcotics problems and gaming license suspension. Kenneth Wynn's gaming license was reinstated shortly following the completion of the canopy; a project that has since proven to be a white elephant.

(On February 25, 2004, according to law enforcement sources, Kenneth Wynn was served with a search warrant at his home in connection with a child pornography investigation.)

While broadcasting in Connecticut, I featured John L. Smith and his fellow Vegas columnist Jon Ralston on several programs. They discussed local front page stories they authored about Wynn comping members of the "five families" at his hotel, and about Wynn threatening to sue then-Clark County Sheriff John Moran for arresting the crime family members for not registering as ex-felons upon entering the city.

I also told the story of 70 senior citizens who were being displaced from their mobile home park to make way for an employee parking lot for one of Wynn's hotels. Many of the park residents had lived in the park for over 35 years and were too old or sick to move, and many more did not have the funds to find another home.

The saddest part was that a community had formed. The residents were a coalescent support group for each other and breaking up such long term friendships was one of the cruelest things I have ever observed.

Wynn began by reportedly offering park residents about $4,000 each to move out early. If they did not go immediately, he reportedly began reducing the offer each month until they did. Many left, but many more stayed because they could not afford to go. Wynn then reportedly began cutting off their life support systems one by one.

First to go were the pay phones; then the gardeners; then the security; and finally the water and power. A few more senior citizens moved, but most held on to what had been their humble trailer homes for many years. Park residents elected one of their younger neighbors as a spokeswoman. She went to the local press with the revolting story but few media outlets responded. Those that did downplayed the story. The spokeswoman asked my radio audience to help her organize a demonstration on the once-public sidewalk in front of the Mirage. She and many of the seniors were given opportunity to tell their story and listeners in Connecticut paid close attention.

The day of the demonstration, several dozen senior citizens who were being displaced, many in wheelchairs, showed up to tell anyone who would listen that they were heartlessly being forced from their homes with no alternative housing offered. They also wanted to tell of their extended family. Unexplainably, not one local media outlet covered their 4 hour long demonstration.

The residents went back to their dingy trailers defeated. One resident who spent the day in front of the Mirage, a 98 year old man, passed away several days later.

The only response to the sidewalk demonstration was a bill draft presented to the Nevada legislature -- and obediently passed at their next session. "Wynn’s Law" allowed the privatization of Strip sidewalks effectively prohibiting such demonstrations in the future. That unconstitutional law is in force today.

After several weeks of free-flowing information, New Englanders had heard enough. Wynn evidently knew it was time to fold his cards. He withdrew his gaming application the day before the legislature was scheduled to vote.

My hard hitting reports cost me my radio program and inspired a threatened lawsuit by Wynn. But that was not all.

Following the withdrawal of his application, The Ralston Report quoted Wynn's statement from the Hartford Courant and Bridgeport Post: "I came here to educate you about how good gaming would be for Connecticut, but instead you listened to that lunatic (Steve Miller)."

Wynn allegedly told reporters in New England and Chicago that I had been personally responsible for killing his Connecticut casino plan because of my radio shows. The story began to spread.

I also received inquiries from reporters in Vancouver, B.C. and Australia where Wynn had additional casino plans. I readily shared the substantiated information in my files, though it was not my intention to harm his projects. Nonetheless, all his extra-Nevada casino efforts soon crumbled under his own weight while he used my name again and again as a scapegoat for his failures.

One day, an ABC News crew from Chicago appeared on my doorstep wanting to verify Wynn's claim that I scuttled his riverboat casino license in West Dundee, Illinois. I told them I don't even know where West Dundee, Illinois is! In the meantime, all news of my conflict with Wynn was blacked out in Las Vegas. Every local reporter knew of the ongoing story, but their editors were evidently told to keep a lid on it so as not to offend anyone.

Before Wynn's acquiescence in New England, the radio programs became so fervent that at times my on-air guests simultaneously included the mayors of Hartford and Bridgeport expressing concern about Wynn's casino scheme, joined by Mayor Jan Jones of Las Vegas with the omnipresent representatives of Wynn's Mirage Resorts, Inc. promoting the scheme. Even the Governor of Connecticut once called in live to express his concerns and reservations.

In the middle of the fray, Wynn's attorney Terry Jones called me. He stated his client intended to sue me personally along with the stations carrying my show if I did not cancel the program immediately and write a retraction and apology to be dictated by his law firm.

I also know when to fold my cards. I complied with his demands on March 19, 1993 because I know how much it cost to litigate, especially against someone with unlimited resources, and because the radio program was not making a profit.

However I chose a rather unusual medium on which to pen my apology and retraction. I utilized the back of a paper grocery bag which Mirage attorneys had no other choice but to accept, though they tried to convince me otherwise.

The day my bagged apology and retraction was delivered to Mr. Jones' office, he called to say Mr. Wynn would not look kindly on my method. He asked if he could come over to my house within the hour. I said yes and eagerly awaited his arrival.

Soon several attorneys and legal secretaries arrived. I graciously invited them in and offered refreshments which they refused. Mr. Jones opened his leather attaché and placed my grocery bag on the coffee table. He asked, "Did you produce this instrument?" I said I did. He then gestured to a women who rudely shoved my shopping bag aside and placed a typed 8-1/2 x 14 legal transcript of my retraction and apology in front of me.

Mr. Jones offered forth his Montblanc pen as his secretary pulled a Notary Book and chrome Notary Seal embosser from her purse. "Mr. Miller, please sign here and I will notarize your signature," said the stern faced woman.

I looked around the room gazing into the eyes of each of my guests. I took my time in what might be called a pregnant pause. You could hear a pin drop. Then I said very quietly, "Would Picasso sign a photo copy of one of his masterpieces?"  My guests left in silence, and I have not heard from them since.

Undaunted, I began contacting literary agents to inquire whether there would be interest in a book I would author about the episode, a book that would include the now infamous Scotland Yard Report.


Because Wynn was not that well known on a national scale, and because it would be my first literary effort, there was no interest in my book proposal. But veteran author John L. Smith persisted and found an enthusiastic publisher for Running Scared - the Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn.

In his book Smith stated, "Miller also penned an apology to Wynn, scribbled on a paper grocery sack."

This one statement probably infuriated Wynn more than the entire book! A lawsuit was filed against Smith and his publisher, Lyle Stuart of Barricade Books.

On the book's revised cover sheet, Stuart wrote, "When Running Scared was originally announced in hardcover, Wynn filed a libel lawsuit in Nevada against Barricade Books for its catalog description of him, and in Kentucky against the book itself. The trial took place in Las Vegas before a judge whose husband, after the trial, was given a high-paying executive job in one of Wynn's casinos."

  Wynn's judge, Sally Loehrer (LV SUN photo)

Stuart continued, "To his adoring public, Wynn has always acted the benevolent Las Vegas promoter — appearing in commercials with Frank Sinatra, posing for photographs with politicians, schmoozing with Michael Jackson. His elaborate PR machine would have us believe that his meteoric rise to the top was a result of ambition, hard work, and charismatic leadership alone. But Wynn has been accused of shadow-waltzing precariously close to the wise-guy underworld that — at least in Las Vegas — is said to decide who stayed, and who didn't."

"Running Scared documents Wynn's rapid rise to wealth and power. It examines the rumor about his connections to the Genovese crime family. It explores his stormy relationship with Donald Trump. It explains why a confidential Scotland Yard report deprived him of a license to open a casino in London. And of course, it tells about his partnership with the man who was there to finance it all, Michael Milken, the six-time convicted felon of Drexel Burnham junk-bond infamy," concluded Stuart.

The lawsuit against the publisher stemmed from Stuart having changed one word in his original catalog description sent to book sellers. He stated in the original description, "Wynn, the President of GNI, has been operating as a front man of the Genovese family since he first went to Las Vegas in the 1960s to become a stockholder in the New Frontier casino."

The replacement of the word "aegis" with "front man," along with flawed jury instructions from Clark County District Court Judge Sally Loehrer, was enough for the jury to rule in Wynn's favor. Stuart testified that he felt that front man meant the same as aegis, and would be better understood by American readers. The jury disagreed after hearing from an English professor hired by Wynn's legal team who testified that the two words have completely different meanings.

The expert stated that aegis means being under the protection of someone either known or unknown. He explained that a front man would be totally knowledgeable of whom he is fronting for or representing.

Barricade Books, a company in existence for over 5 decades, was forced into bankruptcy as a result of the libel judgment obtained by Wynn. Booksellers throughout the nation received letters threatening lawsuits if they continued selling the book, and all deliveries from the warehouse inventory of Running Scared were stopped.

Then a surprising development occurred. A bankruptcy judge in New York ruled that in order to pay escalating debts, Barricade Books could resume selling Running Scared.

The book that was effectively "Banned in Boston," began to reappear on the shelves. However, a promotional media tour that was previously scheduled for its author was canceled without explanation.

Smith told me that he was about to board a flight to New York to appear on the Geraldo Rivera Show when he received word that the interview was suddenly canceled. He surmised that someone in the Wynn organization may have effectuated the cancellation.

In January, 2002, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Wynn's $3.3 million judgment. The Supreme Court found that Judge Loehrer erred with the jury instruction that they could find Barricade showed malice if  "the publisher entertained doubt as to the veracity" of the Scotland Yard document.

The Nevada Supreme Court said "serious doubt" is the standard that should have been applied in the malice instruction. The omission of the adjective "serious," the justices said, "effectively reduced the standard of proof required to establish malice."

Now, Stuart who is bankrupt, must find the resources to pay for a new trial. Also, John Smith has been removed as a litigant in the upcoming retrial, but Wynn has indicated that he wishes to rename him as a defendant.

"He told me that he will someday own my little cabin on Mt. Charleston. He is in my kitchen," Smith, a fourth generation Nevadan, told me before the first trial when he was still on the defendant's list.

In 1994, I received a call from an investigator with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement who inquired if I had a copy of the Scotland Yard Report. I replied I did. He asked one other question. Did it have a New Jersey Gaming Control Board time stamp on its cover sheet? I told him it did not. He abruptly ended the call.

Smith and I assumed that this call indicated that the original report in the New Jersey Gaming Control Board file was probably copied and sent to us with the time stamp whited out.

The call also confirmed the existence of such a document -- a document Wynn's attorney said was a fabrication and should not be entered into evidence.

Regarding the objectivity of Judge Loehrer, I first became concerned during the 1998 trial when she allowed Wynn's character witnesses, Nevada Governor Bob Miller and Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, to testify at their convenience. Judge Loehrer's reason for suddenly interrupting Smith's testimony in midstream was that Jones had suspended her vacation to testify and needed to make a flight. Jones did not disclose on the witness stand that she was then a large stockholder in Wynn's business.
Smith later told me he regretted complying with the judge's uncommon request to step down from the witness stand while midstream in his testimony to provide a courtesy to Jones.

In 1997, while serving her second term as mayor of Las Vegas, Jones secretly became a stockholder in Mirage and Circus Circus resorts. Acting as our mayor, she traveled to Detroit to promote the companies she invested in -- specifically their desire to build casinos in the Motor City. While there, she again did not disclose her financial involvement in two of the three casinos bidding for licenses. One year later, Jones ran for Governor of Nevada, but her recent actions outside our state were exposed and she lost by a landslide.

Today, Jan Jones is happily employed promoting Indian casinos in California for Harrah's. And, the last I heard, Judge Loehrer's husband is still happily employed by Wynn. Doing what? I don't know.

As far as I'm concerned, after experiencing a small degree of his wrath, I can only imagine what would have happened to me if I had been the one to author the unflattering biography of Mr. Wynn?

In direct contrast to Wynn, Donald Trump during a recent television interview was asked how he handles stress? He responded, "I tell myself, 'Don't worry about it!'"

With all his high profile personal and financial trials and tribulations, Trump's philosophy and sense of humor have obviously kept him happy and healthy. Unlike Wynn, Mr. Trump has avoided litigating himself into a frenzy over trivial matters. He just doesn't seem to worry about it very much.

On February 4, 2004, Trump was granted an unlimited Nevada Gaming license even though his casino plans have yet to be disclosed.

Now, it will be more than interesting to watch the two casino moguls face off in the Nevada desert since the affable Mr. Trump was also the target of a vicious Wynn lawsuit, and may be seeking revenge.

I can't wait to see who will be left standing when the dust settles. But even in a Nevada dust storm, a man such as Donald Trump compared to a Steve Wynn, is a breath of fresh air.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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