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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:

The Pettiness Hits the Roof!
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
April 26, 2004

After a judge ruled a topless bar must pay for harassing its neighbor, new problems arise

"I didn't have time to handle it myself, so I sent one of my mechanics to court. My guy didn't even graduate high school, but he wiped the floor with Patti & Sgro." -- Buffalo Jim Barrier, 04/13/04

"Crimped" water line, 04/14/04

LAS VEGAS - On April 13, Las Vegas Justice Court issued a Finding of Fact and Conclusion of Law stating that topless bar owner Rick Rizzolo owes his next door neighbor, Buffalo Jim Barrier, $233.25 for damages and $38.00 for court costs.

The judgment followed a courtroom battle that pitted an auto mechanic against members of one of Las Vegas' most prestigious law firms, Patti & Sgro. Barrier did not attend the court hearings, instead he sent one of his employees to tell the story of how his landlord, Rizzolo, was violating his lease by coning off common area parking spaces used by garage customers, then having their cars towed without giving notice.

What makes this multi-hundred dollar story interesting enough to warrant local news coverage is that Rizzolo is willing to spend additional thousands in attorney fees to save losing face - this at a time when he is facing federal indictment and should have better things to do!

On March 25, Dewayne A. Nobles, an attorney with Patti and Sgro, wrote a letter to Barrier's attorney Gus Flangas: "As to your complaint that my client, Crazy Horse Too, is coning off the parking lot, the Landlord has given my client permission to cone off areas within the parking lot. This is allowed only after other tenant businesses have closed for the day and only on the side of the complex farthest from Allstate Auto Marine. However, we will investigate this claim with our valet service, which is an independent contractor, and certainly correct any problem if it exists."

The coning and towing harassment continued, so Barrier sued in small claims court.
The judge read Rizzolo's letter. His attorney's own words made it perfectly clear that the coning was to occur only after Barrier had "closed for the day," and was to be on the side of the building "farthest from Allstate Auto Marine." Case closed. $271.25 was awarded to Barrier. Then, Rizzolo hit the roof!

Following the trial, Barrier told Cathy Scott of Las Vegas CityLife magazine, "Now it's official. I stopped him from harassing me." However, he was celebrating way too soon. Rizzolo immediately appealed asking for a new trial -- and a new judge (Rizzolo donates tens-of-thousands of dollars each year to judicial campaigns). Within hours, Barrier's air conditioners were sabotaged!

"Found supply water lines torn away from all three evaporative coolers. One line down whole length crimped and folded to restrict water flow. Removed damaged lines and replaced with new." - Michael Gamst, Technician, Las Vegas Air Conditioning, Inc., 04/14/04

The night following the $300 repair, the lines were again tampered with! This time the vandals caused hundreds of gallons of water to flood Barrier's roof. Barrier was summoned by the water company to turn off the water. Later that week as desert temperatures approached 90ºF, the contractor had to be called back to reconnect the water lines at Barrier's expense.

"Replaced entire water system for swamp coolers on 4/14/04. (On) 4/23/04 - repaired vandalized water lines. Found cut water lines." - Derek Keen, Technician, Las Vegas Air Conditioning, Inc., 04/23/04

The building is twelve feet high and there is no convenient way to gain access to the roof without an extension ladder which would be very obvious to security that patrols the area 24/7. Only someone authorized by the owner of the property could twice have accessed the roof without being arrested for trespass.

Rizzolo's bar has new refrigeration units and shares the same roof as Barrier's garage, therefore the roof area would be worth protecting. Because the damage only occurs late at night to Barrier's less expensive evaporative coolers, all indications are that the building's landlord fully condones the vandalism. To pay the air conditioning repair bills and hopefully stop the new-found harassment, Barrier filed another small claims lawsuit.

     "Vandalized" water lines, 04/15/04

In Las Vegas' intense summer heat, no business can legally operate without air conditioning. Therein lies the basis for the vandalism according to Barrier who pays only forty-three cents per foot for his 10,000 square foot garage. Rizzolo has for some time wanted to expand his business, but Barrier's long-term lease is standing in the way. Barrier has occupied the same space since 1976 and intends to stay until his lease expires in 2009. Rizzolo has never offered to buy him out.

Buffalo Jim Barrier in front of shared building
                          (LV Review Journal photo)

Because he expects Rizzolo to continue tampering with his coolers throughout the summer, Barrier hired a private investigation firm to install hidden wireless cameras on his roof to photograph perpetrators in the event future acts of vandalism occur. If vandalism continues, the video surveillance photos will be entered as evidence in a separate, multi-million dollar harassment and racketeering lawsuit currently pending* in district court. They will also be made available to federal authorities who are investigating Rizzolo for alleged ties to organized crime and racketeering. So far, Rick Rizzolo has not been charged with any crime.

Diagram from camera manufacturer's website

Several bullet-size cameras were installed on his garage roof according to Barrier. Their ultra high frequency signal cannot be detected by present-generation scanners. The cameras work in almost total darkness and their batteries last up to six months. Until recently, the technology was only available to federal law enforcement agencies but is now offered by certain licensed investigation firms.

This is not the first time the two rival business owners have engaged in video surveillance of one another. In December 2000, one year before Rizzolo bought the 2.6 acre industrial center for $5.5 million cash, it was disclosed he was "spying" on his neighbor with the use of a hidden camera. At the time, Rizzolo was trying to prove the garage owner was dumping toxic waste into the storm drain - a lease violation that would trigger an eviction making way for the expansion of the topless bar. However, Barrier was never found to have committed any such offense.

Rizzolo's "spy" camera
(Photo by Mike Christ)

The covert operation was discovered when one of Barrier's mechanics spotted a strange box on the roof of the adjacent warehouse where Rizzolo leased a garage/office. Barrier hired a professional photographer to document the find. Photographer Mike Christ climbed up on the roof to discover a camera aimed at Barrier's business with a coaxial cable leading across the roof to a location above Rizzolo's garage where it disappeared beneath the tar paper.

While Christ kneeled in front of the device taking photos, bar manager Al Rapuano suddenly stormed out a back door of the bar with several bouncers (later confirmed to have long criminal records). A close-up image of Mike Christ had obviously appeared on a monitor inside Rizzolo's business causing the sudden reaction. Rapuano ordered the ladder be taken down trapping Christ on the roof.

Rapuano (front), Vinnie Faraci (white shirt) and
bouncers take down ladder     (Photo by Mike Christ)

Soon, Rick Rizzolo appeared in the alley, a place well known for violent encounters. The photographer, who said he felt threatened, called 911 on his cell phone.

Rick Rizzolo (white hair) watches as stranded photographer
takes photos from rooftop with Allstate Auto in background
(Photo by Mike Christ)

When a police unit was spotted entering the alley, Rizzolo and Rapuano retreated into the bar.

Rizzolo and Rapuano exit as police arrive on the scene
(Photo by Mike Christ)

Since Christ photographed the entire episode, his photos and an accompanying story appeared several days later on the front page of a local newspaper. Patti & Sgro, on behalf of Rick Rizzolo, sued the paper for defamation and filed a motion for a gag order. Their gag order was immediately denied, and two years later their defamation suit was dismissed.

(L to R) Attorney  Tony Sgro consoles
Vinnie Faraci  and Bart Rizzolo during
FBI raid of topless bar in Feb. 2003
(AmericanMafia photo by Mike Christ)

Barrier is expected to be called as a witness in the event Rizzolo and his associates are indicted. Some sources close to the federal investigation consider the towing, and now the vandalism, as attempts to intimidate a federal witness.

"I wish all this chicken shit harassment stuff would end. He's such a cheap Scrooge!" said Barrier after he learned of Rizzolo's appeal.

All this over a $271.25 small claims judgment...

*United States Federal Court Judge Philip Pro put a stay on all civil lawsuit discovery pending federal indictments. Therefore Barrier's harrassment and racketeering trial date, along with the trial date of Kirk Henry in his attempted murder action against Frederick Rizzolo, have been vacated until further notice.

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here: Steve Miller's Las Vegas E-Briefs

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