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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:

Federal indictments and forfeiture loom while
Rizzolo stays obsessed with next door neighbor
"The police come by Crazy Horse Too 50 times a day."--  attorney for Rick Rizzolo
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
June 14, 2004

"Buffalo Whups Rizzolo" proclaims plaque in window
of auto repair shop next door to infamous topless bar
               ( photo by Mike Christ)

"He won't move under any circumstances. He wants a million dollars." -- Jon Norheim, ESQ., partner in Patti & Sgro law firm and attorney for defendant Rick Rizzolo

"Good for you. It should be two million." -- Todd Leventhal, ESQ., partner in Flangas and Leventhal law firm and attorney for plaintiff Buffalo Jim Barrier

"Its two million dollars."-- Buffalo Jim Barrier

"Two million dollars to move?"-- Jon Norheim

"Do you have a check on you?"-- Buffalo Jim Barrier

"Tomorrow morning there will be 60 inoperable vehicles out there." -- Jon Norheim

"Maybe it would be in Rick Rizzolo's best interest to find Mr. Barrier a nice place." -- Honorable Ann E. Zimmerman, Justice of the Peace

LAS VEGAS - The above argument took place during Clark County Small Claims Court case No. 03A007580 on May 17, 2004 between lead attorneys from two of our city's most prestigious law firms; Patti & Sgro, and Flangas and Leventhal. It happened days before the federal government let it be known that one of the litigants in the Small Claims action is expected to be indicted later this summer in the biggest federal racketeering bust in the history of Sin City.

The Small Claims trial was the culmination of a months long, multi-hundred dollar battle between topless bar owner and landlord Rick Rizzolo and his next door neighbor and tenant, auto garage owner Buffalo Jim Barrier -- a battle that's occupying a disproportionate amount of Rizzolo's time while transforming the former pro wrestler-turned garage owner into a local folk hero, and a battle that's revealing disturbing information about our local Police Department and other high level city officials which may be the crux of the federal investigation.

More about the Small Claims trial below, but first a little background on some of the characters in this weird tale.
   "Mob Buster" Buffalo Jim Barrier                        Rick Rizzolo

Seemingly oblivious to the federal threat hanging over him, Rizzolo wants Barrier to go away so he can expand his bar, but he doesn't want to pay him to leave. In the meantime, Rizzolo is accused of squandering tens of  thousands of dollars harassing his tenant, then having to repeatedly defend his actions in Small Claims Court while Barrier uses the very public feud to bolster his celebrity status and promote his auto repair and wrestling promotion businesses -- this in the face of many warnings to lay off for his own safety.

Some of Rizzolo's associates have become well known for allegedly bashing heads of customers who balk at paying inflated credit card tabs.

On October 17, 2003, in a Las Vegas Review-Journal column authored by John L. Smith, Rizzolo personally was accused of wielding a baseball bat against a bar patron. "Lawyers claim Rizzolo was part of a 1987 incident in which a Colorado tourist was assaulted with a baseball bat at the club. The incident, the attorneys allege, resulted in the customer suffering permanent brain damage," Smith wrote.

Serious accusations first surfaced about Rizzolo's associates in the December 22, 2002, Las Vegas Review-Journal when former federal organized crime prosecutors Donald Campbell and Stan Hunterton were quoted in court records stating: "...Rizzolo has cultivated an environment of lawlessness at the Industrial Road club by employing numerous felons with lengthy criminal histories that include convictions for battery, robbery, extortion, burglary, fraud and drug dealing. 'For years, the management and 'security' staff of the Crazy Horse has been infested by a rogues' gallery of thugs, thieves, drug pushers, and corrupt ex-cops,' Campbell wrote in court documents. 'Most, if not all, have well documented ties to organized crime figures who frequent the premises. All of this has nurtured a culture of violence marked by robberies, beatings and even death.' "

During a 2002 deposition of Rick Rizzolo conducted by attorney Donald Campbell, the bar owner was asked: "Prior to hiring your employees, do you inquire of them as to what their criminal history is?" Rizzolo replied: "No." He was then asked: "Why not?" Rizzolo answered: "I believe in giving everybody a shot."

But a "shot" is exactly what the Las Vegas City Council has given Rizzolo for allowing him to employ such people on his privileged business license -- something that would have caused certain license revocation for any other privileged license holder in the city. This may be happening because Oscar Goodman, the Mayor of Las Vegas, was previously the criminal defense attorney for many of the men Rizzolo currently employs.

Undaunted by Rizzolo's reputation, Buffalo Jim Barrier has his own brand of associates -- famous pro wrestlers who on any given day can be found chilling out in his auto shop's cluttered lounge. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldberg, The Rock, Mighty Yoko Zuna, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker and others are among Barrier's associates.

Even in Vegas, you're judged by the company you keep. Though neither Rizzolo or Barrier is listed in the "Las Vegas Social Register," both claim an equally eclectic group of friends.
        Rizzolo's associates (KVBC TV News)                        Barrier's associates (photo by Mike Christ)
       (L to R) Greg Liosi, Bobby D’Apice,            (L to R) Psycho Sid, Goldberg, Barrier, Rick Steiner
   Joe Blasko, Ray Randazzo, Mo McKenna,
                         Vinnie Faraci

Barrier is well known in his own right for a kind of violence, but his kind is pure theatrics. Buffalo Wrestling Federation bouts are televised in 43 American cities and hosted by the burly ex-wrestler. He's also well known to the MTV generation for once renting his 1961 pink Cadillac convertible to Kid Rock so he could use it to propose marriage to buxom Pamela Anderson. Barrier and the Kid's friendship soon hit the rocks and their subsequent beef made international news.

"With all that money he makes, they used those cheap plastic Champagne glasses?" said Barrier in the New York Daily News on September 8, 2002. "The current owner still has a beef with the Kid, who rented the car and returned it to Las Vegas with the engine blown out. Barrier was stuck paying for repairs, reports the Las Vegas Review Journal. 'If he's going to do that to me, I'll get even. He's coming to town with Aerosmith in November. I think I'll be in the front row,' warned Barrier."

Barrier's fearless nature along with his sense of humor and burgeoning fame -- mostly at his landlord's expense -- must be a pain in the ass to Rizzolo and his associates who should be keeping a lower profile. Its obvious that the plan once was to scare Barrier off on the QT, but no one at the time seemed aware of who they were dealing with, and his fan base.

Last month, Barrier was invited to participate in National Reading Week at a local elementary school. He read a book to the children, then was forced to sign autographs for almost two hours. Even he didn't realize the degree of his popularity, especially with little kids.

Barrier was also recently hired by the Las Vegas Mercury, a widely read news magazine published by the Las Vegas Review Journal, to write a weekly column entitled Nuts and Bolts with Buffalo Jim. In addition to his TV shows and magazine column, Barrier has become the star of a raucous Toyota television commercial.

In the commercial that's rapidly becoming a Vegas classic, Barrier playing himself introduces a huge woman in Spandex -- purportedly his wife -- who challenges John Barr, manager of Findlay Toyota, to a wrestling match. The 250 pound Amazon then throws the 135 pound Australian across the ring slamming him head first onto the mat. Barr grimaces in pain at the camera and in his Aussie accent blurts out, "I'll do anything to sell you a car!"

Unfortunately after the shooting, Barr ended up in the emergency room complaining of neck and back pain. He has wisely declined a rematch.

Then last month Barrier and Rizzolo both received letters from Ralph Edwards/Stu Billett Productions, the producers of "The People's Court," asking the duo to appear on TV to battle out their differences in front of a national audience.

The TV producers took interest after Barrier filed a new small claim against Rizzolo in the amount of $3,950 for allegedly tampering with Barrier's swamp coolers on the eve of the hottest days of the year.

  Crimped water line to coolers

Barrier has agreed to settle his $3,950 claim on national TV, but its not yet known whether Rizzolo will likewise agree.

But something more pressing may be about to captivate Rizzolo's time in the immediate future. In the June 11, 2004, Las Vegas SUN, columnist Jeff German revealed the following long awaited information:

"Sixteen months after FBI agents raided his popular strip club looking for evidence of hidden mob interests, federal prosecutors are preparing to seek racketeering indictments against Rizzolo and his management team, some of whom, federal investigators say, have underworld ties. Authorities have put the word out that they're hoping indictments will be returned as early as September. A host of charges -- including extortion, tax evasion, prostitution and credit card fraud -- are being considered against Rizzolo and his Crazy Horse Too underlings. Some of the charges relate to a pattern of alleged beatings at the nightclub, including one involving Kirk Henry, a Kansas City man whose neck was broken during an altercation with a bouncer in September 2001. Under the racketeering statute, the government also has the option of forcing Rizzolo to give up the lucrative club through either criminal or civil forfeiture proceedings."

For a guy who needs to keep a low profile pending his expected indictment, Rizzolo really chose the wrong guy to mess with in Barrier! Its kinda like a wiseguy beating up on Santa Claus and then trying to keep it a secret.

In the meantime, to add insult to injury, Barrier erected a 3 foot by 4 foot framed, lighted plaque in the front window of his garage that's located steps away from Rizzolo's main entrance. At least half of Rizzolo's customers must pass that way to the parking lot. On the plaque he laminated the actual bills and coin amounting to $271.25 that Rizzolo was just ordered to reimburse him by the Small Claims Court.

On the bottom of the plaque is an engraved brass plate proclaiming "Buffalo Whups Rizzolo," along with a copy of an INSIDE VEGAS article and a Las Vegas CityLife article penned by Cathy Scott telling about the lawsuit victory.

Rizzolo's latest nightmare began  in 2002 when he bought the 2.3 acre industrial center that houses his bar and Barrier's next door garage. He paid $5.5 million, a price that real estate experts say was twice what the property was worth.

Upon faulty legal advice, Rizzolo immediately filed an eviction action against Barrier, but the court threw his case out and let Barrier remain. Rizzolo has never offered to buy out the five years remaining on Barrier's twenty-one year lease, a buy out evaluated at $1.5 million according to real estate appraisers who say that comparable space would cost Barrier at least four times the $2,395 per month he now pays for his 10,000 square feet. Therein lies the problem, Rizzolo bought the center so he could expand his bar, but Barrier's iron clad lease is standing in the way along with the federal indictments that threaten forfeiture of the Crazy Horse Too.

Now in the face of much more grave problems, Barrier claims Rizzolo is obsessed with trying to harass him out of business. Barrier says its because "Misery loves company."

This is the forth time Barrier and Rizzolo have gone to Justice Court, mostly for alleged lease infractions and harassment. Barrier has been victorious on all four occasions once being represented by mechanic who appeared in his stead when Barrier was indisposed. The mechanic, a high school drop out, went toe to toe against a team of veteran attorneys from Patti & Sgro, and prevailed.

Following the verdict, Dewayne A. Nobles, ESQ. of the firm of Patti & Sgro wrote a letter to Barrier's attorney stating "I disagree with your assertion that Judge Hoeffgen ruled in your client's favor." "Until a written ruling is received from Judge Hoeffgen, our client will continue to enforce the parking regulations..."

Well, Judge Hoeffgen's written ruling soon followed, and an embarrassed Patti & Sgro immediately appealed his judgment, bringing us to the May 17 court transcript from the appeal of Small Claims case No. 03A007580.

Even though you might think Rizzolo's lawyers would have better things to do at times like these, the case involving a classic 1946 Pontiac two door coupe that was towed away from Barrier's business in the middle of the night without anyone being notified, has monopolized their time.

This was not the first time illegal towing occurred since Rizzolo bought the strip center. However, Barrier through his lawsuits and the publicity they generate, hopes it will be the last.

In the May 17 Justice Court transcript, Mr. Norheim in order to to try to rationalize why his client likes to tow away Barrier's customer's cars in the middle of the night, told Judge Ann E. Zimmerman: "We get the ticket. He does not get the ticket. The city comes to us and gives us the ticket for Mr. Barrier's vehicle."

Norheim tried to claim in essence that City of Las Vegas Parking Enforcement and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police have nothing better to do in the middle of the night than to go on private property and write parking tickets. This while his client's bar is famous for much more heinous crimes!

Judge Zimmerman was incredulous. "I have never heard of the city coming onto a private property of an auto repair business to give them tickets because they have cars there."

Oh really?

City of Las Vegas employee patrolling topless bar parking lot

Judge Zimmerman's surprised reaction to hearing that the City of Las Vegas was issuing parking tickets on Rizzolo's private property is a familiar one. As far as the Metro PD writing parking tickets there, that has never occurred though Mr. Norheim later in the transcript insinuates it does all the time.

Judge Zimmerman would probably be shocked to know that several times each day a City scooter does make the rounds of Rizzolo's private parking lot. However, the City only tickets the cars of Barrier's customers -- usually after the Parking Enforcement Officer is observed entering the bar possibly for a little "Eye Candy" and a few cups of hot coffee (Size Double D).

In the world of a certain topless bar, "Eye Candy" and hot coffee are apparently worth their weight in gold when it comes to extracting possible favors from errant public officials including parking enforcement officers and policemen. For that reason, Barrier thinks Rizzolo feels comfortable using the excuse that the City and the Police Department are the ones initiating the midnight towing of his customer's cars. However, Judge Zimmerman saw it quite different as did other topless bar owners interviewed for this story.

Three owners of nearby topless bars stated they have never had parking enforcement officers or policemen come on their private property to give parking tickets.

During the May 17 appeal hearing transcript, Ralph Rizzolo, Rick Rizzolo's brother, was asked by Mr. Norheim: "Did the vehicle appear to be operational?" Ralph answered under oath: "Not at that point." Then he was asked: "Did it appear to be registered?" Ralph said: "No."


Upon cross examination, Barrier's attorney Todd Leventhal asked Ralph: "And you also testified there were no plates on the car. Is that correct?" Ralph answered: "Well, I said there was not, well, I believe, if my memory serves me, it had an expired California plate on it."

Then Mr. Leventhal handed Ralph an exhibit and asked: "This is the ticket that was actually given to the vehicle that was sent back to Mr. Barrier. Can you read to me the license plate and the state that the car was registered to?"

Ralph read: "689RBT Nevada" into the record.

Leventhal then asked: "So that would be a Nevada license plate, correct?"

Ralph answered: "Uh-huh."

Leventhal then asked: "So its not a California plate?"

"No," stated Ralph.

"And it did have plates?" asked Leventhal.

"If you say so," Ralph replied.

Norheim jumped in: "I'll object. He's misstating the testimony!"

Then attorney Norheim told Judge Zimmerman: "The police come by Crazy Horse Too 50 times a day. When they come around back and they see a car that is unregistered or inoperable we... get the ticket. He won't agree to pay for those tickets. So what are we supposed to do?"

Norheim's "The police come by Crazy Horse Too 50 times a day" statement brought gasps from the audience.

            Excerpt from court transcript by Court Reporter Angela Campagna, CCR # 495, Clark County Justice Court Dept. 8

Norheim's stunning disclosure supports earlier reports on KVBC TV Channel 3 News that stated, "But violence at the Crazy Horse is far from unbelievable. Records obtained by News 3 'Investigators' show the number of police responses to the club more than doubled from 1999-to-2001. Police records also reveal nine assault and six robbery cases involving Crazy Horse employees over a 2-year period."

There's no excuse for so many police visits unless Rizzolo's "Eye Candy" is more popular than Dunkin' Donuts!

However, if a business legitimately required such a high police presence, then why hasn't it been brought before the City Council on a license revocation action?

And then there's the nagging question of why police won't respond to reports of drunk drivers leaving the Crazy Horse? Like the one Barrier called in on May 14 reporting a drunken semi truck driver turning Rizzolo's parking lot into a Destruction Derby!  The police refused to take a report or pursue the driver saying the complaint would have to come from someone inside the Crazy Horse Too. Maybe because some officers were blinded by a little too much "Eye Candy?"

Damaged 2004 Saturn, 05/14/04

No wonder Las Vegas has one of the highest crime rates in the US. According to Mr. Norheim, a bunch of cops are hanging around a local strip bar for no apparent reason, when they should be out cruising crime plagued neighborhoods.

    Another "Coffee Break" at the Crazy Horse Too?

After such an esteemed officer of the court as Jon W. Norheim, Senior Associate of the highly respected firm of Patti & Sgro, made a serious accusation on a court record about our Police Department, you would think it would behoove Clark County Sheriff Bill Young to launch a full investigation to find out what is actually attracting such a volume of policemen to a strip bar on a daily basis -- but not just any strip bar -- one owned by a "person of ill repute" -- the exact term used by Sheriff Young to describe Rick Rizzolo on August 6, 2003 when he reprimanded a veteran police sergeant for taking a $15,000 "loan" from Rizzolo with no apparent intention of paying it back!

   Sheriff Bill Young

Its hard to fathom, but could some hanky panky between a few errant policemen and a few errant strippers possibly be happening inside our squad cars on private property, or possibly in the back room of the Crazy Horse while officers are on or off duty? What other excuse could there be for such an extraordinary police presence at a lone strip joint in a seedy neighborhood near the tracks?

In my interviews with competitive topless bar owners, none could lay claim to such intense interest on the part of our city's finest. Maybe that's why so few arrests occur at Rizzolo's topless joint, especially for repeated violations of the alcohol awareness law, or for the repeated beatings of patrons. Is this a payback for all that free "Eye Candy," or worse? In the meantime, our city's crime rate has soared 20% in the past two years while "The police come by Crazy Horse Too 50 times a day?" (Are you paying attention Sheriff Young?)
Tuesday, May 25, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal 
Las Vegas' property crime rate jumps by 20 percent
Las Vegas saw a 20 percent increase in property crimes in 2003, nearly double the increase from the previous year and in contrast to a national trend, according to FBI statistics. 

"The police come by Crazy Horse Too 50 times a day!" Now, I've heard enough. As a 45 year Las Vegas resident and former elected public official, I'm totally disgusted by this news and ashamed to share it with my readers because it sure looks like a protection racket under color of law while the local Sheriff and DA look the other way.

Then there are those local judges who come to Rizzolo for hand outs. No wonder nothing's been done to stop the mayhem!

Thanks Mr. Norheim for finally explaining why Las Vegas has one of the lowest police officer to citizen ratios in the US, and why our Sheriff is so busy asking for a sales tax increase to pay for more officers. When a "person of ill repute" can somehow inspire policemen to patrol his place of business "50 times a day" without making a single arrest, something is seriously wrong and you can bet the feds have taken notice! (Are you listening DA David Roger?)

That brings to mind Barrier's latest small claims lawsuit, the one The People's Court wants to air, the one that involves somebody repeatedly going on the roof of the Crazy Horse and tampering with only Barrier's air conditioning units on nights before the hottest days of the year. With all those cops hanging around, it seems logical that only somebody authorized to go on the roof would do so unchallenged -- somebody who works for the landlord. So, its not far fetched to agree with Barrier that his new landlord is personally authorizing the vandalism. However, I'll wait for The People's Court to convene before coming to any conclusions -- that's if the Rizzolos agree to go on with Barrier.

But that's not all. On the night of May 25, a well used work truck owned by one of Barrier's customer's that was parked in the common area parking lot behind the Crazy Horse had its windows smashed and its contents stolen. This again happened while police, city parking enforcement officers, and Green Valley Security employed by the Crazy Horse were "patrolling." Other much more attractive vehicles owned by bar patrons went unmolested.

Coincidence? I thought so until a Green Valley Security guard who was on duty both nights refused to answer questions, turned and walked away.

By page 40 of the May 17 appeal hearing transcript, Judge Zimmerman had also evidently heard enough. "Wait, wait. Your client testified that there was an expired California registration when, in fact, it had valid Nevada tags."

"The city gives us, the landlord, tickets for not enforcing the parking regulations," Norheim reiterated.

"I know, but if I'm a tenant in your complex and I want to leave my car overnight, I'm going to and I have the right to," stated the Judge.

"Actually, you don't understand the parking regulations and the reason for that," pleaded Norheim.

"Its a car repair business, of course there will be cars parked there over night. They are not in and out in one day always. It would be nice if they were... I'm going to find for the plaintiff... Why don't you guys negotiate a parking agreement instead of trying to enforce one that is not enforceable, something that you both can agree to, and adhere to a certain portion of the parking lot that could be Mr. Barrier's," Judge Zimmerman exclaimed.

The Judge went on: "I mean there's no secret there is no love between these two parties. You read about it all the time."

"We should sue him for every ticket we get!" said Norheim.

"No. You should communicate if they have a problem with the vehicle, you should call him and say, look, it's going to get towed unless you move it," said the Judge.

"We have been doing this for closing in on a decade now and it's always us that ends up with the ticket, never him," Norheim complained for the final time.

Judge Zimmerman patiently answered: "You did not bring me proof of all these other tickets."

Then she closed by saying: "Maybe it would be in Rick Rizzolo's best interest to find Mr. Barrier a nice place."

Rick and Ralph's dad Bart once told the Las Vegas Sun: "There has got to be a way to get back at people who file lawsuits." "There has never been a suit filed that we haven't beaten and I'm hoping our record will stay that way."

 (L to R) Bart Rizzolo, Joe Melphi, Ralph Rizzolo and Annette Rizzolo
talk to Attorney Tony Sgro during FBI/IRS raid on February 20, 2003
                              ( photo by Mike Christ)

Bart Rizzolo's words may come back to haunt him every time he passes the front window of Barrier's garage and reads the plaque saying "Buffalo whups Rizzolo."

I sure hope Rizzolo doesn't try to "get back" at Barrier for filing lawsuits.* I also hope that if Barrier calls the police again, an honest cop -- one who does not "come by Crazy Horse Too 50 times a day" -- responds.

And so ended the latest protracted small claims court case that could easily have been settled out of court without anyone losing face, but instead cost multiple thousands of dollars to lose not counting the subsequent humiliation suffered by the defendant and his prestigious legal team over $271.25 that now sits framed in the window of a funky auto repair shop policemen pass by "50 times a day."

But what puzzles me most is that such pettiness is happening at a time when the Rizzolos and their associates are huddled in the Crazy Horse waiting for the door to come crashing down.

They should certainly have better things to do!

* The author is a consultant to a law firm in a civil lawsuit against Frederick Rizzolo

* 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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