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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:

Rizzolo's attorney admits "vandalism,"
makes offer of settlement, but avoids
admitting his client's culpability
An update on recent INSIDE VEGAS columns concerning the
trials and tribulations of Rick Rizzolo and Buffalo Jim Barrier

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
July 19, 2004

LAS VEGAS - After numerous acts of vandalism targeted an evaporative cooling system on the roof of a stubborn garage owner's business, the garage owner sued his landlord. An unexpected admission followed with an out of court settlement to pay for damages.

In 2002, mob associate Rick Rizzolo purchased the building in which his topless bar and a highly successful auto repair business cohabitate less-than-peacefully. Buffalo Jim Barrier's garage has been there since 1976, and had no problems until 1984 when Rizzolo moved in next door. Rizzolo owns the Crazy Horse Too topless bar, the repeated scene of violence and target of a federal racketeering investigation.

Since becoming Barrier's landlord in 2002, Rizzolo has been trying to evict the garage to make way for the expansion of his bar. However, two court rulings in Barrier's favor and the criminal investigation have interfered with expansion plans and secured Barrier's lease until it naturally expires in 2009.

Daunted by the legal setbacks, Rick Rizzolo took the law into his own hands. Not wanting to buy out the garage's lease, he illegally began towing Barrier's customer's cars and allegedly tampered with the garage's air conditioning on days when the desert heat exceeded 110 degrees. In response, Barrier, a former pro wrestler, began suing Rizzolo in Small Claims court -- and winning.

On April 16, 2004, Rizzolo was ordered by the court to stop the illegal towing and reimburse Barrier, though the air coolers continued to be vandalized. The towing victory made the local columns because it flew in the face of an earlier statement by Bart Rizzolo, Rick's dad, who once bragged, "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."

On Friday July 16, moments before a scheduled hearing in Clark County Justice Court, Rizzolo's attorney made the surprising settlement offer in a hallway outside the courtroom.  Jon W. Norheim, Senior Associate with the prestigious law firm of Patti and Sgro, said he was authorized by his client to arrange for payment to reimburse Barrier for repairs to the air coolers caused by what Norheim then described as "vandalism."

With the settlement in hand, Barrier claimed a huge moral victory by again exposing Rizzolo's childlike actions. The settlement avoided what was certain to be another humiliating defeat for Rizzolo and his lawyers in less than two months. A court victory would also have generated additional embarrassing press coverage for Rizzolo -- something he and his legal team have been trying to avoid lately, but something Barrier would have relished.

However, another Small Claims Court victory was not the priority according to Barrier. He says his main goal is to just stop the harassment, and it looks like he has -- so far.

Many observers believe that Rizzolo who is expected to be indicted later this summer, should be preoccupied fending off his real nemesis's, the FBI and IRS. Instead he's monopolizing the resources of Patti and Sgro fighting his self-inflicted problems with Barrier. In fact, Rizzolo just reigned in his chief attorney Tony Sgro from representing Rick Tabish in the highly publicized Binion retrial so that Sgro and his firm could spend more time defending their biggest client against Barrier, and the feds.

During the hallway settlement conference, Norheim referred to an INSIDE VEGAS article. He told Barrier's attorney Todd Leventhal that in preparation for his offer, he carefully read the article that included a photograph of the damaged water line (below) along with two invoices from an air conditioning company describing repairs made to "vandalized water lines." Mr. Norheim was also fully aware that Leventhal intended to present to the court the multiply-crimped water line as evidence of intentional harassment by Rizzolo.

Nonetheless, Norheim did not wish to admit that Rick Rizzolo personally authorized the vandalism as a way to encourage Barrier to prematurely move out -- a claim that would have been the main subject of the Small Claims case had it gone to trial, and is the basis for Barrier's separate multi-million dollar harassment lawsuit* scheduled for trial later this year in Clark County District Court.

After learning of the harassment suit in 2002, Rizzolo countersued Barrier for slander and defamation. Because of this, the latitude of questions Rizzolo can be asked under oath during deposition is almost unlimited.

Depositions are a public record. On three occasions, Patti and Sgro have sought postponements of Rizzolo's videotaped deposition. They may be recalcitrant because the last time their client was videotaped during a deposition in an attempted murder case, damaging excerpts where shown on national TV -- excerpts in which he refused to answer questions about an associate named Joey Cusumano, a member of Nevada's notorious Black Book of undesirables.

This time it's probable that Rizzolo will be forced by Barrier's lead attorney Gus Flangas to answer multiple questions on videotape about Cusumano and his other criminal associates. Since Rizzolo is claiming defamation of character, questions about his unsavory associations though considered less than relevant in the attempted murder case, are fair game in defamation actions.

To try to avoid another videotaped deposition of their client, Rizzolo's attorneys recently requested that Barrier's District Court case go to arbitration. Arbitration is for claims of less than $40,000 and Barrier claims much higher damages, so Rizzolo's request was denied. Now, Rizzolo's long-awaited deposition is being rescheduled to a time certain with sanctions requested if he again attempts to delay, or fails to appear.

If last week's Small Claims case had gone to court, Leventhal would have presented testimony from witnesses who observed Crazy Horse employees on the roof of the building just prior to each time the water lines were tampered with.  Their testimony would state that the tampering occurred on the hottest days of the year and that each occurrence required the closure of Barrier's business until repairs could be made. A CPA's notarized statement was also to be presented with an estimate of the amount of business Barrier lost after each act of what Norheim agreed was vandalism.

The judge would have been informed that the 12 foot high roof was accessed on more than two occasions by "vandals" who would have had to use an easily seen ladder while guards from Rizzolo's contracted 24 hour security service, Green Valley Security, Inc., either took no action -- or possibly accepted cash or "eye candy" to turn their backs. (Security guards who were on duty at the time of the vandalism refused comment for this story.)

            Signs posted around Rizzolo's building

The judge would also have been informed that only Barrier's coolers were damaged when Rizzolo's much more expensive refrigeration units sat unharmed only a few feet away. The obvious answers to these questions would probably be very damaging, hence the offer of settlement.

                        Attached building shared by topless bar (L) and auto garage (R)
                                       (AmericanMafia photo by Mike Christ)

On July 17, Barrier's attorney wrote the following letter to Mr. Norheim on behalf of his client:
"As a result of today's Small Claims hearing, you acknowledged that an act of vandalism did in fact cause damage to the water line at the above address. You also advised that you will be opening a claim with the insurance company upon your receipt of my written notice to you. Please accept this letter as notice that the roof is now leaking due to the above described vandalism. With monsoon season beginning, I am concerned that my valued collection of celebrity photographs could become damaged from any leaking water, so it is imperative that repairs be made immediately."

Barrier told INSIDE VEGAS that any further intentional acts of vandalism to his business or personal property  will result in additional Small Claims law suits, and more embarrassment for Rizzolo, Patti and Sgro, and Green Valley Security, Inc.

Since Barrier began winning Small Claims lawsuits, he said his business "is better than ever," and no further acts of harassment or "vandalism" have occurred. He also said he doesn't anticipate a resumption of the illegal activities.


* 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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