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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:

Land bought from taxpayers in 1999 for
$894,000 sold in 2006 for $24.5 million!

Crony of two LV mayors makes a killing

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
August 2, 2010

LAS VEGAS - It was just revealed for the first time that golf course developer Billy Walters parlayed his friendship with two Las Vegas mayors into a 2,640% return on investment. It took him around six years, but the wait was certainly worth it.

Back in 1999, Walters succeeded in convincing the LV City Council to sell him 160 acres of city owned land for $5,600 per acre so he could build a golf course. This caused an uproar because adjacent land was selling for $40,000 per acre. Nonetheless, the council voted 6 to 1 in his favor.

                                                             (Photo by Steve Miller)

A month after buying the city land, Billy was offering 16 acres of  "Golf Course Frontage" for $130,000 per acre.

Billy did build a golf course of sorts, but it didn't take long to discover it was not up to par.

After five years of neglect, I authored several articles for telling of Walters' lack of maintenance on his Stallion Mountain golf course and opining that few golfers wanted to play there anymore. According to the July 27, 2010 Las Vegas SUN, Walters quietly sold the land for $24.5 million in 2006 shortly after declaring that the golf course could no longer support itself financially. (Walters is a business partner of SUN publisher Brian Greenspun.)

                                                          ( photos)

Not only did Walters buy the land for pennies on the dollar five years before he sold it at an unbelievable profit, he also obtained a sweetheart deal on water.

Billy (right) somehow made a deal with Patricia Mulroy (LA Times photo), the general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District to pay 25 cents per 1,000 gallons. The average course pays $2 per 1,000 gallons. Then he let the golf course fall into a state of disrepair and told the city council he needed to rezone portions in order to keep it open. The council obediently went along, and Billy soon sold a large portion to Pulte Homes for the first in a series of obscene profits from the once-taxpayer-owned land.

After my articles were published, Walters sued the magazine to have the articles removed. He won the lawsuit. As part of a settlement, Walters took possession of the magazine, changed its name to "," and removed my articles. However, to Billy's dismay, I saved my November 16, 2005 article on my computer. It tells the Stallion Mountain story in chronological order including a list of Walters' political campaign contributions to local decision makers who helped him become filthy rich.

I broke the original story in 1999 after a certified land appraiser testified that the city's land was worth more than $40,000 per acre at the time of the $5,600 per acre sale. During the council hearing, Mayor Jan Jones -- who was leaving office in four months -- angrily held up the front page commentary I penned, and said, "I know what ex-Councilman Steve Miller thinks is true, and I take exception. Land is worth what land is worth. You can speculate. Maybe someday this will be worth a lot of money. Maybe it won't."

When "someday" finally came in 2006, the land was worth over 2,640% more than Jones' crony paid for it six years earlier! After its sale, the public was not informed until July 27, 2010, four years after the fact, and the sale was barely mentioned in the one and only newspaper article cited in this column.

To illustrate the cronyism that brought this about, at one point during the 1999 council hearing, Walters asked for a glass of water. Jones personally poured the water into her own cup and had it presented to him.

Walters paid the city a total of only $894,000 for the city land. He did so with the caveat that he would charge low green fees for locals, and accept a permanent deed restriction to limit the land's use to golf course only.

Five years later, the low green fees never happened, and the deed restriction wasn't worth the paper it was written on which inspired my commentaries.

In my July 11, 2005, INSIDE VEGAS column "Par for the course," I went into detail how former Mayor Jan Jones and her minion then-Councilman Mike McDonald arranged the sweetheart deal for Walters that was later ratified by current Mayor Oscar Goodman. I also told of a drastic change in McDonald's life style immediately following his sponsorship of Walters' deal.

I have no proof, but a guy who makes a profit of at least $23,606,000 off the taxpayers of Las Vegas with the help of a councilman and two mayors might want to repay the favor.

This is one of those Las Vegas stories that has never been told other than on these pages. One of the reasons may be that our hyper-popular mayor Oscar Goodman (glaring at photographer Mike Christ) might find it embarrassing if the public were to know of how close a relationship he had/has with Walters.

Before he bought the land, Billy got into some trouble with the law. It was not Billy's first skirmish. Coincidentally, Oscar Goodman was his criminal defense attorney.

When he practiced criminal law full time, Goodman didn't fool around when it came to getting paid. He was infamous for charging his criminal defense clients a retainer of one-half million dollars. If a client could not come up with the cash, Goodman was known to sometimes put a lien on their house. That's exactly what happened in 1988 when Billy was indicted for the first time and needed an attorney with plenty of political clout.

Eighteen years later, Goodman has been paid his legal fee, and his client made over twenty-three million from the taxpayers Goodman is supposed to represent!

Being the only journalist following this story, I took advantage of the City of Las Vegas Ethics in Government law that I just happened to author and sponsor when I served on the City Council. In September 2005, I joined with ethics watchdog Robert Rose and co-filed an ethics complaint against Goodman.

Of course the state Ethics Commission found him innocent, but the filing of such a complaint goes a long way in drawing attention to a story the mainstream media might want to avoid.

Mayor Jones is history, but Oscar Goodman is still our mayor and will remain so until the end of his third term in June 2011. In the meantime, Billy Walters benefited hugely from our town's real estate bubble, and his buyers and the taxpayers took a cold bath after dealing with him.

In 2007, Nevada Attorney General George Chanos initiated an investigation of Walters and his ties to LV City Hall. The investigation inspired the Wall Street Journal April 23, 2007 story: "After Big Wins in Las Vegas, An Investor's Luck Turns. Authorities Eye Deal With Billy Walters And a City Golf Course."

Shortly after the WSJ article, I received several visits from former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, one of the private attorneys hired by Attorney General Chanos to investigate the Walters case. Dunlap was then working for Senn Meulemans LLP, a San Francisco based law firm with offices in Las Vegas and Reno, a firm that specializes in real estate law. Chanos paid the firm $250,000 tax dollars to do the investigation.

According to the Feb. 17, 2006 Las Vegas SUN; "He (Dunlap) has battled some of the finest legal minds in Nevada and won, including the late Harry Claiborne, coincidentally a mentor of one Oscar Goodman."

I supplied all my published stories to Dunlap. He told me that A.G. Chanos had a very solid case, and Jones, McDonald, and Goodman might be in big trouble along with several city staff members based on the A.G.'s findings.

George Chanos left office in January 2008. His successor Catherine Cortez Masto (in blue suit) dropped the Walters case immediately after being sworn in as Nevada Attorney General, and forfeited the $250,000 in legal fees.

This story with its obscene profits, cronyism, political favors, lack of prosecution, "beautiful" people, and void of news coverage is par for the course in the new Las Vegas.


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