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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:

Billy Bounces Back
...but exposes friend to new round of ethics charges

"The day before we were indicted, my attorney (Goodman) tried to contact the Strike Force
to say we would be willing to turn ourselves in.
" - Billy Walters on Oscar Goodman - 1990

"I want to take care of those who live here."  "If I have a choice, if you know somebody
and they're honorable, and you've done business with them in the past,
they get the
best of it."
- Mayor Oscar Goodman on Billy Walters - 2001

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 26, 2005

LAS VEGAS - Golf course developer Billy Walters is a highly respected local businessman, political campaign contributor, golf course developer, philanthropist, and restaurant owner. A true "Pillar of the community." A man accustomed to getting "the best of  it" from local politicians.

Mayor Oscar Goodman is a man who loses his composure when his ethics are questioned, especially when it comes to using his elected position to do favors for his family members, or former criminal defense clients. William T. "Billy" Walters is one of those clients, though Goodman does not want the public to know.
Walters expresses disappointment after the Las Vegas      Mayor Oscar Goodman blasts the Nevada Ethics
City Council delayed a decision on whether to rescind      Commission during a news conference after his                             
a deed restriction to allow him to build 1000 homes on       ethics were questioned by Robert Rose
city land he purchased for $5,600 acre for a golf course                (Review-Journal Photo by Cariño Casas)

Billy Walters is a very influential man. Only a person such as Walters could have been chosen to sign a lease with the airport in April 2001, taking control of about 320 acres of public land at no cost with the understanding he would build two golf courses.

A year later, with no golf courses on the drawing board, he returned to the Clark County Commission and successfully lobbied to rezone 40 acres of that land to commercial and office/professional, considered a more lucrative use. The media paid little attention.

Another three years passed, and after
Walters failed to build the golf courses, the commission asked him to return the land. But without explanation, the commission failed to ask him to return the 40 acres where he plans to build an upscale shopping center. Instead, the commissioners, with the exception of one maverick, acted like he was entitled to keep the 40 taxpayer-owned acres for no compensation, and the news media, again, paid little attention.

"I knew all along that a golf course wouldn't be built there," said Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates. She then dared question whether Walters would contribute to the construction of a regional park at the site of the 280 (out of 320) acres he reluctantly agreed to return. Her bold question was met with deaf ears.

Few, if any, local elected officials would have questioned Billy Walters. They know too well how "helpful" Walters can be during elections. Just ask his former criminal defense attorney Oscar Goodman who accepted a Walters hosted fund-raiser in May 2003, that that was listed as an in-kind donation of $10,000. The event, catered by Wolfgang Puck, took place at Walter's Cili restaurant at his Bali Hai Golf Course and was attended by almost everyone in the Sin City Social Register. The event helped to generate over $750,000 in a race where Goodman was running unopposed.

In fact, with the exception of embattled strip club owner Rick Rizzolo, a person Billy Walters is compared to and another "Pillar of the community," Walters is the most prolific political campaign contributor and party giver in town, and according to SUN columnist Jon Ralston, "has become respectable the old fashioned way: He bought it."

After Commissioner Gates rightfully demanded a park in return for the 40 taxpayer owned acres, land located smack in the middle of the LV Valley, questions arose as to whether Walters will be supportive when it comes time for her reelection bid, or instead, whether he will help find her a well healed opponent?

As far as Sin City politics goes, she had crossed the line by bravely doing the right thing.

Commissioner Yvonne Atkinson Gates,
public official who stood up to Walters
          (Sam Morris / LAS VEGAS SUN)

In the meantime, there has been little or no local news coverage of the taxpayer's generosity toward Billy -- possibly because Billy Walters and Brian Greenspun are business partners.

Greenspun Media Group's (GMG) primary businesses include the weekly newspaper and magazine publications, In Business Las Vegas, Las Vegas Life magazine, Las Vegas Weekly, The Ralston Report, ShowBiz Weekly, ShowBiz Japan and VegasGolfer Magazine. GMG also consists of the Las Vegas SUN daily newspaper, the website and Las Vegas One, an all-news cable channel associated with KLAS Channel 8, and UPN News.   


Brian Greenspun is best known for never wearing socks,
or speaking ill of a business partner    

But things have not always been so rosy for Billy. In 1990, Walters agreed to an in depth interview with writer Ian Thomsen for the National Sports Daily. In the story "The Gang That Beat Las Vegas," Thomsen wrote: "He complains about harassment by the FBI, saying it confiscated funds and refused to transfer them to the IRS to pay his taxes.  He claims he is persecuted in part because the government loathes his attorney, Oscar Goodman, a colorful Las Vegas lawyer who has represented many mob figures."

"'You’ve got to understand my position,' he (Walters) says.  'After the government went through all the evidence, they decided not to prosecute us.  For three years they tell us the case is dead.  Then all of a sudden, two weeks before the statute of limitations is going to run out, they come back with these indictments.  The day before we were indicted, my attorney (Goodman) tried to contact the Strike Force to say we would be willing to turn ourselves in.  The Strike Force wouldn't return his calls.  The next day they come barging into my house, drag me out of bed, put my wife in leg irons.  I'm telling you, you don't believe it until you’ve gone through something like this, what the government can do to you.'"

The obscure National Sports Daily story surfaced last week. It inspired me to do an in depth investigation looking for additional links between the two men, and the following information was located: During the 1980's, Goodman the lawyer was known to take real estate and other goods in lieu of his fee. In Walters' case, Goodman is listed in two recordings on file with the Clark County Recorder's Office as 2nd or 3rd Party with Walters in "Substitution/Reconveyence," and "UCC - Terminate" documents dated 03/16/1988.

These documents, in addition to Walters' own words in the Ian Thomsen article, ostensibly says their was once a financial link between Walters and Goodman. A fact that if not disclosed by the mayor at public hearings, is a violation of NRS 281.481(2): "A public officer... shall not use his position in government to secure or grant unwarranted privileges...  for... any person he has a commitment (to) in a private capacity...."

I doubt that either man expected this information to turn up at a time when a fifty-million dollar windfall hangs in the balance. A time when Walters needs all the friends he has at city hall, especially the mayor, to lift a deed restriction. And a time when Goodman wishes his past relationship with Walters was not made public. So far, I'm the only writer covering this story, and if no one takes official action, Goodman may be able to covertly help his friend make a fortune with the public knowing nothing of it. Another in a series of obvious paybacks to former clients.

Prior to becoming mayor, Goodman was also famous for requiring a half-million dollar retainer before taking on a criminal defense client. Goodman was the defense attorney for Tony "The Ant" Spilotro whom Goodman described as an innocent, misunderstood businessman. At the same time, Goodman said he'd rather have his daughter date Spilotro than an FBI agent. Goodman was also known for saying, "There is no mob," and his later actions as mayor exemplified his belief.

Goodman represented Spilotro lieutenant Joey Cusumano. Cusumano is listed in Nevada's Black Book of persons excluded from entering casinos, but in 2003, was spotted at the mayor's home attending a social gathering. Goodman was also criticized for receiving at City Hall another Black Book member, Charles "The Moose" Panarella, and Vincent "Vinnie Ocean" Palermo, acting boss of the DeCavalcante crime family. Panarella has been identified as a member of the Colombo organized crime family.

The Review-Journal reporter who first identified Panarella visiting Goodman on the tenth floor of city hall said that the mayor threatened him, saying that if he continued writing about his visitors, he would be banned from the building.

Since his election in 1999, Goodman has been repeatedly plagued with questions about his ethics and loyalties when his former clients appear before his council.

Walters, in 2001, came to Goodman with a proposal to operate the Northwest Family Golf Course. The vote came after a city evaluation panel recommended that the council choose another company because its proposal offered the least financial risk to the city. However, Goodman -- without disclosing his ties to Walters -- said he did not think both proposals were equal. Instead, Goodman said Walters' proposal was better because he is a proven operator who is familiar with the Las Vegas community. Goodman said he wanted a "home-grown product." "I want to take care of those who live here," Goodman said. "If I have a choice, if you know somebody and they're honorable, and you've done business with them in the past, they get the best of it."

Meanwhile, Billy Walters, according to, neglected his Stallion Mountain golf course to the extent that few wanted to play there anymore. After their articles and photos were published, he promptly sued the magazine.

Now, the land under the shabby golf course, land once owned by the taxpayers and bought by Walters for only $5,600 per acre in 1999, is back before Goodman's council for rezoning to convert it into 1,000 cracker box houses. The problem? Adjacent parcels were selling for $40,000 per acre in 1999, i.a., the taxpayers got screwed!

Walters paid the city a total of only $894,000 for the land -- a real sweetheart of a deal. 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 isn't worth the paper its written on if the city council arbitrarily votes to lift it in the next month or two.
                                        ( photos)

I predict that sometime this Fall, Goodman, if true to form, will champion his former client's request to rezone the land -- as soon as the heat is off the subject. However, the Nevada Commission on Ethics may soon change his plans if they find he failed to publicly disclose his ties to Mr. Walters, a clear violation of the city and state ethics laws.

To prevent Goodman from participating in, and possibly skewing the democratic process, veteran ethicist Robert Rose asked me to join him in filing a complaint with the state Ethics Commission on Monday, September 26. I agreed because I can't just sit back and watch Mayor Goodman flippantly violate a law I worked hard in 1990 to create (Steve Miller was the author and sponsor of the City of Las Vegas Ethics in Government Law that requires public officials to disclose possible conflicts and obstain from discussing or voting on such items). I also have experience filing such complaints, and I'm not concerned if I anger people when I change hats from journalist to citizen activist. And last, because nobody else in Sin City, with the exception of Mr. Rose and myself, have the knowledge or guts to try to stop these fools from enriching themselves at public expense.

                    Robert Rose       


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