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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:

San Diego's shame is
Vegas' standard game
    Mike Galardi and unidentified woman       Rick Rizzolo (LV SUN)

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 8, 2003

The people of San Diego have a right to an open and honest government. We are committed to ensuring that San Diego is represented by officials who are free from corrupt influences. - U.S. Atty. Carol Lam

There's no prostitution taking place, and if there was, they should arrest them, not make some big fuss as to what some 18-year-old girl is doing to make a living. - Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman

He violated department policies prohibiting officers from accepting gifts from suspects and consorting with persons of ill repute. - Las Vegas  Sheriff Bill Young

LAS VEGAS - Three years of federal organized crime and political corruption  investigations came to a head when Vegas based topless bar owner Mike Galardi made a clandestine effort to change a law so his San Diego strippers could legally give physical contact to patrons just like they are allowed to do in his home town.

In Vegas, Galardi has always been able to let his dancers - many under the age of 21 - vanish into back rooms to have physical contact with club patrons, contact that includes "friction" and "lap" dancing. San Diego authorities have strict rules against such physical contact and the exploitation of teenagers. Now, federal agents say they've uncovered a failed scheme masterminded by Galardi to change the no-contact law in the coastal town.

Meanwhile, back in Sin City, the differences between what is tolerated in strip joints here and in San Diego are beginning to stand out like a sore thumb, as evidenced by recent statements from a topless bar employee.

"While I was employed at the (Las Vegas) Crazy Horse Too, the 'dancers' engaged in an activity called a 'friction dance' wherein the male customer puts on a condom and the dancer straddles the customer and manipulates her body against the male customer so as to arose or gratify the sexual desire of the male customer." This statement is part of the federal probe of a Vegas strip bar owned by Galardi's competitor Rick Rizzolo.

Regarding the same Vegas club, former federal prosecutors Stan Hunterton and Don Campbell recently filed documents alleging Rizzolo condones an "environment that has bred rampant lawlessness. 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. 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."

However, in contrast to what aroused San Diego authorities, in Vegas this type of behavior is often overlooked as just another day in paradise. For many years political campaign contributions have kept Sin City politicians in tow, and other arrangements have been made to keep Vegas law enforcement officials at bay in the face of many violent incidents and blatant infractions of Nevada law. It has also been reported that up to $20,000 per night in skimmed cash is paid to Vegas cab drivers to deliver customers to certain topless bars while the state Taxi Authority turns its back. However, 300 miles away in San Diego its a different story.
                                Las Vegas Review Journal cartoon by Jim Day, Sunday Sept. 7, 2003

Three San Diego City councilmen have been indicted and accused of accepting bribes, something historically acceptable in my town where campaign contributions from corporations are legal even when donor's names are not revealed or they're instead made in cash. In San Diego, politicians face years in prison for accepting "bundled" campaign contributions that pale in size compared to their Sin City counterparts. Maybe that's why San Diego prides itself in being called "America's Finest City."

Then there is the San Diego detective who repeatedly tipped Cheetahs managers about scheduled raids by the vice unit in exchange for cash, but in actuality was working with the FBI. The rest of the detective's unit was unaware of the arrangement  though some became suspicious because few, if any, violations were found over long periods of time.

A comparative situation occurred in Las Vegas.

Hundreds of police responses including nine assault and six robbery cases all involving Crazy Horse Too employees went without arrests or prosecution over a three year period. It was later discovered that a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police sergeant had accepted but never paid back a $15,000 "loan" from Rick Rizzolo, though this association was never proven to be responsible for the lack of violations or arrests. The officer has since been reprimanded by Clark County Sheriff Bill Young.

When a Vegas strip bar owner or real estate developer wants to secretly invest in a friendly politician's career, few in Nevada care if checks are written in the name of his kids, suppliers, phantom corporations, LLCs, or several dozen employees who he later reimburses. "Bundling" is business as usual around here. In fact, in a recent city council election a winning candidate allegedly failed to report at least $100,000 in cash campaign contributions, and almost got away with it.

I ran for office in Nevada several times during the late 1980s and early 1990s. On one occasion I readily accepted - and reported - cash donations of $20,000 from the Horseshoe Casino, $15,000 from the Golden Goose, and $5,000 from the El Cortez. I legally accepted bundled donations of $5,000 each from the family members of the owner of another downtown casino who didn't want my enemies to know he was supporting me, and I accepted bundled checks from the families and employees of several prominent real estate developers and attorneys who felt the same way.

One casino owner personally donated a small check, but called on each of the suppliers of a business he owned in Florida to make larger contributions. They couldn't refuse. Of course I knew who inspired the out of state checks.  My total collected in one election amounted to $342,000 of which $40,000 was cash. As long as the amounts and names on the checks were reported to the Nevada Secretary of State - no laws were broken then, or would be broken now.

Of course, I could also have pocketed much of the cash and reported only a fraction without being detected in Nevada, a state with the most lax campaign funding laws in the nation.

Incidentally, the Galardi family wrote me three checks from their "Mr. G's Catering Company" account totaling $15,000. At the time, no one raised an eyebrow even though the checks were signed by Jack Galardi, Mike's dad. This is business as usual in Nevada and has always been considered perfectly legal. But this is not the case in California.

During the past several weeks, I've been interviewed by San Diego reporters. One of the most asked questions is "What is the reaction to the San Diego scandal in Las Vegas?" I answer that most political observers here think its comical that so many people are in such big trouble in America's Finest City for doing what is done every day out in the open in Sin City.

Are we so callous in Nevada that the bribing of cops and government officials doesn't faze us? The only thing that appears to be disturbing Vegas movers and shakers is all the negative publicity being generated in California by the indictments and the fact that suspicious Nevada contributors may now come under scrutiny and therefore be less generous in future elections. Otherwise, little has changed in the Silver State.

In fact, Las Vegas' current and former mayor along with Mike Galardi, Rick Rizzolo and Nevada's governor own second homes not far from San Diego, though the higher standards of the area obviously have not rubbed off on Nevada's "Pillars of the community."

Before the May 14, 2003 San Diego busts few Las Vegans took the federal organized crime investigation seriously. On February 20, 2003 when 80 federal agents raided Rizzolo's Crazy Horse Too, few Nevada officials took notice. The Crazy Horse raid followed the beating of Kansas tourist Kirk Henry who on Sept. 20, 2001 suffered a broken neck and quadriplegia allegedly at the hands of Rizzolo's bouncers. In the face of this information when asked to bring the Crazy Horse up on an administrative action, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Mayor Goodman refused.

Then Henry from his electric wheelchair hired the powerful Nevada law firm of retired federal prosecutors Don Campbell and Stan Hunterton who on October 2, 2001, sued Rizzolo and his business. Coincidentally, the FBI raid of the Crazy Horse followed shortly thereafter.

Kirk Henry's attempted murder trial is set for February 17, 2004.

In March 2003, Crazy Horse lawyers said the Sixth Amendment rights of Rizzolo were violated and they want to hold the two lead FBI agents in contempt of court for not revealing that documents allegedly protected by attorney-client privilege had been "illegally seized" during the raid and reviewed by investigators. Rizzolo demanded that the documents, video tapes, hard drives, and ATM machines seized and sent to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia for scientific examination be immediately returned. His attorneys alleged the material contained privileged correspondence regarding personal injury, attempted murder, and wrongful death lawsuits against the Crazy Horse and Rizzolo. A Vegas judge is currently reviewing Rizzolo's request.

Some believe Galardi simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in the fury of a federal organized crime operation intended to nail Rizzolo and his political and alleged Mob associates. Or maybe a friendly rivalry exists between the FBI office in San Diego and their prestigious Organized Crime Task Force counterparts temporarily stationed in Vegas, and that the Galardi bust was the first in a competition between federal agencies to bring down organized crime in west coast strip clubs.

So be it, but the vast expenditure of time and resources taken in regard to the initial Rizzolo raid are still pending indictments. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

When you consider the severity, or comparitive lack thereof, of the allegations against Galardi and compare them to those against Rizzolo, the next few weeks promise to make the Galardi goings on look like an opening act in a Vegas showroom while the headliner in this organized crime extravaganza is nervously waiting in the wings.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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