Once again, Nevada aims for history with execution of Las Vegas murderer

execution of Las Vegas murderer

Zane Floyd (courtesy Nevada Department of Corrections)

An inmate sits on death row in Nevada awaiting execution in a unique way, with a combination of lethal drugs never before used for that purpose. But believe it or not, if carried out, this would not be the first time the Silver State has made death penalty history.

The inmate is Zane Floyd, 45. He was convicted of murdering four workers at a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999. His videotaped confession was played in court–along with store video of his acts. It took a jury barely two hours to convict him of four counts of first-degree murder and various other charges, including an earlier sexual assault.

The Nevada Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence way back in 2002. Floyd’s appeals now have been exhausted. With the support of Gov. Steve Sisolak, the Nevada legislature just scuttled an effort to abolish the death penalty in Nevada, maybe Floyd’s last hope.

But the Nevada Department of Corrections has been having problems finding drugs to use in the execution, which is now scheduled for next month. Officials recently told a court a four-drug cocktail, including some alternatives, would be used. One drug for sure would be ketamine, an anesthetic. Floyd’s lawyers say ketamine never has been used in an American execution and thus would be part of a never-before-used protocol. They say it could lead to “excessive secretions from the mouth” and vomiting while generating burning sensation in Floyd’s veins and lungs leading to “unconstitutional pain and suffering” despite the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” They are pushing for a firing squad, saying death would be instantaneous.

The rest of this post mostly repeats word-for-word what I wrote in this space in 2018 involving another impending Nevada unique drug-combo execution case, that of double murderer Scott Dozier. Unlike Floyd, Dozier wanted to die. Fed up with delays caused by lawyers he tried to fire, Dozier eventually cheated the executioner by hanging himself in his death row cell at the Ely State Prison.

As someone New To Las Vegas, I think it can be fairly debated whether a thinly populated, minimal government desert state like Nevada has the expertise and competence to pull off a humane execution using an untested process, in this case the specific drug combo. But astonishingly, this wouldn’t be the first time that Nevada has ventured down this Brave New World path.

You see, Nevada was the first jurisdiction in the entire world to execute a condemned prisoner in a gas chamber. That was nearly a century ago in 1924. The state somewhat botched the first attempt. There are lessons here. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Policy issues remain as Las Vegas killer of victim I found to plead guilty but mentally ill

Las Vegas killer

Jarrid Johnson (courtesy Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.)

While walking the dog near dawn on the shortest day of 2018–December 21–I found the murdered, mutilated body of a homeless man less than a football field away from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. His name was Ralph Franzello, 63.

The person who killed him with multiple stabbings of a knife–Franzello’s knife–turned out to be Jarrid Johnson, a local man who at the time was 25. Perhaps burdened by a guilty conscience, he walked into the Clark County Detention Center a few days later on Christmas Eve and confessed to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police homicide detectives.

According to court records, after lengthy plea bargain talks apparently delayed by the pandemic, Johnson yesterday filed papers agreeing to plead guilty but mentally ill in Clark County District Court to second degree murder. Nevada law allows a guilty but mentally ill plea–most states don’t–but all it seems to mean here is that he is supposed to receive some mental health treatment while incarcerated.

As tragic as this whole situation is, there also is a big underlying governmental accountability issue here, which I wrote about a few weeks after the murder. Johnson had been in jail on a charge of battery upon a relative–apparently an uncle–with a sword. To me, attacking a loved one with a sword suggests mental illness big time. Yet the judge–Karen P. Bennett-Haron of Las Vegas Township Justice Court–had released him from custody on his own recognizance on the motion of his public defender with the approval of the Clark County prosecutor’s office without even requiring that Johnson appear in court so he could be sized up in person.

Not 36 hours later, Franzello was killed in the middle of the night on a desolate street behind a supermarket he shopped at under a streetlight that wasn’t working. Had Johnson been in jail–or even in an outpatient facility–getting the treatment he so clearly needed, Franzello, who according to a sibling moved to Las Vegas from my native state of New Jersey more than 20 years ago and eventually became homeless, might still be alive today.

But of course, Nevada is a minimal government, minimal tax state. Such services are in short supply. The police press release trumpeting Johnson’s arrest did not mention the inconvenient fact that authorities had just released him despite his needy state. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

In Las Vegas, faux charity calls me twice in same day

Anna” is pushy. And not very smart.

On a recent day, she phoned me twice at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, several hours apart. Each time, she asked for a contribution to something called the Breast Cancer and Women’s Health Initiative, of Washington, D.C. She said the donation would be spent backing candidates for political office to support policies that would help women with breast cancer.

Listening to her sweet, friendly voice, one might think she was calling on behalf of a health care charity doing good works for humanity. This undoubtedly is what her overlords wanted me to think. But she wasn’t. Her organization is a d/b/a used by something called the United Women’s Health Alliance PAC. PAC means political action committee. I call these outfits faux charities because they sound like a charity but aren’t. (For starters, contributions are not tax-deductible, something the callers do not emphasize.)

I can cast aspersions on the intelligence and character of “Anna” without fear of getting sued by her for defamation. Why? She isn’t a person, but simply a voice generated by a computer being monitored by a real person who hits buttons to generate relevant responses to anything I say (the reason I have been putting quote marks around her name). Continue reading

Share on Facebook

In Las Vegas, many folks openly reject COVID-19 vaccinations

reject COVID-19 vaccinations

Entrance to Dog Fancier’s Park, Las Vegas

After a half-year break, I started going back with the pet at night to Dog Fancier’s Park, the off-leash dog park near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. It’s the largest and nicest around Las Vegas, with stadium lighting until 11 p.m. and bathrooms for humans. A friendly place, dog owners chat while their canines cavort. But I’m not sure I’m going to continue visiting.

The reason isn’t so much that in the age of COVID-19 virtually none of the other adults are wearing masks (one of the reasons I stopped going last fall). After all, since mid-February I’ve been fully vaccinated (Moderna, if you want to know). Federal authorities now say I’m good to go, with or without a mask on me or those around me.

It’s that I run into folks who actually brag that they haven’t gotten vaccinated and have no intention of becoming so. They are also sitting at the other end of a park bench from me that’s not really six feet long.

How does the issue of their vaccination status come up? Well, a la Forrest Gump on that Savannah bench, I often ask, as politely as I can. I suppose this might become the New Protocol of the coronavirus age, although in Las Vegas, at least, getting the truth is always a crap shoot. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Las Vegas is not out of the pandemic woods

pandemic woods

North Las Vegas Mayor John J. Lee

On Monday, John J. Lee, the 65-year-old mayor of North Las Vegas, became the first declared Republican candidate for next year’s gubernatorial election. A few hours later, he announced he had COVID-19 and was quarantining. Oh, and he admitted he had not been vaccinated, even though the shots for his age bracket have been available and authorized since February.

Lee is one of the state’s most prominent political figures. North Las Vegas, which adjoins Las Vegas, is the state’s third-largest city. Lee, a former legislator, has sat on a number of boards.

But the Las Vegas-area economy is almost completely dependent on people from other places coming here in great numbers and mingling with no social distancing. If, more than a year into the pandemic, somebody like Lee didn’t think it important to get the free vaccination, why should a would-be tourist pay any attention to the new “Vegas You” marketing campaign launched in advance of the June 1 “full reopening” of the region? Continue reading

Share on Facebook

It Didn’t Stay Here: Feds say some proceeds of big L.A. Ponzi were spent in Las Vegas

big L.A. Ponzi

Zachary Horwitz, a/k/a Zach Avery (via LinkedIn)

The feds in Los Angeles just charged Zachary Horwitz, a little-known actor whose screen name is Zach Avery, with operating a long-running $690 million Ponzi scheme. According to court filings, Horwitz, 34, falsely told investors his company was in distribution deals with big players like Netflix and HBO while using some of proceeds to fund an expansive lifestyle.

Guess where some of that expansive lifestyle supposedly took place?

Yes, if court filings are to be believed, yet another thief spent part of his ill-gotten gain in that bug light of iniquity the world knows as Las Vegas.

Horwitz, who was briefly jailed on a criminal complaint before being released on $1 million bail, has not yet pleaded to the criminal charges in the formal indictment–13 counts of wire fraud, securities fraud and aggravated identity fraud. He gets the presumption of innocence.

But the allegations–brought in a criminal case by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles and a civil case by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which has had his assets frozen–are more than enough to make him a candidate for my long-running list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of folks into trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. My list is a cheeky refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” for many years the famous promotional slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The full list can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Autism faux charity PAC that trolled in Las Vegas spent zero on races in 2020

faux charityLast June in this space I wrote about American Coalition for Autistic Children after it called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters asking for a donation in support of autism efforts. A little digging by me showed it was just a name used by American Alliance for Disabled Children PAC. Yes, a PAC–a political action committee, which is not a charity at all, of course, but a conduit to make contributions to political campaigns and perhaps push a cause.

At the time AADC, which listed Orland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb, as its mailing address, had been around for less than a year. Its financial efficiencies were dreadful, with almost all the donations going to fundraising expense rather than any worthy purpose.  Folks contributing to AADC were helping the battle against autism in no meaningful way.

I called AADC a “faux charity,” as it was a PAC presenting itself to would-be donors as a reputable good-works organization. Some, as you will see below, have used stronger language in describing such operations.

Judging from recent comments appended to the bottom of that post by Internet users, AADC is still soliciting like crazy mainly using its autism DBA, even hitting up would-be donors with dementia. And the financial efficiencies are still terrible.

How terrible? I now have reviewed AADC’s filings with the Federal Election Commission for all of 2020. AADC reported raising $1.15 million in contributions. Here’s how much AADC said it gave to political candidates:

Zero. Zip. Nada.

That’s right. Not one dime. This by simple math is an all-time low for any political action committee on record. Especially for a year like 2020, which included a hot presidential election, and races for most of Congress, too. And one thing that AADC wasn’t doing was accumulating a war chest for future elections. On December 21, 2020, it had in the bank all of $3,658.91. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Las Vegas hospital accused of big Medicare overbilling was co-founded by mobster linked to casino skim

casino skim

Moe Dalitz (courtesy Mob Museum)

Last month, a Federal Government audit said Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, a major Las Vegas health facility, overbilled Medicare by $23.6 million over a two-year period and should pay it back. In a response included in the audit itself and in a later statement, the hospital denies wrongdoing and says it will appeal.

But as a student of Las Vegas history, I find considerable irony in this accusation against Sunrise, which opened in 1958 as a high-end place. For the facility was co-founded by Morris Barney “Moe” Dalitz, a much-written-about mobster linked to the infamous Las Vegas “Skim.” That was the long-running ploy by which organized crime siphoned off casino house winnings before officially declaring profits, committing massive tax evasion against, among others, the Federal Government.

The Skim was the bug light that helped draw mob associates from all over the country to Las Vegas. It was wildly lucrative–not unlike, I suppose, wrongly billing the feds for medical procedures, if this audit is to be believed. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Pandemic has killed more Las Vegas folks per capita than rest of U.S.

Pandemic in Las Vegas

1918 Las Vegas newspaper headline

At the one-year anniversary of the national pandemic shutdown, the image-makers of Las Vegas are working mightily to lure back the visitors who have avoided Sin City like the, ah, plague.

PR types are apparently paying to fly in “social influencers” from around the country to sing the praises of Sin City.  Officials play up the cleansing efforts of the hotels casinos. VisitLasVegas.com, an official site of the official Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, even has a page linking to the sanitation policies of individual resorts.

However, one thing not exactly being stressed here is the hard fact that the overall death rate from coronavirus in the Las Vegas area is worse than the national average. True, numbers are moving in a good direction here and elsewhere. But all that scrubbing in Las Vegas has not yet produced a decided advantage.

There is an eerie parallel to what happened hereabouts during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

Continue reading

Share on Facebook

With the Adelsons selling Las Vegas properties, what about the Review-Journal?

Review-JournalNow that tycoon Sheldon Adelson has died at age 87, his family-controlled Las Vegas Sands Corp. has announced the sale of its local hotel and convention properties for a whopping $6.25 billion. The only thing left with the family here in town will be the Las Vegas Review-Journal, bought in 2015 at a price so exorbitant that it prompted speculation it was purchased partly as an insurance policy to keep a lid on unflattering local coverage.

But with the Adelsons abandoning their Las Vegas operations, any need for any local insurance will pass. Which raises the question: What kind of a future does the RJ have?

This is all sheer speculation by me. But the overall problems nationally in the newspaper industry were well known even before the pandemic removed much paid advertising. Right up the road, Salt Lake City lost the daily print edition of both its daily newspapers on January 1. Here in Las Vegas I imagine there are large financial losses–the RJ‘s print circulation has dropped something like 70% in six years to maybe 70,000 now. So it’s not hard to envision a dramatic change in the paper’s ownership or operation. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

It Didn’t Stay Here: guilty in Tacoma for spending in Las Vegas

spending in Las VegasSitting in the considerable shadow of just-up-the-road Seattle, Tacoma, Wash., nevertheless is noteworthy for a couple of things. In the late 19th century it grandly styled itself “City of Destiny,” a nickname that still persists although the town never really lived up to that hype. There’s the spectacular 1940 collapse just four months after its opening of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge over Puget Sound, at the time the world’s third-longest suspension bridge. The city gets second billing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, but at least it’s a major, well-known facility. With a population of 218,000, Tacoma is bigger than all but 100 other U.S. cities.

Recently, Tacoma, seat of Pierce County, was the site of a big crime. Nearly $7 million was pilfered from the Pierce County Housing Authority by Cova Campbell, the agency’s long-time finance director. It’s been called the biggest embezzlement of public funds in Washington State history.

Why, you might ask, is this of any interest to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters? I’m going to let you guess where some of the stolen loot was spent.

Yes, Campbell becomes the newest candidate for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a gallery of folks who got into trouble someplace else for something that happened in Las Vegas (in this instance, the spending of ill-gotten gain in that bug light of iniquity also known as Sin City). The roster is a refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” for many years the famous promotional slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The full list can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

In Las Vegas, like elsewhere, owning the newspaper helps ensure a nice obituary

… and Hearst, 1951

Sheldon Adelson

Adelson, 2021 …

Want to have a nice, expansive newspaper obituary written about you after your death? It helps to own the newspaper.

The day after Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson died last week at age 87, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which his family owns, ran what it called a “10-page special section” behind a color photo taking up half the front page. I imagine no paper in the world beyond, perhaps, the two his family owns in Israel devoted more space to Adelson’s passing. It more than reminded me of the over-the-top play Hearst newspapers gave chain founder William Randolph Hearst, the flamboyant inspiration for Orson Welles’ famous movie, “Citizen Kane,” when Hearst died in 1951 at age 88. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

By contrast, the death a few days after Adelson’s of Siegfried Fischbacher, the 81-year-old remaining survivor of the wildly successful, long-running Las Vegas tiger-festooned magic act of Siegfried & Roy, warranted only three pages in the RJ. But even that was a lot more than the coverage the RJ gave former president George H.W. Bush after he died in 2018 at age 95. Although the Cold War ended on his watch, Bush 41 received only a measly page-and-a-half in the RJ.

To me, anyway, as significant as the amount of space the RJ devoted to Adelson was the content of the copy. Judging from some of the obituaries published over the past week by other outlets not owned by the Adelson family, a certain amount of unpleasant material about the departed tycoon was left out. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Gagging Parler, based in a Las Vegas suburb, maybe not the best idea

ParlerThe ability of Las Vegas to pop up in big far-away stories never ceases to amaze me. The same crew of White House plumbers caught breaking into the Watergate building for Richard Nixon in 1972 also may have tried to crack a safe in the offices of the Las Vegas Sun. Remember those two Eastern European cronies of Rudy Giuliani indicted in New York in 2019 on Ukraine-influence charges? They were also accused of campaign finance violations in Las Vegas concerning efforts to get a marijuana retailing license.

Now, in light of last week’s deadly invasion and riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald J. Trump, we have Apple, Google and Amazon shutting down access to Parler. That’s the right-wing version of Twitter/Facebook that may have been a platform for organizing and inciting what some are calling an attempted coup.

The Las Vegas connection? Why, Parler is headquartered here in the suburb of Henderson, in the Las Vegas Valley just a few miles from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. Parler was started there in 2018 by two young University of Denver alums, John Matze Jr. and Jared Thomson, with help and money from Rebekah Mercer, the Republican heiress and Trump supporter who now owns part of the right-wing Breitbart web operation.

But what also amazes me is the belief held by many–particularly, it seems, on the left–that shutting down a platform of free speech is a good policy idea after something bad happens. To me, the solution to objectionable speech is simple: more speech, not less. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Dubious Las Vegas ‘news’ website linked to worldwide propaganda scheme tied to India

Las Vegas HeraldIn putting together the home page of the NewToLasVegas.com blog, I have tried to link (in the left column on a desktop computer, elsewhere on a smartphone) to every legitimate online news and opinion site I can find focusing on Las Vegas or Nevada. My only standards for inclusion: Material has to be posted regularly about the Silver State and that the site be transparent and honest about its mission. So there are links to left-wing sources (Nevada Current), right-wing sources (Muth’s Truths), gossip pundits (Norm Clarke’s Vegas Diary) and a whole lot else including traditional news media like TV stations and daily newspapers and new media like The Nevada Independent and Las Vegas Law Blog. The list under “News/opinion” now tops 60 entries.

Which brings me to one of those entries, a website that’s been out there for a few years by the name of Las Vegas Herald. The flag is nearby. “First published 1900,” it reads. This is so clearly false it’s hilarious. The population of the Las Vegas area in 1900 was just 18 folks, including kids. (If you think I’m making this up, click here to see the actual U.S. Census enumeration that year for Las Vegas, with all the names fitting on a single page.) There were no print news outlets of any kind in Las Vegas–or for that matter even a Las Vegas–until after the railroad from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City came through in 1905. That led to an instant city and three weekly newspapers, the Las Vegas Age, the Las Vegas Times and the Las Vegas Advance. None had Herald in its name.

So what’s the game? As implausible as it may seem, according to recent investigative reports, Las Vegas Herald is part of a network of hundreds of fake media websites linked to a propaganda machine promoting the interests of India over Pakistan. This is really wild stuff. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Las Vegas fallen-cop charity spent more on accounting than cops

Injured Police Officers FundI’m starting to sound like a broken record here. The Injured Police Officers Fund, the Las Vegas-based charity that covers certain out-of-pocket expenses for families of fallen law enforcement personnel in southern Nevada, continues to have an overhead problem. In its latest public tax filing, for calendar year 2019, the nonprofit spent more on accounting alone than it handed out to families.

According to the filing, IPOF made a total of $26,266 in grants to 15 recipients. The charity spent $30,600 on accounting. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Far from Las Vegas, pardon for Trump would be admission, thanks to long-ago scandal and media

pardon for Trump

Sample Trump self-pardon

Now that the presidential election is decided, the Chattering Classes are now fixated on other pressing issues. Will President Donald J. Trump pardon himself? Can he pardon himself? If not, will he resign on January 19 and let president-for-a-day Mike Pence pardon him? Would the politically ambitious Pence really be willing to risk pulling a President Gerald Ford, who lost his own bid for election in 1976 after pardoning disgraced president Richard Nixon two years earlier?

And whatever the source, would any valid pardon in favor of Trump amount to an admission of his culpability for a wide range of  issues? Issues that include obstruction of justice, tax fraud, campaign finance irregularities involving ex-paramour payments and wholesale violations of the Emoluments Clauses?

As a student of constitutional law long before becoming New To Law Vegas, I would tell you Trump can’t pardon himself, for two simple reasons. First, self-pardons were unknown in English common law, on which our Constitution was based, with substantial modifications, upon its creation in 1787. Second, the specific wording of the relevant Constitutional clause–giving Trump the “Power to grant … pardons”–bars a self-pardon because by dictionary definition one can only “grant” something to someone else. (i.e. taking money from your left pocket and putting it in your right pocket is not a “grant” to yourself).

Still, should Trump end up with a self-pardon and later be federally indicted, it would be up to the courts to sort that out. And probably, eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court.

But on the cultural/political issue of whether accepting a pardon would an admission of personal culpability on the part of the recipient, the Supremes already have spoken. It is. Quite strikingly, the century-old case establishing this tarring proposition involved reporting by major-media investigative journalists producing what Trump might call  “fake news.” They bravely stood up to a president (Woodrow Wilson) in coverage touching on suspected tax fraud and marital infidelity. These are all topics not unassociated with Trump.

Folks, it’s hard to make up stuff like this. If I’ve caught your interest, read on. It’s a pretty good yarn. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

In Las Vegas, prosecutors use 109-year-old law to charge critic of governor

charge critic of governor

Feeder’s criminal complaint

With its constant, often mindless criticism of all regulation and taxes–in a state with crushing unmet social needs–the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial page is often a hard read for me. But I find myself in agreement with its recent criticism of efforts by Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford to shut down a vociferous critic of his fellow Democrat, Governor Steve Sisolak.

State prosecutors filed three criminal misdemeanor charges against Steve Feeder, a 60-year-old Las Vegas resident, for his strong rant, mainly on Sisolak’s official Facebook page, against Sisolak and his early handling of the coronavirus pandemic in closing certain kinds of businesses. A Las Vegas judge, Karen Bennett-Haron, threw out two of the charges–interfering with a public official and provoking commission of a breach of the peace. But she ordered a trial next spring on the third charge, publishing matter inciting breach of peace or other crimes.

This raises obvious First Amendment freedom of speech issues. The Review-Journal editorial declared, “There’s no evidence that Mr. Feeder did anything other than post his incendiary bluster on social media.”  I fully agree. But for me, the biggest problem with Ford’s bid to shut up criticism of Sisolak is the very law itself. Any century-old law–this one was enacted in 1911, and not one word has been changed since–is susceptible to challenge, especially one that criminalizes speech. However, it strikes me that this one has a serious constitutional deficiency, which I haven’t seen raised in the court filings I see online and which I will explain below. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

Las Vegas locals are told to stay home and let tourists face coronavirus

let tourists face coronavirus

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (via Wikipedia)

I am hunkered down in the New To Las Vegas world headquarters waiting out the worsening coronavirus pandemic per the explicit request of our governor, Steve Sisolak. Yet he also says it’s okay for tourists to wander around the Strip and other places like casinos, presumably spending money brought in from out-of-state.

To me, this is not okay at all. But it’s the kind of mentality on which the Las Vegas economy has been based since gambling and quickie divorce (as well as quickie marriage) were all legalized in the same fateful year of 1931. Profit from the moral shortcomings of others, and to hell with the consequences. Continue reading

Share on Facebook

A punchier headline for today’s big presidential election news

With apologies to the current Web front page of The New York Times, which reads, “BIDEN BEATS TRUMP”:

Follow William P. Barrett’s work on Twitter by clicking here.

Share on Facebook

‘None of These Candidates’ line on Las Vegas ballot is set to dump Trump

None of These Candidates

Las Vegas ballot

See important updates at end of story

Exactly one month ago, on October 4, I wrote about the possibility that two enduring characteristics of Nevada elections–a ban on write-in votes and inclusion of the option to vote for “None of These Candidates”–could determine the next president of the United States in a close national race.

My scenario is on the verge of coming true. Continue reading

Share on Facebook