According to testimony in an ongoing New York bribery trial involving college basketball players, corrupt sports agent Christian Dawkins was in a fancy blue-hued suite at the fancy Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas in July 2017. He had to get an $11,000 cash payoff to a Texas A&M player whom he hoped to rep–fast. So he and several others went to a store in the Cosmo, bought a pair of sports shoes, stuffed the bills into the shoes, wrapped the shoe box and shipped it via FedEx, also from the hotel.
What happens here, stays here, they like to say in Las Vegas. Don’t believe it. It’s only a marketing slogan, anyway, dreamed up by a vendor for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau as a cheeky way of promoting the, ah, attractions of Sin City.
And the premise is often false–so often, in fact, that I have started a list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It consists of individuals in trouble somewhere else for something that happened in Las Vegas. You can see the full list nearby. Why, it even includes Donald J. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Dawkins is now nominated to the list, along with a slew of assistant college basketball coaches implicated in testimony as doing something untoward in Las Vegas, like taking envelopes full of cash for players Dawkins hopes to represent (a big no-no in the supposedly amateur world of college sports). Theyinclude Tony Bland of USC ($13,000), Preston Murphy of Creighton ($6,000), Corey Barker of TCU (also $6,000) and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans ($4,500). Continue reading →
Backside side of the famous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Strip
It’s a question I hear all the time when traveling, conducting business on the phone or interacting on social media. I tell someone my home is in Las Vegas. The response often is an astonished pause, followed by a breathless, “What’s it like living in Las Vegas?” Or something to that effect. It happened to me during a family trip to Georgia in February, when I was in Los Angeles last month judging a journalism competition, while chatting up someone on the phone in New York last week, and in a Facebook exchange with a long-time friend this week.
It’s almost as though I said I lived in Baghdad, or Pyongyang, or maybe the Moon.
The astonishment, I suspect, has a number of sources, all grounded in the notion that Las Vegas has a reputation as a despicable place not fit for habitation by normal folks (which, of course, helps make it a great place to visit). This reputation perhaps includes perceptions of excessive summer heat, poor air quality, bad local morals, accident-prone drivers, crime, the October 1 massacre, inadequate medical care and under-performing schools.
The “Sin City” nickname probably doesn’t help. Nor does the famous marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” Nor the 1995 movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” featuring Nicolas Cage’s Oscar-winning performance as a down-and-out Hollywood scriptwriter who moves to Vegas to successfully drink himself to death. (When remembered, the upbeat 1964 song fest film, “Viva Las Vegas,” starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, cuts a bit the other way, and Ann-Margret does live now in Las Vegas.)
Some of these factors are undoubtedly valid. But there are 2 million people living in the Las Vegas metro area (a statistic that often surprises people from elsewhere when I cite it), compared with all of 18 at the start of the 20th century just 119 years ago. (Don’t take my word; click here to see the single handwritten U.S. Census enumeration page listing everyone in 1900 in Las Vegas.) The Clark County School District, which includes all of metro Las Vegas, is now the nation’s fifth largest by number of students (another eye-popping number for some). There must be a reason why so many people are here and indeed growing rapidly in number. Continue reading →
The phone rang at the New To Las Vegas World Headquarters. The cold caller said her name was Grace Miller. She sought a donation by me to the Childhood Leukemia Foundation, headquartered in far-away Brick, N.J., and asked if I would make a pledge.
I said I would be happy to review any literature she could send me. This apparently was not exactly the answer she hoped to hear. We had a back and forth. But after Miller could not get me to commit to a donation–on what likely was a recorded line, which would be used against me should I decline to pay–she terminated the call.
This afforded me the chance to locate online CLF’s latest financial filings, for the year ending December 31, 2017. They might help explain the extreme urgency of Miller–not actually a person but an interactive computer-generated voice monitored by a human–to get a sight-unseen pledge from me. By CLF’s own filings, the charity spent more than 75% of the money donated on fundraising costs, dwarfing the amount left for, say, helping kids fight illness, the stated mission. Indeed, according to the filings, of CLF’s total expenses for the year, just 21% went to the mission.
Since donors usually want the bulk of their gifts to go to the cause, these are terrible financial efficiency ratios for a charity. How terrible? CLF won’t agree to be evaluated by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, a charity watchdog group that says no more than 35% of donations should be spent on fundraising expense, and no less than 65% of the total budget on the mission. Not sending the BBB paperwork is a huge red flag for would-be donors.
On top of all this that, CLF was soliciting illegally in Nevada. With a few exceptions not applicable here, a 2013 Nevada law prohibits non-religious charities from seeking donations in the state without first registering with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office and renewing that registration annually. CLF does not come up in the online database on the Secretary of State’s website as ever being registered. I confirmed this by calling the main office in Carson City. Nor, I was told, was an application from CLF being processed but not yet in the system. Continue reading →
It’s anyone’s guess whether, before next year’s presidential election, Donald J. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appear on the same platform to debate the great issues of the day. But they both are now on the same platform–right here.
Those of you who follow this space know that I have a long-running feature, “It Didn’t Stay Here.” It consists of stories about folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. It’s a pointed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the well-known marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The full list is nearby.
In 2017, New to Las Vegas, I nominated Trump for the list after a 2013 video surfaced of him partying along the Strip with Russians and Rob Goldstone. He’s the British publicist who later set up the infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., brother-in-law Jared Kushner, then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a clutch of Russians supposedly bearing gifts in the form of Kremlin-sanctioned dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Vegas has a funny way of popping up at the most unexpected of times. On Friday, prominent Las Vegas politician Lucy Flores wrote an essay for the New York Magazine website “The Cut” saying then-Vice President Biden inappropriately smelled her hair and kissed her on the back of her head at a 2014 Democratic campaign rally in a Las Vegas union hall during her unsuccessful bid to be Nevada lieutenant governor. Biden “touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners—and I felt powerless to do anything about it,” she wrote. At the time Flores was 35 year old; Biden was 71. (Click here to see photos of the rally.) Continue reading →
Green Book 1962 edition (courtesy New York Public Library)
The name of the Best Picture Oscar-winning movie “Green Book” comes from a published guide to places where black travelers and tourists could stay without being hassled on account of their race during much of the 20th century after the advent of automobiles. In the movie, the Green Book was used to help guide real-life characters–black pianist Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali, who won his own Best Supporting Actor Oscar) and his white driver/bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga (portrayed by Viggo Mortensen)–across the deep South during a 1962 concert tour.
The South, of course, was infamous for its racial intolerance. So it’s easy for folks in other parts of the country to look back and smirk. However, the Green Book–its full name was the Negro Motorist Green Book–quickly came to cover the entire United States.
And it proved to be an interesting measure of racial comity. Based on the paucity of listings in most places, few regions came out looking good.
It was Alice on the phone again at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. She was shilling again for United Breast Cancer Foundation, imploring me to make a small pledge “for the ladies.” I kept saying I first wanted to review any literature she might care to mail me. On what likely was a recorded line, that was not a condition that pleased her, as it would not be possible for UBCF to follow up with a letter demanding I make good on my oral pledge. After going back and forth, she finally ended the call by beseeching me to tell three women to get mammograms.
Alice was not a real person but rather a voice generated by an interactive computer using artificial intelligence and monitored by a real human. This technology still has a way to go. In my opinion Alice wasn’t all that responsive to my remarks and actually came across as a little slow on the uptick.
Which I would say much the same about UBCF, which is based in Huntington, N.Y. After Alice called me a year ago, I researched the charity, saw how little of the cash donations went to items I considered meritorious, and wrote a withering post. Now I’m getting called again by UBCF and still being asked for money. So I’m nominating UBCF to my long-running list of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” It’s a roster of nonprofits that solicit me for a contribution after I already have strongly criticized them in a public post. Really, can it get any dumber than that? You can review the list elsewhere on this page.
Alice’s call gave me an excuse to dig up UBCF’s latest available financial filings and conduct a fresh analysis. I was able to find the audited financial statement and IRS Form 990 filing for a later period, the year ending December 31, 2017, on the website of the North Carolina Secretary of State. (Despite a state law, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t post online meaningful financial filings). It’s still not a pretty picture. Continue reading →
Jarrid Johnson (booking photo courtesy Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.)
See updates at end of story
It’s possible Jarrid Johnson, the man charged with stabbing to death the homeless Las Vegas fellow whose body I found last month on the street near my home, has a thing with blades.
According to my reading of the public court record, Johnson, 25, had been released without bail on his own recognizance less than two days earlier for another felony charge. That alleged offense: domestic violence using a sword!
Had Johnson remained in custody, he wouldn’t have been on the street to encounter Ralph Franzello, 63. It was Franzello’s lifeless body, surrounded by a lot of blood and his remaining life’s possessions in an overturned shopping cart, that I spotted on a deserted block while walking the dog near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. The time was just before dawn on the morning of December 21–the year’s shortest day. I quickly called 911.
According to authorities, a remorseful Johnson turned himself in unprompted at the county jail three days later and confessed to the crime, saying he used Franzello’s own folding knife in the middle-of-the-night deed. One news account said Johnson acknowledged attacking Franzello after being caught going through Franzello’s possessions, presumably in the shopping cart that remained at the scene of the crime for several days thereafter. Johnson is being held on $500,000 bail pending a hearing scheduled for tomorrow.
But the same authorities that eagerly issued a press release about Johnson’s arrest didn’t bother to mention that he had been freed from custody literally hours earlier with the state’s consent pending trial in a separate case of violence involving clear indications of mental illness. At least, that’s what alleged use of a sword in an assault on a family member says to me. So the Johnson matter may well raise serious issues about how the overworked Nevada court system evaluates such troubled individuals even before being convicted. I also believe some of these details concerning Johnson’s background have not been reported elsewhere in the Las Vegas media.
Slain homeless person’s possessions and blood at murder site two days later in Las Vegas
See updates at end of story
Walking the dog Friday morning before dawn on the year’s shortest day, I came across a grisly sight near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters: the body of a homeless man on the side of a deserted semi-commercial cul-de-sac. Blood coated the asphalt around him. Nearby: an overturned shopping cart containing his possessions.
I called 911, and Las Vegas Metro Police units quickly responded. The street was closed off for about 12 hours as ambulances, detectives, police photographers, coroner office personnel and eventually some kind of hazmat clean-up team worked the site. Officers confirmed to me–and to the Las Vegas news media–that the man had been stabbed multiple times with a knife, likely overnight some hours before I passed by. A murder investigation is underway.
This morning, a full two days later, I walked that block again with the dog. I observed several elements of note, all of which I documented in a photo I took that is nearby.
First, someone had put a memorial lit candle by the spot where I found the body.
Second, the hazmat team did such a poor job of cleaning that the victim’s blood was clearly visible in the street more than 48 hours later (that reddish rectangle to the left of the candle).
Finally, the victim’s meager possessions were still in the shopping cart, which had been righted and put on the sidewalk.
I am advised that it is official Metro policy to leave the belongings of deceased homeless folks where they are found if in a public place. Two officers told me Metro feels it doesn’t have the legal authority to take away stuff that isn’t evidence. Even putting aside the obvious lack of dignity and humanity, that’s ridiculous. Authorities surely can temporarily store such goods until the victim is identified, and any next-of-kin notified and given the chance to retrieve the possessions.
If a reporton KVVU-TV, the Fox affiliate, is to be believed, the killer might have been asleep in a nearby dumpster when I found the body, and not discovered by the police who quickly responded. According to the report, one Jarrid Johnson, 25, walked in the county jail three days later and confessed to the crime. He was charged with murder with a deadly weapon. The homeless person victim was identified asRalph Franzello. He reportedly caught Johnson going through his things, a fight ensued and Johnson repeated stabbed Franzello, quite possibly with the victim’s own knife.
Further update on January 1, 2019:
A notice on a Las Vegas funeral home website says Franzello was 63 years old, two decades older than the original estimates in news account of a man in his 40s. No other details were given.
Yet another update on January 3, 2019:
Nearly a week after KVVU-TV, citing a police report, identified the victim as Ralph Franzello, the Clark County Coroner’s Office confirmed the ID and ruled his death a homicide. Stated cause of death: “multiple sharp and blunt force injuries.” That certainly would account for all the blood I saw when I found the body. Meanwhile, according to the website of the Clark County Detention Center, Jarrid Johnson, the accused killer, remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail and has some kind of hearing scheduled for January 18.
t continues to amaze me how questionable stuff that happens in Las Vegas can make big news elsewhere but not cause much of a stir here.
My latest example is a long-running criminal case in New York City currently the subject of a federal-court trial. Among other things, James Grant, a former high-ranking New York Police Department officer, is accused of taking bribes that included a room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas during a Super Bowl weekend and the services of a hooker who flew in with him on a private jet to, ah, watch the game with him.
This scandal has been playing itself out in the New York media for more than two years, with headlines like “Ex-Hooker Testifies About Vegas Debauchery at NYPD Bribery Case.” That came during the ongoing criminal trial, in which a verdict hasn’t been reached. But you wouldn’t know about the case from the Las Vegas media. A search of the online Las Vegas Review-Journal archives shows no coverage at all. In 2016 the Las Vegas Sun website ran an Associated Press story about the arrest of Grant that mentioned (1) the hooker, (2) Super Bowl weekend, (3) the private jet and (4) a fancy hotel room while editing out (5) this took place in Las Vegas.
Still, the caper is good enough to make Grant and co-defendant Jeremy Reichberg, accused of bribing him, candidates for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. Still New To Las Vegas, I call this my continuing rebuttal to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous (or infamous) marketing pitch of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. Previous nominees, which includes some big names, can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading →
Nearly two years ago, not long after becoming New To Las Vegas, I wrote in this space about the Injured Police Officers Fund. It’s a now-36-year-old Las Vegas-based charity accepting tax-deductible contributions whose stated mission is to “provide financial assistance to families of officers injured or killed in the line of duty” in Southern Nevada.
Based on my review of the organization’s 2015 federal tax return and my many years writing about nonprofits, I declared then that the IPOF, which sometimes pops up in the local news after an officer is hurt or killed, seemed a cut above most law enforcement-themed charities. This was mainly because the IPOF eschewed direct mail and telephone cold-calling in its fundraising efforts and so didn’t hand over most of the money raised to outside paid telemarketers, as was often the case with cop charities.
But fundraising is only one part of any charity’s performance. So when the IPOF’s tax return for 2017 became public record last month, I decided to find filings as many years back as I could to make a long-term assessment. I was able to locate 17 tax returns in the public record from 2001 to 2017–nearly half the IPOF’s entire existence. Putting all the data on a spreadsheet, I crunched the numbers.
Alas, I regret to say that the larger picture suggests a number of troubling questions about how the money the IPOF received was spent–or not. And since I last wrote about the charity, it seems that wives of some police officers have started asking pointed questions of their own about the IPOF. They even have an open Facebook group page suggesting that something iffy is afoot. Continue reading →