Another PAC posing as a charity plagues Las Vegas

PAC posing as a charityReaders of my last post will find this one very familiar.

At the New To Las Vegas world headquarters recently, I received a telephone cold call from someone calling herself Christine soliciting in the name of Breast Cancer Health Council PAC, a d/b/a of Community Health Council PAC. “Can the women with breast cancer count on you to return a small donation?” she asked.

I politely said, “Where is your organization located?”

Christine: “Okay. Goodbye.” Click. She hung up.

As I wrote in my last post, about American Coalition for Injured Veterans PAC after a computer-built voice named Bob Malone hung up when I asked the same question, “Now that sure seems like a deal on the up-and-up, doesn’t it?”

Christine was another computer-generated voice working with artificial intelligence and a real person monitoring the call (although with the abrupt hang-up one might question the emotional intelligence part of this). But the similarities hardly stop there.

Both organizations are PACs–lightly regulated federally registered political action committees designed to support or oppose candidates and causes–posing as charities and soliciting nationally. Both route virtually no money to their stated areas of interest. Both have terrible financial efficiencies and little money in the bank for the upcoming federal election season in 2020. Both likely have no interest in making it easy for a would-be donor to check them out, hence the quick phone hang-ups at the first question. Both have misleading charitable-sounding names. Both have run into recent trouble with regulators. Both list as their address the same office suite in Washington, D.C.

And both have as their treasurer one Zachary Bass. He’s the mysterious Baltimore fellow who likely is paying himself more than is being spent on all political campaigns backed. I first encountered him last year after I was called on behalf of one of his other sketchy endeavors, Heroes United PAC d/b/a Association for Police and First Responders.

In my last post I detailed for you some disturbing things about American Coalition. Now let me detail for you some disturbing things about Community Health Council PAC d/b/a Breast Cancer Health Council PAC, which I’ll call BCHC for short. Continue reading

Seriously iffy veterans outfit trolls in Las Vegas

iffy veterans outfitAt the New To Las Vegas world headquarters recently, I received a telephone cold call from one Bob Malone. He was calling on behalf of American Coalition for Injured Veterans PAC. “Our vets desperately need your help,” he declared in a light Southern accent as he asked for a contribution.

Great, I said. Where is the organization located?

The next sound I heard was a click. Malone hung up on me without uttering another word.

Now that sure seems like a deal on the up-and-up, doesn’t it?

I knew immediately Malone was not a real person, but rather a computer-generated voice working with artificial intelligence and a real human being monitoring calls ready to pull the plug at the first hint of an obstacle. American Coalition isn’t all that real, either, in the sense that virtually none of the money raised benefits ailing veterans. The outfit, ostensibly based in Washington, D.C., was founded by Zachary Bass, a fellow from Baltimore I know a little bit about, and who has gotten into trouble with regulators for other endeavors.

You might get a call from one of Bass’s enterprises. So read on and be warned. Continue reading

Thoughts on Las Vegas and ‘View of the World from 9th Avenue’

View of the World from 9th AvenueOn a wall at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters is a blown-up replica of arguably the most famous magazine cover ever. “View of the World from 9th Avenue” by illustrator Saul Steinberg, graced the March 29, 1976, issue of The New Yorker. Its careful distortion of diminishing detail and distance–still studied in art schools–perfectly captured the notion that elite New York City residents are haughty folks full of hubris wrapped up in their own surroundings and barely able to distinguish much of anything west of the Hudson River.

Take a close look at the cover, which I have reproduced elsewhere on this page. Past the thin band across the middle of  my native “Jersey,” you can see Chicago, Texas, Los Angeles, something representing the Rockies, and in the far distance beyond the Pacific Ocean, China, Japan (as one island) and Russia.

Plus Las Vegas. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: NY indictment for Las Vegas meeting

It Didn't Stay HereOMG, this is juicy!

The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan this morning announced an indictment of four men–including three born in the lands of the former Soviet Union–on campaign finance charges involving laundering of Russian-money contributions benefiting Donald Trump and Republican candidates to state office in Nevada. Among many other things, the indictment states that an alleged conspiracy involving the four included a 2018 meeting in Las Vegas and hints the goal of the Nevada contributions–which public records suggest were to the campaigns that year of Attorney General Adam Laxalt for governor and Wesley Duncan for attorney general–was to grease the skids to get a retail marijuana license.

I have no idea whatsoever about the merits of the allegations, and there is no public evidence now that Laxalt and Duncan, accused of nothing, knew anything about purported motives. But the four-count, 21-page indictment is more than enough to make the four named defendants–Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin–candidates for my list It Didn’t Stay Here. That roster consists of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas, refuting “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority. I’d say an indictment brought by feared federal prosecutors in the Southern District Of New York qualifies as trouble elsewhere. You can see previous nominees nearby. (As it happens, they also include Trump for an earlier matter).

This indictment will get massive attention because two of the defendants, Parnas and Fruman, have been helping Trump attorney/fixer Rudy Giuliani gin up allegations concerning Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, over their dealings in Ukraine. But as someone New To Las Vegas, I prefer to focus on the sideshow of the local angle. Continue reading

In Las Vegas, Forbes 400 roster declines again

Forbes 400This morning, the 38th edition of the Forbes 400, the famous annual ranking of the richest Americans, was released, and again it was bad news for the Las Vegas area. Of the seven locals on last year’s list, two dropped off completely, and most showed a decline in their individual net worth.

From a ranking standpoint, the biggest losers were brothers Lorenzo Fertitta and Frank Fertitta, casino owners who last year were tied at No. 388 with net worths of $2.1 billion each year. Thanks to a 30% decline in the share price of their Red Rock Casinos, their stash is now assessed at $1.9 billion each, a 9½% decline. That put them below this year’s cutoff of $2.1 billion, and likely ranked in a tie for No. 404. But that’s no cigar on a list of 400. Continue reading

In Las Vegas, no honor among newspaper co-monopolists

newspaper co-monopolistsnewspaper co-monopolistsImagine two thieves who, after a heist, can’t agree on the division of spoils, and one of them actually sues the other in court. Outrageous, eh?

That’s sort of how I see the newest lawsuit brought by the Las Vegas Sun against the owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Sun and the RJ have been in an federally sanctioned agreement for 30 years that allows them carte blanche to violate antitrust laws. Yet after three decades of enjoying these benefits, the Sun now claims the RJ is–wait for it–violating antitrust laws.

This is rich. Continue reading

Battling Las Vegas newspaper scorpions sink 11% in one year

Las Vegas newspaper scorpionsUpdated on September 29, 2019. See end of post.

Amid a continuing lawsuit over–what else?–money, the two daily newspapers in Las Vegas, which are distributed together, saw their average print circulation drop a staggering one-ninth in just one year.

The bad news was buried in tiny type in an obscure legal notice replete with typos (see update below) at the bottom of page 10-F in yesterday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal. The paper is owned by conservative Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. It is in a 50-year joint operating agreement with the Las Vegas Sun, which is owned by the more liberal Greenspun family and published as a separate section inserted in the RJ. The RJ handles all advertising, circulation and printing, as well as its own editorial project.

According to the notice, which is also submitted to the U.S. Postal Service under oath, the total average paid print circulation for the previous 12 months was 69,081. The year-earlier figure, published just as obscurely in the paper on September 23, 2018, was 77,826. Do the math, and that works out to a 11.24% drop–more than one-ninth. Because the 69,081 is a 12-month average of daily and Sunday, the current average print circulation for, say, last week, was probably even lower by several thousand.

In predicting this continuing circulation drop several weeks ago, I likened the situation to two scorpions fighting in a sinking bottle; the victor eventually will die, too. Nothing in the new numbers alters my view in the slightest. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas aloha to union money allegedly stolen in Hawaii

Brian Ahakuelo

Hawaiians call Las Vegas their “ninth island” because they love to visit, gamble and, thanks to the lower cost of living, even live here. By one account, every year 10% of all Hawaiians make the 5,550-mile roundtrip to Vegas, many traveling several times a year. Dozens of Hawaiian high school class reunions are held annually in Sin City. The California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas caters mightily to this offshore market with Hawaiian signage and cuisine. As someone New To Las Vegas, I run into native Hawaiians around town all the time.

Among those frequent visitors has been the family of Brian Ahakuelo, a once-prominent union leader on the islands. However, there may be a problem with some of the travels. If a recent 70-count federal indictment in Honolulu is to be believed along with an earlier union investigation, some of the trips were financed with money stolen from his union.

Ahakuelo, 58, wife Marilyn Ahakuelo, 55, and sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion, 52, all have pleaded not guilty to all the charges, the result of a three-year federal probe. Their lawyer promises a vigorous defense. The allegations include embezzlement, wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Some of the criminal charges carry prison sentences of up to 20 years.

That makes Ahakuelo and his wife the newest candidates for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It’s a roster of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Vegas. It’s my rebuttal to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famously cheeky marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. The list can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

Las Vegas Sun versus Las Vegas Review-Journal: Two scorpions battle in a sinking bottle

Readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal opened their paper a week ago on August 30 to see this prominent headline in the lead upper-right corner of the front page: “Why we want to stop printing the Sun.”

The daily RJ is owned by casino tycoon and conservative Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas Sun, distributed as a skinny one-section ad-free insert in the RJ, has been owned since its founding in 1950 by the more liberal Greenspun family. Its founding patriarch, Hank Greenspun, had been a publicist for a mob-run casino as well as a convicted gunrunner (later pardoned by President John F. Kennedy). Since 1989 the papers have been in a joint operation agreement, sanctioned by a federal law that allows immunity from antitrust laws so long as one paper was in danger of failing (here, the Sun) and editorial operations remain independent. The Las Vegas JOA is scheduled to run until 2040.

The editorial–that’s what it was labeled–asserted that what was called the Sun‘s failure to produce a “high-quality metropolitan print newspaper” breached the JOA agreement, entitling the RJ to end the agreement. “The Sun would be free to have someone else print, sell and distribute their newspaper, if they wish,” the editorial asserted. That’s a facetious contention in my judgment since dissolution of a JOA almost always results in the demise of the weaker product, which the Sun surely is. In the past 40 years, all but five of the 30 or so JOAs around the country have collapsed, leaving a single paper in each remaining. And generally those survivors today are in worse shape than ever before.

A JOA is best understood as a stay of execution for the ailing partner. Or, using in this situation a Darwinian example, in a battle between two scorpions in a bottle, only one will survive–assuming the bottle doesn’t sink in water and also kill the victor. Continue reading

Now it’s Las Vegas grasshoppers getting ridiculous media attention

About a year ago, the folks around Winnemucca, a city of 7,400 in northern Nevada near the Oregon line, had an invasion of Mormon crickets. The ugly creatures were swarming everywhere, coating structures and yuckily eating their brethren run over by cars. For a couple weeks, a big mess all around.

Don’t remember reading about what I might call the Winnemucca Wipeout? Then you should ponder why the entire world is hearing about the Grasshopper Grossout now winding down in Las Vegas. I have a theory about this.

My Google search for material containing the words “grasshoppers” and “Las Vegas” just returned nearly 3 million hits. My Google search for “Mormon crickets” and “Winnemucca:” only about 1,000.

The video nearby–with spooky music and a grasshopper closeup resembling Godzilla proportions–was put online by The Hindu. That’s the second-largest English language newspaper in far-away India (with a circulation five times greater than all Nevada dailies combined). There are scores of breathless other clips posted by foreign media outlets, all with horror-movie-like images. Continue reading