Las Vegas hospital co-founded by casino skim mobster loses appeal of big Medicare overbilling claim

casino skim

Hospital co-founder

A premier Las Vegas hospital co-founded by a mobster who helped run the infamous casino skim to avoid federal taxes has essentially lost its initial appeal of audit findings it overbilled Medicare by nearly $20 million in just a two-year period.

“The appeal decision is unfavorable,” an independent review contractor for the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote bluntly on the first page of the 83-page decision on the plea by Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center. Plus this stinger near the end: Sunrise “either knew or could reasonably be expected to know that the item or service would not be covered.” The decision lowered the total overpayment that Sunrise is on the hook for from $23.6 million in the original audit to $19.7 million. But it further said Sunrise couldn’t hit up the patients for any of the disallowed overbilled amount.

Even at $19.7 million, the overbilling amounted to 8% of the $245 million amount Sunrise billed the feds for Medicare in the audit period, 2017 to 2018. This is serious coin.

But it’s a fraction of the estimated 75% rake-off at the height of the casino skim starting in the 1940s, by which organized crime with hidden interests grabbed casino house winnings before counting profits, committing massive tax evasion. One of the leading figures in that endeavor was Morris Barney “Moe” Dalitz (1899-1989), an organized crime character who moved from the Midwest to Las Vegas in the 1940s. He eventually got control of several long-gone hotbeds of the skim, including Wilbur Clarke’s Desert Inn and the Stardust Resort and Casino. (The Stardust became a model for the mob-skimming casino in the 1998 movie Casino, starring Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone.) Dalitz’s life is the subject of a 2009 biography by Michael Newton whose title says it all: Mr. Mob: The Life and Crimes of Moe Dalitz.

In 1958, Dalitz was one of three co-founders of Sunrise Hospital, just a mile east of the Las Vegas Strip on East Desert Inn Rd. Neither his name nor his key role in starting the hospital comes up in a search of the facility’s extensive website. Originally a nonprofit, Sunrise is now owned by HCA Healthcare, the giant for-profit national health care provider with a long history of overbilling problems. Continue reading

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What the second victim of Robert Durst says about Las Vegas

Robert Durst

Susan Berman’s paean to the Las Vegas mob

Outside the world of journalism, for which he became great copy, I suspect few will mourn the prison death yesterday of three-time killer Robert Durst, 78. He’s the real estate scion who (1) in 1982 after a fight made his wife disappear in the New York City suburbs, (2) in 2000 killed a good friend in Los Angeles who probably helped him avoid justice in the case of his wife, whose body never has been found, and (3) in 2001 shot and dismembered a nosy neighbor in Texas who might have been about to tell authorities where he was hiding out. The amazing 2015 HBO documentary miniseries “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” sussed this out with stunning details, including Durst’s tape-recorded confession to all three killings.

I’m here to focus on the good friend he killed in Los Angeles, whom he was finally convicted last year of murdering after a televised trial. Her name was Susan Berman, 55 at the time of her death. As an adult she worked on both coasts as a journalist, author and wannabe Hollywood scriptwriter and producer. But she spent a part of her youth in Las Vegas, as the only child of an extremely, uh, influential person.

Her life and death say something about Las Vegas–then and now. Continue reading

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New year in Las Vegas brings new candidate for America’s Stupidest Charities

America's Stupidest Charities

From the Back Blue Lives PAC homepage on the Web.

Last week–fresh from New Year’s Day 2022–my would-be buddy “John” called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. In a voice bristling with emotion and even anger he beseeched me to give money to Back Blue Lives PAC. That’s an Alexandria, Va.-based outfit he said supported law enforcement. A PAC–the letters stand for political action committee–is supposed to then make contributions to favored candidates for public office.

This was not my first encounter with “John.” He called way back in October with the same emotive plea for Back Blue Lives PAC. Not only did I decline his pitch then, I did some research. This revealed a few shortcomings about his organization, which seems to be counting on conservative law-and-order resentment to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Like the fact its federal financial filings show it never has made a single political donation to anyone. Like the fact it spent almost all the money raised in fundraising expense and overhead, leaving little behind for a political war chest supporting The Thin Blue Line. Like the fact that it had not complied with a new Nevada law requiring fundraisers for law-enforcement causes to first register with and make public filings to the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office.

I wrote this all up back then in a post you can read by clicking here. I labeled Back Blue Lives PAC a “faux charity.” That’s my label for a PAC that sounds charitable but isn’t, sporting dreadful financial efficiencies with almost no donations from the solicited public going to the stated mission. Also, such donations are not tax-deductible by the donor.

Yet there was “John” back on the phone to me again making, as near as I can remember, the exact same ask! (I use quotes because “John” isn’t a real person, but a computer-created voice monitored by a real but hidden human using what is known as soundboard technology.)

This is so twisted I’m nominating Back Blue Lives PAC for my long-running list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is scandalously simple: a nonprofit or exempt organization calling me asking for money despite a previous critical article by me about the very same organization. Seriously, folks, how can it get dumber than that in the world of fundraising? Elsewhere on this page you can review the entire list with links to their sad backstories. Continue reading

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Las Vegas predictions for 2022

Las Vegas predictions

Trump International Hotel Las Vegas (via Wikipedia)

This being the end of December, lists of predictions for the new year are all the rage. For the first time since becoming New To Las Vegas, I’m joining in. But mine are confined to the general region. And the calls I make generally shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

Herewith, my Las Vegas predictions for 2022:

–Donald J. Trump changes the one-line signage at the top of his half-owned Trump International Hotel Las Vegas–the state’s tallest non-casino building–from “TRUMP” to “TRUMP WON.”

–The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority starts giving every tourist getting off a plane here a free COVID-19 test kit, while unveiling a new marketing slogan: “What tests here, stays here.” Continue reading

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What’s buried here, stays here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 2)

famous Las Vegas graves

Tony Curtis memorial, Palm Eastern Cemetery, Las Vegas

Here’s Part 2 of my journey to the few famous graves of Las Vegas, and the back stories of how they came to be here. As I wrote in Part 1, for such a large and prominent place, the Las Vegas area is the eternal home of a surprisingly meager number of well-known individuals.

I attributed that to the city’s relative youth–barely a century old. To die, you first have to live. A commenter to Part 1, my long-ago Dallas Times Herald colleague Mary Don, further pointed out that the population of Las Vegas only began to explode after home air conditioning made possible Mojave Desert living in great numbers.

Part 1 described the journey to their final resting spots hereabouts of three celebrated athletes. They are heavyweight boxing champ Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher (it would be a stretch to call him a star, but everyone knew his name) Bo Belinksy, and once-dominant tennis competitor Pancho Gonzales.

From the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, I repeat again my belief that Vegas has a fatal attraction for a certain kind of celebrity. So today I tell the stories of two prominent performers. This is part of an occasional series. Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, Nevada governor’s vocal critic is cleared of all charges

Nevada governor's vocal critic

Court record showing dismissal order, State of Nevada v Steve Feeder, November 2, 2021

Exactly a year ago this week, I wrote in this space about how Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford had invoked a 109-year-old state law to criminally charge Steve Feeder of Las Vegas with publishing strong language on social media about the AG’s Democratic ally, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. Feeder had criticized Sisolak’s early business-shutting handling of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The defendant used language like, “The TYRANT has declared WAR on the people and like Hong Kong protestors we need to arm ourselves and form a militia and fight back.”

Originally, there were three charges brought by Ford’s office against Feeder. But before I wrote about the case, Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Karen Bennett-Haron had dismissed two of them–interfering with a public official and provoking commission of a breach of the peace. That left only the publishing charge, a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in county jail and a $2,000 fine. In June 2021 Ford’s office filed a new complaint against Feeder with just the one remaining charge.

I thought it was a weak case, due to First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and something called the Overbreadth Doctrine. That’s a line of U.S. Supreme Court cases holding that someone being prosecuted for speech can win if the specific law criminalizes protected speech as well as unprotected speech (i.e., inciting violence), even if the defendant only uttered unprotected speech. The now-110-year-old law, Nevada Revised Statutes 203.040, criminalized speech that, among other things, might “advocate disrespect for the law or for any court or courts of justice.” This is obviously protected speech, judging from harsh comments we read every day made by, say, pro choice advocates and former President Donald J. Trump for different reasons about the U.S. Supreme Court.

Well, as it turned out, the Feeder matter was a pretty weak case. At a brief hearing on November 2, District Judge Christy Craig dismissed the remaining incendiary-publishing charge without a trial. So Feeder, 61, stands completely exonerated. Continue reading

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Holiday gift to Las Vegas courtesy of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy

Holiday gift to Las Vegas

Lobby door, USPS East Las Vegas Station, December 16, 2021

“Sorry, no stamps!”

Nine days before Christmas, this cheerful holiday message courtesy of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy greeted customers today at the USPS East Las Vegas Station, 4948 S. Mountain Vista St., Las Vegas, NV 89121. This important branch on the Latino side of town is not far from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters.

There was no immediate word on whether the exuberant exclamation point on the sign was per policy from USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

DeJoy, who took office during the Trump administration, has managed to hang on despite problem after problem. He has touted his managerial, logistical and supply-chain expertise.

Marketing, customer service and public relations skills, not so much.

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

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What’s buried here, stays here: the few famous Las Vegas graves (Part 1)

famous Las Vegas graves

Sonny Liston memorial, Davis Memorial Park, Las Vegas

Las Vegas has been home to a lot of famous–and infamous–people. But for a place so large, prominent and buzzy, what it isn’t is the final resting place for very many household names. Reasonable folks can differ, but I count eternal homes in the Las Vegas Valley for no more than a score of persons whose fame might be said to be persistent and widespread. And that includes folks associated with Vegas’s storied organized-crime history.

One reason for this might be Las Vegas’s relative youth as a major outpost of civilization. The area’s population in 1900 was just 18 in 1900 (and you can see all their names on a single enumeration page of the U.S. Census by clicking here). Founded in 1905, Las Vegas became the largest U.S. city created in the 20th century. But as late as 1950, the metro area’s population was still under 50,000. It’s 2.3 million now. But people need time to die and be laid to perpetual rest.

Still, it might be safely said that Vegas has a fatal attraction for a certain kind of celebrity. So I have stories to tell. This is the first of an occasional series. Continue reading

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New leaders of Las Vegas fallen-cop charity vow more transparency and efficiency

Las Vegas fallen-cop charityThe new leadership of Las Vegas’s Injured Police Officers Fund say it will strive for more transparency and less overhead at a charity that long has shrouded its operations in ways that allowed rumors of inefficiency and unfairness to fester.

President Chelsea Stuenkel and Vice President Jesse Kommel-Bernstein told me in a recent joint interview that they’ve been educated by past NewToLasVegas.com stories about IPOF. Among other points, the stories noted that according to its public tax returns, IPOF over the past two decades on average has spent nearly twice as much on overhead as it has in official grants to fallen officers. In some years accounting expense alone exceeded grants, even though the IPOF apparently never has even produced an audited financial statement.

The pair said they would consider posting on its website the IPOF’s annual tax return, a public record that federal rules recommend but don’t mandate be so displayed, as well as the nonprofit’s by-laws, which would help explain the process for handing out grants in respect of fallen officers. Some social media posts from several years ago but still online have criticized the process as unfair, secretive and infected by favoritism. Before 2018, the annual IPOF tax return stated flatly–and by federal law falsely–the return was “not made available to the public.” Hey, I got them simply by asking! Continue reading

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Las Vegas Review-Journal circulation plummets 19% in one year

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is Nevada’s dominant daily newspaper. But its circulation is sinking even faster than the approval rating of President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is regularly disparaged on the paper’s conservative editorial page.

According to its own published numbers, the RJ‘s average paid print-and-digital daily circulation fell in the one-year period to late August by 19%, from 82,369 during the year earlier period to 66,525. In 2015, when the family of now-deceased billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson bought the paper, its circulation, all print, was a reported 232,372.  So that works out to a 71% circulation drop–nearly three-quarters, and most of it before COVID-19, which surely hasn’t helped–in just six years, despite bargain-basement subscription offers.

If you’re thinking, so what, almost all newspapers are faltering, that sadly is a fair view. But nationally, newspaper circulation since 2015 has dropped less than 50%. And the Las Vegas market population has gone up 12% over that period, compared with only a 4% rise nationally. Everyone is dealing with the economic fallout from the pandemic. So the RJ is really under-performing. Now that takes a special skill. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Texas regulators allege ‘illegal gambling scheme’ in Las Vegas

'illegal gambling scheme' in Las VegasThe Texas State Securities Board yesterday issued an emergency cease-and-desist order against a Las Vegas operation. The claim: It allegedly solicited Houston residents via social media for $10,000 investments by touting eye-popping returns from backing skilled but anonymous gamblers in Sin City casinos.

Texas Securities Commissioner Travis J. Iles said that Christopher Dino Paganelli, Paganelli Enterprises LLC and the public-facing investment vehicle AP Hedge (the AP apparently stands for “advanced player”) told investors there would be an average return of $1,000 per day, or $30,000 a month, on that $10,000 investment. The regulator in his order said the pitch was fraudulent and deceptive, failed to disclose material information, and amounted to an offering of unregistered securities in Texas. The order demanded that the parties stop dealing with Texans.

According to an official press release, which called the operation an “illegal gambling scheme,” Paganelli has 30 days under Texas law to challenge the order. I sent a request for comment to an email address listed on the AP Hedge website, which at this writing is still functioning. I helpfully attached a copy of the emergency order. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

The order specifies no total dollar amount that investors forked over, making me think this scheme may have been nipped in the bud. Also, according to Nevada state records, Paganelli Enterprises LLC only filed as a Nevada business entity on August 8, less than three months ago. And according to Internet domain records, the website APHedge.org was registered only on September 8, less than two months ago.

Plus this: Are there really that many foolhardy Houstonians out there who would believe claims of a 3,500% annualized return? Prior to becoming New To Las Vegas, I lived in Houston for seven years and did not find the population to be quite that financially un-astute.

At this point, nothing alleged has been proved. But the issuance of the emergency C&D is more than enough to make Paganelli a candidate for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It’s a roster of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. The list, which can be found elsewhere on this page, is a partial rebuttal to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan pushed by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. In fact, the slogan is so famous that the subject line of the email with the Texas press release is: “What Happens in Las Vegas Stays in Las Vegas … Unless It’s a Fraudulent Gambling Investment Scheme Targeting Texans.” Continue reading

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Mission of yet another unregistered ‘faux charity’ trolling in Las Vegas: women cops

faux charityOn October 1, a new Nevada law took effect requiring, among other things, that political action committees soliciting contributions in the state for the “benefit of law enforcement, firefighting or other public safety personnel” first register and file a financial statement or face penalties. Since then, judging from calls to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, the number of “faux charities” thumbing their noses at the state’s main missing-in-action regulators, the Secretary of State’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office, has exploded. A faux charity–my term–sounds like a charity but isn’t and spends most of the money raised in fundraising expense rather than on the stated mission.

The latest example was a call I received earlier this week from “Emma” seeking a contribution for what she called Americans for Female Officers, based in Washington, D.C. I use quote marks because “Emma” wasn’t a real person but a computer-generated voice using what is known as soundboard technology. Our conservation ended shortly after I asked if the cause–whose website, started less than six months ago, has a nifty logo of a female officer wrapped in a red-white-and-blue-flag–had registered with Nevada.

I’ll keep this one short. Americans for Female Officers is a name used by a political action committee, United Women’s Health Alliance PAC. Neither Americans for Female Officers nor UWHC PAC is listed as registered on online sites maintained by the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. As I wrote here recently, according to its filings with the Federal Election Commission, from its founding in August 2020 to June 30, 2021, UWHA PAC, which also solicits in Nevada using the name Ovarian Cancer Awareness Initiative PAC (also unregistered), received a total of about $825,000 in contributions, but spent $650,000 in fundraising expense. That’s a fundraising efficiency–the percent of donations remaining after subtracting the cost of generating them–of just 21%. Put another way, of every dollar given to UWHA PAC, 79 cents went straight out of door for fundraising. UWHA PAC also made absolutely no political contributions.

How many would-be donors would find this satisfactory?

I sent an email through the Americans for Female Officers/United Women’s Health Alliance PAC website seeking comment on these issues. I’ll update this post if I hear anything back. However, based on my long experience the chances of that happening is roughly the same as Sean Hannity endorsing Joe Biden.

In a state with an economy based on gambling, I’d say UWHA PAC is betting on the sad track record of Nevada’s two charitable regulators. Historically, this has been a good bet for sketchy fundraisers. Like “Emma.”

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

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Ignoring new law, unregistered ‘faux charities’ keep soliciting in Las Vegas

faux charitiesThe telephone cold-caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters identified himself as “John.” He solicited a donation for Back Blue Lives PAC, which he described as a political action committee based in Alexandria, Va., supporting law enforcement.

“Our police officers are being defunded, demoralized and disrespected,” “John” sermonized in an impassioned pitch that sounded very much like it was coming from a charity rather than a political operative. “They put their lives on the line very day without support of many politicians … It’s time to say enough is enough. Can you help protect our police officers’ lives and rights?”

“John” was not a real person but a computer-generated voice using what is known as soundboard technology. That’s why I’m enclosing his name in quotation marks.

When I said I’d consider a contribution, “John” immediately professed his gratitude and switched me to “Mary,” another fake voice, so she could record details, like my name and address, to legally threaten me in the event I committed to a pledge and didn’t pay up. I told “Mary” that a new law in Nevada seemed to require any organization soliciting money for a law-enforcement cause to first register with the state and file a financial statement. I asked if Back Blue Lives PAC was so registered.

“That is a really great question,” Mary replied. “Let me get my supervisor.”

Her supervisor–a real person for once, but probably the person controlling the soundboard voices–came on the line. I repeated my question asking about a Nevada registration. “Okay,” she said.

Then–click. She hung up.

This is yet another example of what I call a “faux charity.” That’sa cause whose pitch on the phone sounds like it is raising money for a meritorious cause like fighting an illness or supporting law enforcement but is just a PAC spending almost all the receipts on fundraising and overhead, with organizers likely getting something on the side.

For some reason, I don’t think Back Blue Lives PAC is registered to solicit in Nevada, especially since the organization did not come up in the Nevada Secretary of State’s online PAC search or business entity search databases. And for some reason, I don’t think that Nevada regulators are going to do much about it.

Continue reading

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Will new law slow ‘faux charity’ pitches in Las Vegas and Nevada?

faux charity pitches in Las VegasSee update at end of story

A new Nevada law that took effect on October 1 might cut down on or even eliminate the large number of “faux charity” cold-calling money solicitations made in the Silver Silver. I say “might” because Nevada regulators don’t have the greatest track record of protecting the donating public by policing dodgy charitable appeals or, as I will point out again, even enforcing existing law in this area.

Regular visitors to this space are quite aware of what I mean by a faux charity. It is a cause whose pitch on the phone sounds like it is raising money for a meritorious cause like fighting an illness or supporting law enforcement. But in fact it’s a political action committee–often conveniently omitting the letters PAC when making the telephone pitch–run by shadowy folks that take in donations very little of which are then spent for campaign contributions, which isn’t a charitable purpose, either. Almost all the donations go to fundraising and overhead, with the organizers raking off undisclosed sums.

Previous Nevada law required most charitable organizations soliciting federally tax-deductible contributions in Nevada to register with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office and make some disclosures. But contributions to PACs by law aren’t tax-deductible, so faux charity PACs didn’t fall under the charitable solicitation laws of Nevada–a giant loophole.

Nationally, most PACs are required to make publicly available disclosures to federal agencies, but they can be hard to find and analyze. Nevada has laws requiring state registration of certain PACs doing business in the state. But I have yet to see a Nevada registration of a faux charity PAC calling me, most of which list addresses in Washington, D.C., and other far-away places. Continue reading

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Forbes 400 roster in Las Vegas falls to two

Forbes 400 roster in Las Vegas When I became New To Las Vegas five years ago, the annual Forbes 400 list of America’s richest folks contained nine individuals from the Sin City area. As it turned out, that was something of a peak year for the local count, as the basis for much of the vast wealth around Las Vegas–casinos, entertainment, hospitality, that kind of stuff–couldn’t keep up with fortunes being generated by big finance and technology brains elsewhere. Astonishingly, there now are more billionaires in the U.S. not on the Forbes list than on it.

The 40th edition of the Forbes 400 was just published. The Las Vegas Rich List contingent is now down to two. Continue reading

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Las Vegas COVID-19 per-capita death rate still double that of U.S.

Las Vegas COVID-19 per-capita death rateWith 0.7% of the national population, Clark County, Nevada (home to Las Vegas and the New to Las Vegas world headquarters) had 1.4% of all the COVID-19 deaths in the country yesterday (29 of 2,026). That’s still double the national per-capita death rate.

In one respect this is good news. During the summer, the per-capita death rate in Clark County/Las Vegas was more than 10 times the national rate. But the local bump in my view is still too high for a place utterly dependent on tourism.

A story right now on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website cites the 29 local deaths, but doesn’t mention how bad that is compared to the entire nation. For some reason, aside from this space, this comparison is rarely mentioned in the Las Vegas media, and, of course, not by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the main local cheerleader for tourism.

Visitors, still be aware.

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

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Faux cancer charity pitches Las Vegas with variation on a theme

Faux cancer charity pitches Las VegasThe cheery female voice–I didn’t get her name–recently cold-calling the New To Las Vegas world headquarters was seeking a donation for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Initiative. This is yet another cancer cause I hadn’t heard of–there are thousands of them out there. Unfortunately, in my long experience the ones calling out of the blue often are up to little good.

I asked where the organization was headquartered. “Washington, D.C.” she quickly replied. Okay, I said, how old is the organization?

There was a pause. A long pause. Then, “I can’t answer that type of question.” She hung up even before I got a chance to ask for her name. Gee, it’s not like I was inquiring how to deal with the Taliban.

Maybe she didn’t want to tell me that the Initiative was likely less than seven months old, judging from the registration date of its website (March 3, 2021) that I quickly looked up. Or maybe it was that she really didn’t exist as a person, but was just a computer-generated voice controlled by a real human somewhere using what is known as soundboard technology. Such callers are known to cut and run at the first suggestion of donor difficulty.

Whatever the reason, after a few more minutes of Internet research I realized a few more things: (1) Despite its call-to-action name, the Initiative wasn’t a charity, but simply a political action committee, or PAC, whose stated mission is to make political contributions; (2) United Women’s Health Alliance PAC, the parent organization controlling the Initiative and which also solicits under other names, during its entire life has spent nearly 80% of all the contributions received in fundraising expense, something would-be donors might be very unhappy to learn, (3) no money–not even one dime–ever has ever spent in political contributions. Talk about cheap!

Plus (4), this was the fourth call I’ve gotten in less than a year from UWHA PAC causes. Two came on the very same day in June on behalf of something called U.S. Breast Cancer and Women’s Health Initiative PAC. You can read about those calls by clicking here and the earlier one by clicking here. So I am adding the Ovarian Cancer Awareness Initiative as a candidate for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is simple: exempt organizations that call me asking for money despite a previous critical post by me about the organization. UWHA PAC and the Breast Cancer and Women’s Health Initiatives PAC already are candidates. You can view the entire list elsewhere on this page.

I call these outfits a faux charity because they sound like charities in making their pitches but really aren’t. Rather, it’s all simply a variation on a theme. The founder/treasurer of UWHA PAC, Audrey Stephanie Mastroianni, has a rather iffy past on the charitable front, as I have detailed before and will briefly summarize again below. Continue reading

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From Las Vegas: World history is fatal flaw in Trump’s voting fraud claim

fatal flaw in Trump's voting fraud claim

Donald J. Trump (courtesy donaldjtrump.com)

Every single court that has weighed in–more than 50 at last count, including the Nevada Supreme Court covering where I live and the U.S. Supreme Court covering where we all live–has rejected claims on behalf of Donald J. Trump that he lost his 2020 presidential re-election bid due to massive voter fraud. The main reason for the goose eggs across the board–perhaps the most singularly unsuccessful legal effort in the entirety of U.S. history–is, of course, that no one produced probative evidence supporting his fraud charges. (Having Rudy Giuliani with his hair dye problems as a lead lawyer probably didn’t help, either.)

Yet according to a poll last month by Yahoo News/YouGov, two-thirds of all Republicans continue to believe that “the election was rigged and stolen from Trump.” A CNN poll last week put the number even higher: 78%. The incumbent got 74 million votes, presumably mostly from Republicans. So that is a lot of doubters, even if not very many of them showed up at Saturday’s “Justice for J6” rally in Washington, D.C. From Trump’s perspective the Big Lie clearly has worked.

OK. Sitting in the comfort of the New to Las Vegas world headquarters, I am going to come at this from another angle. The hell with the lack of what lawyers like to call admissible evidence. I’m looking at history. World history. Going back into the 1980s.

Examining nearly 35 disputed-after-the-fact national elections on five continents, I can’t find a single credible example of widespread voter fraud affecting the outcome where the fraud was committed by the party out of power. Trump and his Republicans in 2020, of course, controlled the extensive executive machinery of the U.S. Federal Government. More to the point, I can find only one other good example of an incumbent national leader making a big election fraud allegation. That was Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after Romano Prodi ousted him in 2006. And Berlusconi, who like Trump carries significant personal baggage, produced no proof of the claimed fraud.

There is a very logical explanation for this pattern. The party in power trying to hang on usually has the money, the courts, the prosecutors, the control of the election machinery, the police, the military, the guns, the teargas, the mace, the jails. The muscle. The party out of power generally has none of this. It’s really just that simple. (I am excluding from my universe any scrutiny of provincial, regional or local elections, where out-of-power parties not facing overwhelming incumbent resources sometimes have swindled their way to victory.)

Now Trump has loooooong experience as a promoter/propagandist–decades of making boastfully false claims about his business career and economic endeavors, which aside from a handful of properties have mainly faltered or even failed. I would submit it is this expertise he has developed peddling flawed products that has enabled him to sell his narrative of a stolen election to so many folks despite a lack of proof and, I would suggest, requiring that logic be suspended.

Trump, who has said he doesn’t read books, is clearly no student of history. He suggested Canada burned the White House in 1814 (it was England), Andrew Jackson was upset about the Civil War (he died 15 years earlier), and Frederick Douglass is still doing good work for blacks despite his death in 1895. On the world front, Trump said North Korea was once part of China (it never was) and that President Clinton negotiated a bad deal with current North Korea leader Kim Jung Un, who didn’t come to power until a decade after Clinton left office.

Much of the public does read books, but folks may not have a full understanding of recent global history. So let’s do some time-traveling around the world. Continue reading

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At the Las Vegas sentencing of the killer whose victim I found

killer whose victim I found

Jarrid Johnson in 2018 (courtesy Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.)

I have been writing in this space about the case of Jarrid Johnson since his arrest for murdering a homeless man whose body I discovered while walking the dog near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters before sunrise on 2018’s shortest day. I’m certainly not condoning murder, and this one was especially senseless and gory. But the more I learn, the more I realize Johnson was in some ways a victim of circumstances not unlike the man he killed, Ralph Franzello. Indeed, the Johnson case has revealed a number of tough truths about Las Vegas.

My latest lessons learned came yesterday, when I attended Johnson’s 13-minute sentencing at the Regional Justice Center in downtown Las Vegas. In an earlier plea-bargain deal, Johnson, now 28, had pleaded guilty but mentally ill–a uniquely Nevada formulation–to second degree murder with a deadly weapon. Appearing on a Zoom-like feed from the county jail projected onto several large screens, some of his hair in what looked like a ponytail, he apologized to the Franzello family. “I wasn’t in my right mind,” Johnson said in a soft Southern accent as his father and a sibling watched stoically sitting in the 14th-floor courtroom near me.

Johnson then learned his fate from District Judge Michelle Leavitt: 10 years to life on the murder charge, and an additional eight-to-20-year “enhancement” for using a deadly weapon–the knife he grabbed from the much-older Franzello, 63, and used to gut his body and drink his blood. I think that basically works out to a minimum 18-year sentence, minus the nearly three years Johnson has been jailed since his arrest. He’ll likely be in his 40s when he gets out. Johnson is supposed to get continued mental health treatment while incarcerated, but good luck on that long term in minimal government Nevada.

In previous posts, I described how Johnson had been arrested a week before the Franzello killing on a separate charge of battery upon a relative–two years ago, I speculated an uncle–with a sword. To me, assaulting a relative with a sword is a clear sign of mental illness warranting further treatment and monitoring and definitely not a quick release. But instead, Johnson was ordered free dby another judge, Karen P. Bennett-Haron, without appearing in court and without bail. Maybe 36 hours later, after meandering around east Las Vegas, he had his fatal encounter in the middle of the night with Franzello. The victim, who became homeless after moving to Las Vegas a quarter-century ago with some disability income, had been living on the streets of Las Vegas for awhile, just trying to get by. Early on the morning of December 21, 2018–the first day of winter–he was simply catching some shut-eye behind a supermarket whose employees knew him as a customer.

The day before the sentencing, Johnson’s lawyer, deputy public defender Anna Clark, publicly filed a sentencing memo with the court laying out her view of the facts and attaching a psychiatrist’s report and letters from friends and family. In open court yesterday, prosecutors said they had no problem with the package, which Clark, who unlike the prosecutors appeared in person, summarized for a few minutes to the judge. So I’m going to take the stated facts and conclusions in the presentation as more or less true.

Boy, did I learn a lot! Continue reading

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COVID-19 pandemic still hits Las Vegas worse that U.S.–just like 1918 Spanish flu

pandemic still hits Las Vegas

Las Vegas newspaper headline, 1918

On this Labor Day, I know I’ll sound like a broken record. But Las Vegas as a whole in my view still isn’t taking the COVID-19 pandemic as seriously as it should. For me, the evidence–besides all the unmasked folks I see walking around and crowding one another–is in the data. It’s compelling–and yet nothing new.

The population of the United States is 331.5 million. By the latest count, 648,000 have died from COVID-19. That’s one death for every 512 residents.The population of Clark County, home to Las Vegas, is 2.35 million. According to official statistics, 5,265 have died of the illness. That’s one death for every 446 residents.

A lower ratio means things are worse. So the per-capita death rate in Las Vegas is 13% worse than the national rate. Back in March, when I wrote about this, the Las Vegas rate was 7% worse than the national rate. So the trend here is definitely moving in a bad direction.

Clark County has 0.7% of the national population. But there have been some days where the county (the official definition of the Las Vegas metro area) has accounted for nearly 8% of the total deaths nationally. That’s upwards of 10 times the national per-capita rate. Also not good.

Nationally, 53.6% of all people eligible to get a shot have been fully vaccinated. But the figure here in Clark County is only 45.1%. That’s 16% worse, in a place where, after a bumpy rollout, the free vaccine is widely available, often with no appointment needed and no wait. By my count, there are at least eight places to get vaccinated just within a two-mile radius of the New To Las Vegas world headquarters.

About the best I can say for the local performance during the current pandemic is that it’s the same old story. You see, Las Vegas also did significantly worse–actually much worse–that the country during the famous Spanish Flu epidemic starting more than a century ago in 1918. Continue reading

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