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

Poorly rated child illness charity is back trolling in Las Vegas

In April, when I was called at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters by the Childhood Leukemia Foundation of Brick, N.J., the name of the caller asking for money was Grace Miller. When I was called again earlier this month, the name of the caller was Mary Thomas.

Both times, it was the same m.o., down to the interactive computer-generated voice that was not totally responsive to my comments and, frankly, seemed a little off. First Grace and then Mary asked me to pledge a sum of money in advance of sending me any literature. When I politely asked Mary for the organization’s tax identification number–a standard piece of public information–she hung up without so much as a goodbye. Grace gave up on me the same way: a rude click.

However, Mary had called me after I had written up the pitch from Grace along with the sad financial efficiencies of CLF. So I am now nominating the nonprofit to my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The qualifications are simple: nonprofits that call me asking for money despite being the subject of a previous critical post by me. In the nonprofit world, can it really get any dumber than that? The list of other nominees can be found elsewhere on this page.

Since my April encounter with Grace, CLF has produced another year of financial filings for me to chew on. Things have gotten worse, at least if you’re not the charitable fundraiser. By the CLF’s own accounting, the charity spent 79% of the money donated on fundraising costs (up from 75%), about five times more than the amount spent on, say, fighting childhood leukemia. According to the filings, just 16% of total expenses went to the stated mission (down from 21%). Continue reading

Las Vegas hearse in HOV lane with dead body gets insane media pickup

Las Vegas hearse in HOV laneHere’s more proof the famous Las Vegas marketing phrase “What Happens Here, Stays Here” is a bald-faced lie. News, first broken two days ago by local media, that the Nevada Highway Patrol stopped a hearse riding in a two-person-minimum high occupancy vehicle lane with a live driver and a dead body has received insane publicity elsewhere.

By my review of the Internet, scores of media outlets outside of Las Vegas and indeed Nevada have picked up on the story that the hearse driver claimed he thought he was in compliance with the law because there was a second passenger, albeit not alive. The range is immense and varied.

Some examples: CNN, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Vosizneias,com (an orthodox Jewish news site in New York City), Los Angeles Times, Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, Michigan’s Iosco County News-Herald, and TV stations in Portland, Ore., Lafayette, La., New Haven, Conn., Tampa, Fla., and Harrisburg, Pa. (which classified it under the subheading “Weird”). Many outlets used an Associated Press account.

Drivers caught trying to get around carpool lane rules by using inflatable dummies, rolled-up blankets or even pets are news-media staples. But you’d almost think from all this attention that no one has ever been caught using a dead body to avoid HOV rules. You’d also be wrong. In 1990, the Los Angeles Times reported on such a case, also involving a hearse, that was later cited by Reader’s Digest.

So as someone New To Seattle, I think the main reason this story is getting all this pickup is that it happened in Las Vegas. It’s the town that openly promotes itself as the place where anything goes. So really stupid stuff gets magnified.

Do you really think such an incident would get this kind of wide coverage if it happened in Milwaukee, Philadelphia or Houston? In those places, what happens there truly often does stay there.

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

It Didn’t Stay Here: New Haven embezzlement, then Las Vegas spending

It Didn't Stay Here

Thomas Malone (via LinkedIn)

Thomas Malone of New Haven, Conn. just started serving a two-year federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to embezzling a tad over $1 million from a biotech company there he co-founded and was chief financial officer of. If you are a regular visitor to this space, you probably know already where this post is going.

Yep, he took some of the stolen loot and spent it in Las Vegas, on hotel rooms and who knows what else. Perhaps he was hoping to win back the funds and replace what he had taken. Or maybe he just wanted to have a good time.

Either way, he becomes a candidate for my list It Didn’t Stay Here. The criteria is simple: folks who got in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas (in this case the local spending of ill-gotten loot). It’s a cheeky refutation of that famous Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.”

You can see the list elsewhere on this page. Malone, now 49, is hardly the first on the roster who stole money and hot-footed it to Sin City. Since becoming New To Las Vegas a few years ago, I have been amazed at how so often this town is the bug light for people with such proclivities. Continue reading