Why the Las Vegas body-in-a-barrel story got insane worldwide publicity

Las Vegas body-in-a-barrel

Barrel with body found near Las Vegas

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The famous Las Vegas marketing slogan, “What happens here, stays here” is a bald-faced lie. Latest proof: the insane worldwide publicity generated by the discovery a few days ago of a still-unidentified, long-murdered man in a barrel found at the bottom of receding Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas.

From the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, I just Googled the simple search command “body barrel Lake Mead Las Vegas,” going back only to Sunday when the story broke. I got 168,000 hits.

They’re from far beyond local and regional outlets. The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe New York Post. USA Today, Detroit News, The Hill (which normally just covers D.C.). Smaller papers in places like Honolulu and Syracuse. Even the New York-based National Herald, which bills itself as “the paper of record of the Greek Diaspora community.” (Do its editors know something?)

CBS. NBC. CNN. Local TV stations from coast to coast in markets big and small (Chicago, Milwaukee, Mobile, Ala.; Springfield, Mass.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; and Harrisburg, Pa., to cite a few).

International outlets like Sky News and the Independent in the U.K., and 1News in New Zealand.

I’m really only scratching the Internet surface.

As I will detail below, murdered bodies found in a barrel is actually not such an unusual occurrence, at least in the U.S. But they rarely if ever get much publicity outside their local area. Why this case has says much about the poor perception that far-away editors–perhaps reflecting the public–have of the culture and history of Las Vegas. These are themes I have touched on before and am happy to revisit. Continue reading

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What’s Buried Here, Stays Here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 5)

famous Las Vegas graves

Robin Leach memorial, Palm Memorial Park, Las Vegas

It’s time for Part 5 of my periodic series about the few famous graves of Las Vegas and how they came to be here. The conceit is simple. Even though the Las Vegas area has a population topping 2.3 million, there are remarkably few final resting spots here of people famous outside the Las Vegas area, no more than 20 by my count. Why? The city was founded barely a century ago, in 1900, and as late as 1950 still had fewer than 50,000 residents. You need famous live bodies to produce famous dead bodies. I’ve also speculated that for the longest time Las Vegas had a stigma that led the next-of-kin of many prominent folks to dig elsewhere.

In Part 1 I described three well-known athletes: boxer Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky and tennis great Pancho Gonzales. In Part 2 I profiled two prominent entertainers: movie icon Tony Curtis and TV star Redd Foxx. In Part 3 I detailed the only big-name organized-crime boss planted here, Morris Barney (Moe) Dalitz. I also wrote about Phyllis McGuire, centerpiece of the famous McGuire Sisters singing act and the long-time girlfriend of Sam Giancana, a famous Chicago mobster with Las Vegas interests. In Part 4 I examined a pair with mob ties who nevertheless played important roles is developing Las Vegas as the go-to place for wagering: casino operator (and killer) Benny Binion and Nick (the Greek) Dandolos, for decades the world’s most famous gambler.

So I’ve written up only nine folks, yet I’m almost halfway through my famous-here-for-all-eternity list. In this post, I’m going to look at two TV personalities–with identical years of birth and death–who came to Las Vegas for another chance and actually passed after I became New To Las Vegas.

Robin Leach never became a U.S. citizen nor lost his rowdy English accent. But long before relocating to Las Vegas, he became one of the world’s most famous TV personalities by virtue of an exuberant personality and his hosting for 15 years of a TV series that defined the “greed is good” end of the 20th Century. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” with its you-are-there footage of celebrities in their acquired environments, started a trend in high-end reality TV shows that really hasn’t ended. As Leach himself once said, “Nobody would watch Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown.”

Born August 29, 1941, in London, Leech grew up in a middle-class family. Eschewing college, he moved into journalism and by age 18 was a star reporter on the Daily Mail, one of the U.K.’s major dailies. In 1963 he moved to the U.S., first to New York, where he helped launch People magazine, while spending a lot of time in Los Angeles, where he got into television covering entertainment news. In 1980 he became CNN’s first showbiz reporter and in 1981 helped launch “Entertainment Tonight,” where he was an on-air correspondent for three years. In 1984 Leach became the host of “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous,” syndicated by CBS for 11 years from 1984 to 1995. In interviews Leach credited Ronald Reagan for making glitz chic. Donald Trump was a frequent guest. Leach’s loud, rapid-fire delivery, and his ability to continually exude wondrous amazement, was so unique that he found himself parodied by Dana Carvey on “Saturday Night Live” (“I’m Robin Leach! I’m yelling and I don’t know why!”)–a sure sign of cultural fame. A foodie, Leach was also an early presenter on the Food Network, which started in 1993.

But after his run ended on “Lifestyles,” Leach sort of hit a career slump. Long divorced, he moved four years later, in 1999, to Las Vegas, famed as a city of renewed chances. He settled into a nice but far from over-the-top house–3-bedroom, 3-bath with a swimming pool in an exclusive neighborhood on the city’s west side. (After his death it sold for $718,000.)  That tended to support his long-standing assertions he was never as rich as the folks he profiled, perhaps because he didn’t have huge equity chunks in many of his endeavors and also because he lived large. Leach kept up a national TV, cable and even film presence (frequently playing himself), dabbled in local online websites, raised money for Las Vegas charities, touted the praises of Las Vegas and became a popular figure hereabouts. “The thing that I love about Vegas is, you are within 45 minutes of Hollywood without having to deal with the 405 and state taxes and fees,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. Eventually, he went back to his print roots and took entertainment columnist positions, first at the Las Vegas Sun and then, in 2016, at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. As fluffy and un-serious as his journalistic output was viewed by some, Leach saw his fame surpass and even outlast many of the celebrities he profiled. After his death the City of Las Vegas renamed a street for him.

In November 2017 Leach had a stroke while vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and never fully recovered. On August 24, 2018, he died in a Las Vegas area hospital a few days after a second stroke, at the age of 76. According to his death certificate, his remains were cremated and likely put in a plot overlooking a lake in the Lakeside section of Palm Memorial Park, 7600 S. Eastern Ave. The marker contains the famous words he uttered at the end of every “Lifestyles” episode: “Champagne wishes & caviar dreams.”

Richard (Old Man) Harrison also became a celebrity due to reality TV but his public personality was the mirror opposite of Leach’s. For nearly three decades Harrison with his family was the co-owner of what became the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. It–and he as the irritable proprietor–truly became famous after cable TV’s History Channel in 2009 started “Pawn Stars.” That’s a reality show based on the daily interactions of the staff–son Rick, grandson Corey and family friend Austin (Chumlee) Russell–with customers seeking to pawn or value items. “Pawn Stars” quickly became the History Channel’s highest-rated show, a reality-TV hit and is still on the air. In 2012, Harrison and Rick made Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential persons in the world.

Harrison was born on March 4, 1941–five months before Leach–in Virginia and grew up poor in North Carolina. He enlisted in the Navy at age 17 after getting caught stealing a car, and served on a number of ships for 20 years, rising to petty officer first class. He mustered out in 1979 in San Diego, where his wife, Joanne, had a real estate business. That went poof in the 1981 high-interest-rate recession.

Essentially broke, the family moved that year to Las Vegas. Already called The Old Man–even though he was just 39–Richard and Joanne opened the first of several pawn-like shops on a seedy section of Las Vegas Boulevard just north of the Strip. The business bounced among several locations before hanging out a shingle at 713 Las Vegas Boulevard S in 1989. Twenty years later, the business hit the jackpot when Pawn Stars went on the air and drew a worldwide audience. Richard was blunt about his stern countenance in the production: “My role on the show is to be an old grump.” Rick was more the out-front face. The shop drew thousands of tourists daily, selling a lot of souvenir T-shirts. But was there any real family kumbaya? After Harrison’s death, it became known he cut one of his other sons out of his will. And earlier this year, Joanna, now 81, sued son Rick, in effect claiming she was hookwinked years ago out of her 49% interest in the business. Rick denied wrongdoing. That lawsuit is still pending.

The patriarch died on June 25, 2018–just two months before Leach, who over the years had interviewed him–from Parkinson’s disease at age 77. After a public viewing and funeral that featured a flag-draped coffin, Harrison was laid to rest in Palm Northwest Cemetery, 6701 N. Jones Blvd., in the Eternal Life 1 section, PG 15, Space 2. Unusual for a cemetery–but perfectly in keeping for a TV personality–his marker in the large plot is adorned with a picture of him, stern-faced but tipping his hat. The caption beneath the photo: “Old Man.”

More to come.

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

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Despite big talk, Las Vegas economy remains a one-trick pony

Two years ago in this space, as the pandemic was starting to hit the Las Vegas economy disproportionately hard, I recounted the utter failure of the area’s movers-and-shakers to diversify the economy. Despite years of big talk, especially in the devastating aftermath of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, I cited a lot of data to suggest the Vegas economy had continued its boom-or-bust reliance on the one-trick pony of gambling/hospitality/live entertainment.

With the pandemic easing–maybe–the big talkers are again saying that now is the time for the Las Vegas to diversity for a sustainable future. ““Our recovery does not necessarily come from rebound, but from rebalancing,” Michael Brown, executive director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, recently told a session of the grandly named Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. “Rebalancing will build the resiliency that we need in the Nevada economy going forward.”

But in my New to Las Vegas view, if local history is any guide, significant diversification ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. It’s simply a lot easier to stick to what you know best–here, quickly separating visitors from their money–than it is to strike out in a totally new direction involving, say, more better jobs for the locals.

And it’s sort of by a design that goes back to near the advent of legalized gambling–and quickie marriage and divorce–in 1931. The official policy long has been to do little to encourage economic development outside of this core. You don’t have to take my word for this. “Nevada must be kept small; let industry go elsewhere,” political kingmaker Norman Biltz, famously known as the “Duke of Nevada,” was quoted as saying in The Green Felt Jungle, the best-selling 1963 book about Las Vegas mob corruption by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris. “Large industrial payrolls bring in large families, which cost more money in taxes for public services.”

Nearly six decades later, Nevada remains a minimal tax, minimal government state, with poor public schools and inadequate health care to show for it.

Underscoring this, the recently released new annual economic study by the Milken Institute of the U.S. “Best-Performing Cities” makes very clear that Las Vegas is anything but. On a list of 200 large metro areas, Las Vegas fell from a heady No. 23 in 2018 to No. 149 (a numerically lower rank is better), just outside the bottom quarter. Most of the drop came in the last year alone (from No. 88 to No. 149), one of the biggest falls on the list. This is not surprising, as few economies in the U.S. remain more dependent on a lack of social distancing than Las Vegas. The area now sits considerably behind such exciting large metros as Dayton, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; Gulfport, Miss.; and Bakersfield, Calif. Continue reading

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Child illness charity soliciting in Las Vegas fibs about fundraising costs

fibs about fundraising costsThe recent telephone caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said his name was Jake Williams. He was soliciting a contribution to the Childhood Leukemia Foundation, a charity based in far-away Brick, N.J.

Okay, I said, how much of what’s raised is spent on fundraising? The excited reply: “Fifty percent to the foundation after fundraising!” This was not a direct reply to my question, which asked for the amount of fundraising expense rather than what’s left over. But it was the mathematical equivalent of saying the fundraising efficiency ratio–the percent of donations remaining after subtracting fundraising costs–was 50%.

As I will explain below, that’s not a great percentage. But for CLF it’s not even close to the truth, based on its very own latest available financial filing, submitted under oath. The actual percentage easily calculated from the filing: 21%. Put another way, 79 cents of each donated dollar went right out the door in fundraising, leaving the foundation with only 21 cents of each dollar for the stated mission and other overhead.

I also will explain below why I think the response was so off it might have violated Nevada law and constituted an actionable deceptive trade practice.

Now, I admit I followed that old trial lawyer trick of not asking an important question I don’t know the answer to. With Jake Williams–probably a computer-generated voice controlled by a  human supervisor using soundboard technology–this was ridiculously easy to do. You see, CLF and I have a history together going back to BC (Before Covid). CLF’s financial efficiencies haven’t gotten better. In 2019 after being solicited two times on the phone I twice wrote up CLF’s poor financial efficiencies and other deficiencies. (You can read the posts here and here.) The second time, I even made CLF a candidate for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is simple: fundraisers that call asking for a donation despite a previous critical post by me. In that line of work, how much dumber can it get? You can find the list of nominee nearby. I don’t have to update it today with CLF because it’s already listed.

Let’s walk together through the numbers, plus some other issues. Continue reading

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What’s buried here, stays here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 4)

famous Las Vegas graves

Benny Binion couch crypt, Bunkers Eden Vale Memorial Park, Las Vegas

Welcome to Part 4 of my periodic series about the few famous graves of Las Vegas and how they came to be here. Part 1 dealt with athletes: boxer Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky and tennis great Pancho Gonzales. Part 2 described entertainers: movie icon Tony Curtis and TV star Redd Foxx. Part 3 concerned the Las Vegas Strip-creating Mob and associates, featuring the only big-name organized-crime boss planted here, Morris Barney (Moe) Dalitz. Plus Phyllis McGuire, the centerpiece of the famous McGuire Sisters singing act who was the girlfriend for 16 years of a famous Chicago mobster, Sam Giancana, who was murdered in his basement.

Let me repeat my operating thesis. Despite the area’s current population topping 2.3 million, the Las Vegas Valley is the eternal home of an extremely tiny number of individuals–by my count, no more than 20–who remain well known to folks outside the local area. I attribute this to several factors. Among them: Las Vegas’s relative youth as a city, being founded only in 1905, and the fact the population grew slowly and was still under 50,000 in 1950. You need a fair number of people dying over a significant period to produce famous graves. Then there’s the possibility that the stigma of Las Vegas for the longest time was such that prominent individuals and their families went elsewhere for that final act of interment. This certainly seems to be true of most local mobsters.

In this segment, I’m focusing on two characters integral to the development of Las Vegas as a gambling mecca with their own connections to organized crime. Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, faux cancer charity still solicits and still spends $0 on mission

fau cancer charityThe cold caller on the phone at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said she was Diane Samson soliciting a gift for Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC. I asked if her cause had complied with a new Nevada law requiring pre-registration for many fundraisers.

Yes, “Diane” said.

That wouldn’t be her only false statement.

I asked where the organization was based. “Windermere, Fla.,” she replied. The problem with “Diane’s” response is that on its website, American Coalition for Crisis Relief PAC, which is the parent of child Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC and incorporates its financials, lists its address in Dallas, Tex. And for what it’s worth, my caller ID listed a number around Tucson, Ariz.

“Diane”–I’m using quotes around her name because she isn’t a real person but a computer-generated voice controlled by a human using soundboard technology–gave me an 800 number that she said I could call to get more information. I wrote it down and called. The number turned out to be that of an unrelated business.

Still, I already knew a lot–like the fact that American Coalition completely stiffed its donors on its stated mission of supporting political candidates for a sympathetic cause. That’s what a PAC, which stands for political action committee, is supposed to do. I call these kinds of PACs faux charities, although some watchdogs use stronger language.

You see, this wasn’t the first time that I had been called by Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC. You can read my account of that last encounter in August 2021 by clicking here. But now child and parent are candidates for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is insanely simple: fundraisers that call me asking for money despite a previous critical article by me, usually focusing on terrible financial efficiencies. Seriously, folks, can it get dumber than that? You can see the other entries nearby. Continue reading

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Nevada governor gains wide fame from videotaped verbal assault in Las Vegas

verbal assault in Las Vegas

Screenshot from confrontation between Steve Sisolak (left) and Justin Andersch

It’s been five days since Nevada governor Steve Sisolak and his wife were accosted by a right-wing conspiracy pusher at a popular Las Vegas restaurant. With a cell phone camera running, he unleashed a string of profanities/racial taunts and declared, “We could string you up by a lamppost right now,” in a clip quickly posted on social media.

Now Sisolak, a moderate running-for-reelection Democrat so low-key he often travels around Nevada without security, suddenly has become one of the world’s most famous elected officials, at least for 15 minutes.

Okay, he’s no Biden, or even Putin, in terms of coverage. But a Google search for “Steve Sisolak and wife” returned 12,000 hits in the past week about the incident, many of them reprints of news accounts by the Associated Press. The far-flung outlets have included newspapers, TV stations, magazines (i.e. People) and websites across the country and in a number of foreign countries, including the U.K. and China. One YouTube clip of the incident has drawn nearly 15,000 views.

Nevada governor threatened while dining in Las Vegas,” screamed a headline on the English-language website of the official Chinese outlet Xinhua. “Nevada governor and his wife accosted at restaurant by men shouting ‘racist threats,’ ” declared The Guardian of London. “Social video shows ‘racist’ taunts of Nevada governor, wife,” proclaimed a headline on the website of the Albany (NY) Times Union. (Sisolak’s wife, Kathy, was born in a rural Nevada city to Chinese parents and worked in public finance before marrying Sisolak after his election in 2018.) I’ve been asked about the incident by friends from distant places I lived in before becoming New To Las Vegas.

In my view, the episode says more about how the media works than it does about how politics works, and not just in Nevada. But that could change as we get closer to the November elections in which Republicans challenging incumbent Democrats are going to try to make COVID-19 the No. 1 issue. Continue reading

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Overlooking Las Vegas, the mystique–and myths–of Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston as seen last week from near the Las Vegas Strip

Sitting as it does in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada, less than 300 miles from Mexico, the immediate Las Vegas area has pretty mild winters, with no snow most years. Except for this: A scan of the mountainous horizon surrounding the Las Vegas Valley shows one–and only one–snow-capped peak easily visible from the Las Vegas Strip. It actually stays white more than half the year well into the warm late spring and is rather noticeable. Tourists wearing T-shirts are amazed as they waddle from casino to casino.

I’m talking about Mount Charleston, or, as it’s officially called, Charleston Peak. Just 30 miles to the northwest, the 11,916-foot-high federally owned pinnacle–nearly two miles above the Strip and the highest point in southern Nevada–is a subject of mystique and myths.

As is so often the case about Las Vegas, both mystique and myths are interesting. Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, more phone calls from a faux charity using different names

faux charityBack in October, I wrote about United Women’s Health Alliance PAC. It’s a political action committee based in Washington, D.C., that emotionally solicits money on the phone for causes like females in uniform and health care sounding like it’s a charity–which it isn’t–and spends very little of what it receives on the stated missions. I predicted this PAC, which I call a faux charity, would simply ignore a new Nevada law known as Senate Bill 62 requiring it to first register and file financial statements before approaching would-be donors like me. UWHA-PAC is “betting on the sad track record of Nevada’s two charitable regulators,” I declared at the time.

I’m here to take a bow.

Last week, I received cold-call robocalls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters from two d/b/a fronts that UHWA-PAC uses nationally, “Emma” speaking for Americans for Female Officers PAC (she’s the one who called in October) and “Simon” from Americans for Female Veterans PAC, a newbie. I use quotes because both were computer-generated voices using the obnoxious practice known as soundboard technology. I’ll get back to those calls in a bit.

More to my immediate point: I went on the listings website of the Nevada Secretary of State to see if UHWA-PAC, Americans for Female Officers PAC or Americans for Female Veterans PAC had registered with the state as the new law requires. Nope.

Then I called the main office in Carson City of the Nevada Secretary of State–one of those two regulators in Nevada–to see if maybe there was a lag in posting online new PAC registrations. Again, no. I was assured that all PAC registrations are immediately put up on the Internet. But the person I spoke with didn’t seem familiar with the new Nevada law requiring prior registration and financial filings for any organization soliciting within the state for causes benefiting, among other categories, law enforcement (female officers), public health (women’s health) and patriotism (female veterans).

I am shocked–NOT! Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, trolling faux cop charity promised not to call again–but quickly did

faux cop charity

Fake badge image from website

Just before noon on a recent morning, “Andrew Redlow” cold-called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters pleading for a cash contribution to what he said was United Police Officers Coalition PAC. Of course, I started asking simple questions, like where are you located? He answered that one: Washington, D.C. But another query really stumped him: How old is your organization?

“Andrew” responded with irrelevant answers, essentially continuing his pitch about how the money would help elect people to Congress sympathetic to law enforcement types who are being abused. I repeated my question. “I’m sorry,” “Andrew” said finally. “I can’t answer that kind of question. I’ll add you to our do-not-call list.” He abruptly hung up.

Then, not four hours later, in the afternoon, the phone rang. It was “Andrew Redlow” again, making the identical pitch again for the United Police Officers Coalition PAC. Simply shameless!

I use quotes because “Andrew Redlow” (I’m guessing at the spelling; that’s how it sounded) is not a real person, but a voice generated by a computer using what is known as soundboard technology. Which is not surprising because, as I discovered from a little research between the two calls, United Police Officers Coalition PAC isn’t a real organization, either. It’s simply a sympathetic fundraising name used by another outfit, Constitutional Leadership PAC.

Moreover, I learned Constitutional Leadership PAC is barely a PAC, or political action committee, which is supposed to make contributions to political candidates or causes it approves of. According to its own public filings, since its founding in 2019 (the question “Andrew” couldn’t answer), CLPAC has spent next to nothing on political contributions while spending almost everything raised on other stuff. I call PACs with such glib telephone patters and terrible financial efficiencies faux charities.

I also learned neither CLPAC nor United Police Officers Coalition PAC is approved to solicit in Nevada. A new state law requires fundraisers soliciting money in Nevada for, among other purposes, law enforcement causes to register and make publicly available financial filings.

Finally, I learned CLPAC is mentioned in a pending federal-court civil lawsuit in Pennsylvania alleging violations of federal law in connection with telemarketing for faux charities. Except that the lawsuit repeatedly uses the phrase “scam PACs.” And as it turns out, the lead defendant, who owns a number of companies involved in such fundraising, lives in Las Vegas.

Interested? Come join me for the ride. Continue reading

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What’s buried here, stays here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 3)

famous Las Vegas graves

Moe Dalitz memorial, Palm Memorial Cemetery, Las Vegas

Welcome to Part 3 of my occasional series about the few famous graves of Las Vegas and why they are here. Part 1 dealt with athletes: boxer Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky and tennis star Pancho Gonzales. Part 2 concerned two prominent entertainers: movie star Tony Curtis and TV star Redd Foxx.

The conceit of this series is simple for someone like me who is New To Las Vegas. The populous Las Vegas area is the final resting spot of a very small number of individuals, probably no more than a score, whose fame could be described as enduring and widespread beyond the local area. This is possibly attributable to Las Vegas’s relative youth as a city–just 115 years old–not long enough for a lot of famous people to be buried here. But it’s also possible that for the longest time, lots of locally prominent individuals, or their next-of-kin, preferred that Las Vegas not be their forever home.

Perhaps surprisingly, this seems to be especially true of one notable sector of Las Vegas’s storied past: organized crime, those associated with organized crime, and other ne’er-do-wells. It is generally agreed Las Vegas would not be the gambling and entertainment powerhouse it has become without the help starting 75 years ago of a coterie of wrong-side-of-the-law folks, generally from East Coast and Midwest-based organized crime families, and their hangers-on, plus free-lancers. With the assistance of a little muscle, the mobsters saw a chance to rake off substantial tax-free profits from casino gambling–the now-legendary “skim.” The ploy lasted for a half-century.

In researching this post, I assembled a list of about 50 individuals historically connected with Las Vegas identified as being prominent in organized crime; associated a bit too closely with mobsters, often as fronts or even girlfriends; or infamous for their reputations. Maybe 40 ended up putting down their, uh, permanent roots elsewhere. No more than 10 of the 50 are buried in Las Vegas, and of this group, perhaps four have achieved a certain amount of continuing fame.

So this article, part of a continuing series, is as much about who’s not buried here. Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, weather you like it or not

Today is January 20. Yet the Las Vegas Sun website right now says it is presenting historical weather data for January 31. (Annotations added by yours truly.) Why?

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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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