It Didn’t Stay Here: Alleged Pittsburgh-area fraud involved Las Vegas spending

It Didn't Stay Here

The Bellagio and its fountains (via Wikipedia)

George Retos Jr., a 69-year-old businessman and former lawyer who lives in the Pittsburgh, Pa. suburb of East Washington, was a big, big fan of Las Vegas. He especially liked visiting the Bellagio, the giant Strip casino hotel known for its spectacular fountain displays. Another favored place was the Cosmopolitan, the trendy casino hotel that frequently tops best-places-to-stay lists.

He used debit cards to run up personal charges at both facilities. But there was a big problem with this–if federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh are to be believed. The mention of federal prosecutors might make it possible for you to sort of guess where I’m going with this.

According to a 32-page federal indictment issued last month, Retos orchestrated several schemes to misappropriate the proceeds of federally guaranteed loans made to several private businesses he controlled in the plastics industry and to evade taxes “for his own personal use and the use of his family members.” The Las Vegas expenditures are identified as part of this effort.

The 13 counts in the indictment include wire fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. There are some other interesting charges, too, including false bankruptcy declarations and possession of a handgun despite being a long-convicted felon.

Earlier this month, Retos, the only person charged in the indictment although others are mentioned as unindicted co-conspirators, pleaded not guilty and remains free on $25,000 bond. Although this case has plea bargain written all over it, if convicted and hit with maximum sentences, Retos faces what amounts to the rest of his life in prison. A spokesman for him was quoted by a local newspaper as calling the charges “a misrepresentation of facts.”

While the court is sorting this all out, I am nominating Retos for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster consists of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in that Mecca of Mischief called Las Vegas. My list is a New To Las Vegas rebuttal of that famous Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing pitch, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” Other nominees can be found on this page. By clicking on their names, you can learn their sad stories, too. Continue reading

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Another dodgy cancer charity comes acalling in Las Vegas

dodgy canceer charityThe recent telephone call to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters followed the usual pattern. The telemarketer stated the cause, in this instance The Breast Cancer Charities of America, based in The Woodlands, Tex. I was asked to make a verbal donation pledge on the spot, in this instance for “the ladies.”

Tracking the usual pattern, I would be pleased to read any literature sent me but that I couldn’t consider committing to a donation without first having something in writing to review.

Rather than agreeing to mail me materials, the caller promptly hung up. This also traced the usual pattern.

Besides the somewhat abrupt call termination once I expressed a reluctance to donate sight unseen, there were these other elements of the usual pattern. The caller wasn’t even a human but an interactive computer affecting a pleasant voice (female, this time).

And subsequent research by me suggested that the charity was thisclose to being a scam. Looking at BCCA’s own filings with regulators over the past six years, maybe 3% of the cash donations received was spent directly in grants to those in need. The percentage for the most recent year with filings, 2016, was 7%–a little better but still terrible. BCCA also has some skanky running buddies and has received a fair amount of adverse scrutiny, as I will point out.

Now you might assume an outfit with a plural in its name–the Breast Cancer Charities of America–is a widespread organization with scads of employees and volunteers. Your assumption would be way off. While the nonprofit also solicits under other names, including IGoPink and Breast Cancer Support Foundation, the latest tax return in 2016 stated it had only six employees and zero volunteers.

Want to learn more? Come along for the ride. Continue reading

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Las Vegas exhibit to open for war criminal John C. Frémont

war criminal John C. Frémont

John C. Frémont

See update at end of story for my snap review of the Frémont exhibit

The headline was stripped across the top of the printed local news section of today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal. “The ‘Pathfinder’ returns to town,” it read, touting the opening of a laudatory touring exhibit about the life of 19th century military opportunist and politician John C. Frémont (1813-1890). Always good copy, he was dubbed by the press of the era “The Great Pathfinder” for the maps generated under his watch of the American West, which helped the United States literally expand from sea to shining sea.

To me, Frémont was something else–a war criminal, and not just once, either. With that and some of the other stuff in his background, I have not understood why he is as celebrated and so uncritically examined as he is. Streets, neighborhoods, whole cities, schools and a slew of other governmental buildings have been named for him, mainly in the West. In Las Vegas–an area he first visited, for less than a day, in 1844–a part of Fremont Street is a popular tourist venue, home of the Fremont Street Experience. Fremont Street is the site of Nevada’s first legal gambling facility, the original home of the World Series of Poker and the city’s second best-known artery after Las Vegas Boulevard, a/k/a The Strip.

I first wrote about Frémont the man years ago when I lived in Seattle, where a funky, liberal inner-city neighborhood perhaps best known for a clothing-optional parade on the summer solstice is indirectly named for him. To me, the juxtaposition of a war criminal who later became the Republican Party’s first presidential candidate and a progressive section of a progressive town was a hoot. After becoming New To Las Vegas two years ago and observing his sway over Sin City, I wrote about him again. Looks like it’s time for me to take another swing. I am largely drawing upon my previous research and writings.

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Trump, Stormy, Las Vegas–and me

Trump Stormy Las Vegas

Trump Magazine cover March 2006 (via Wikipedia)

Stormy Daniels and Anderson Cooper may have cost me big time in that “60 Minutes” interview on March 25.

Why? From my New To Las Vegas headquarters, I had been trying to sell on Ebay an original edition of a 2006 issue of Forbes magazine with now-U.S. President Donald J. Trump on the cover. That was since Mother Jones magazine reported in January that Daniels had spanked Trump with an issue of Forbes bearing his cover image during a tryst at a Nevada hotel during a golf tournament in 2006. That Mother Jones reported she used an issue of big-money chronicler Forbes–with which I have been associated going back more than three decades–helped make this a more-talked-about incident than if it had been, say, Reader’s Digest.

I happened to own a copy of the only Forbes issue with Trump on the cover that year, the 2006 edition of the annual list of the 400 richest Americans. Putting two and two together and hoping it added up to a cool thou or even more, I ran to Ebay aiming to make America great again for me.

To a “60 Minutes” audience of 22 million viewers undoubtedly hanging on every word, adult-film actress Daniels confirmed her spanking of Trump. But she said it was with a copy of what Trump called “my new magazine,” which just happened to be lying around in his hotel room.

Damn! Those of us who long have written about Trump’s business career know that he had been involved over the years with a number of publications bearing his name (not unlike Oprah Winfrey and her O, The Oprah Magazine). Trump’s title, not Forbes, is what got applied to his derriere. The image of the cover is nearby.

I since have done further research, looking especially closely at timing. I now realize the Forbes issue I was trying in good faith to peddle wasn’t even published until long after the now-legendary encounter between the poohbah and the porn star on the beautiful Nevada shores of shimmering Lake Tahoe.

Still, on top of whatever this incident confirms about Trump’s personal morals–his latest wife had just given birth to his fifth child–the fact that this magazine issue was even with Trump in his hotel room also illustrates something about his overall character and business m.o. Allow me to explain. Continue reading

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From Las Vegas: Second Amendment defenders are defending slavery

Second AmendmentEvery time there’s a mass shooting–like the one just a few miles from my New to Las Vegas home in October that claimed 58 lives, or the Valentine Day incident last month in a Parkland, Fla., school that killed 17–a national debate breaks out over gun rights and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The powerful National Rifle Association claims folks have a largely unfettered right under that amendment to pack heat. Majority public opinion seems to be something else, but most politicians up to and including President Trump are too afraid of the NRA’s campaign contribution money to do anything substantive.

So allow me to throw another log onto this fire. As I read our country’s history, people who defend the Second Amendment are actually defending a provision attached to the U.S. Constitution that was worded to make it easier for Southern states to preserve slavery. That’s right, slavery. The “well-regulated militia” phrase so famously found in the amendment, just before the equally famous “right of the people to keep and bear arms,” was a reference to officially organized whites-only posses in the South created for the purpose of keeping in line black slaves, who in many places outnumbered the whites.

Southern politicians were afraid of the nascent Federal Government, soon to be dominated by Northern anti-slavery interests. They specifically were worried southern states would be prohibited by federal authorities from continuing to have militias that could rummage through slave quarters without warrants and, I suppose, shoot black folks who got out of line. Continue reading

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Another iffy cancer charity solicits in Las Vegas

iffy cancer charityNew To Las Vegas world headquarters. Ringing phone. “Alice” on the line. Urgent request.

United Breast Cancer Foundation. “Alice” tells me it helps women with financial assistance for things like mammograms. She needs a donation.

So many cancer charities out there with similar names. I ask “Alice” for the organization’s tax identification number to do some research. “Alice” doesn’t have it. She refers me to her “manager,” who does.

By now you’re probably thinking, what with all the damn quote marks? Here’s what’s with all the damn quote marks. “Alice” is not a real person but rather an interactive computer that can recognize some questions and respond. Her “supervisor” is the real human monitoring and directing the computer.

More to the point, from my perspective it also wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to put quote marks around “United Breast Cancer Foundation.” From my reading of its latest available financial filings, the Huntington, N.Y. organization, which also uses the name United Women’s Health Alliance, spent almost none of the cash raised from telemarketing calls such as the one to me on anything I would regard as the financial assistance “Alice” told me about. The rest went to a farrago of fundraising costs and other expenses, including printing, marketing, overhead and, of course, executive compensation.

As a result, various charity watchdog groups hold a rather dim view of UBCF. The Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance flunks the charity on multiple standards, including one requiring financial statements be put on the charity’s website. Charity Navigator gives UBCF just two stars. Indeed, a few years ago the charity ranked No. 38 on the Tampa Bay Times’ list of America’s Worst Charities, which highlighted tax-exempts that spent very little of the money donated on good deeds. There are more than 1 million nonprofits in the U.S., so UBCF was in rather rarefied company.

And since we all now live in the Age of Trump, there’s even a tangential connection to the extended First Family. Interested? Read on. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Jail for embezzling Scot who partied in Las Vegas

It Didn't Stay Here

Las Vegas Strip (by Stefan Wagener via Wikipedia)

Alicia Moran probably looked like just another happy international traveler as she partied along the Las Vegas Strip in 2015. But the Scottish woman had a wee bit of a problem. She was spending money she had embezzled from Thomas Cook, the giant European travel agency where she worked as a foreign exchange sales assistant.

Indeed, it was while she was living it up in Sin City that U.K. authorities back home made the decision to charge her. Moran was arrested at Glasgow Airport returning from her 10-day trip to the colonies–Vegas and New York. A mother of two, she is now in a Scottish jail serving an 18-month sentence that started last month after admitting she stole about $200,000 in just a six-month period.

Moran, 34, becomes the newest person nominated to my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster consists of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in that bug light of mischief called Las Vegas. My list is a pointed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. You can see previous nominees elsewhere on this New To Las Vegas page. After the terrible October 1 massacre at an outdoor concert on the Strip, the agency stopped advertising the seemingly powerful pitch but resumed its use last month.

And so do I. Continue reading

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Las Vegas news media scene remains weak

Las Vegas news mediaSee update at end of story

I’ll give the Las Vegas Review-Journal credit for a big mea culpa. On Monday, it published a stunning story essentially admitting that 20 years ago it deep-sixed a story written by its court reporter that casino tycoon Steve Wynn faced allegations from employees of sex misconduct. The paper protected Wynn even though the 1998 claims were public record at the courthouse for anyone to see and thus immune from a valid defamation lawsuit by Wynn. On Tuesday, thanks to that coverage, which followed a blockbuster expose last month by The Wall Street Journal about many other alleged incidents of sexual misconduct by Wynn, he resigned his CEO and chairman posts at Wynn Resorts, all the while professing his complete innocence.

But who knows how many women could have escaped Wynn’s purported clutches had the Review-Journal properly done its job in 1998, or even at any point before this week? The reporter who dug up that story, and who kept her notes, is still on the paper; she’s an editor now. There also have been corporate ownership changes. But it still took the Review-Journal 10 days after the big Wall Street Journal scoop and months after the birth of the #MeToo movement to summon up the strength to do the right thing.

And it underscores what I have observed since becoming New To Las Vegas in 2016: The Las Vegas news media remains pretty weak when it comes to covering the news. A mile wide and a quarter-inch deep. From what I understand, this has been a problem in Las Vegas for a looooong time.

Indeed, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Review-Journal story about Wynn is the admission by then-publisher Sherman Frederick that he doesn’t remember killing the story about the Strip’s most prominent figure. To me, this suggests the paper routinely axed so many valid stories about important folks that this was journalistic business as usual in Las Vegas. Continue reading

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Las Vegas dog on dog crime rate may mirror humans

See update at end of story

Las Vegas dog on dog crime

Dog Fancier’s Park, Las Vegas

For all of its appeal to tourists, the Las Vegas area has a big problem. The serious crime rate is very high. The latest official FBI crime statistics, which can lag by up to two years, puts it at 849 incidents for every 100,000 residents. The national average is 373, so the Las Vegas rate is more than double.

Homicides are one component of serious crime (others include rape, robbery and aggravated assault). In 2017, the Las Vegas area had 199 homicides. That includes the 58 persons killed in the October 1 massacre along the Las Vegas Strip. By my rough reckoning, that works out to a local homicide rate of 10.0 for every 100,000 residents. The latest national average is 5.3, so the murder rate is almost double.

So far, this is all about humans. But I’m here to write about murders among dogs. Dog on dog crime, to be specific. At Dog Fancier’s Park, the off-leash dog park in East Las Vegas I visit regularly with my New To Las Vegas Basset Hound, I’m aware of at least two dogs in recent months who were murdered–yes, killed–by other dogs. Owners of victim and perp supposedly were nearby. Continue reading

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Las Vegas folks treated poorly by government

Las Vegas folks treated poorlyIt happened again. A lengthy article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal tells how the state government of Nevada has long failed to enforce its own law requiring review of emergency response plans filed by big places like casino hotels. This is no small matter especially given the October 1 massacre by a gunman firing from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino across the Strip to an outdoor performance venue that killed 58 and wounded more than 500 (just voted the year’s biggest crime story by CNN).

Earlier this year, I wrote a long piece for The Nevada Independent about how the state Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t comply with a 2013 state law requiring that full financial statements or IRS Form 990s be posted on its website of charities soliciting for contributions in the state. This makes it a lot easier for sketchy charities that spend as much as 90% of the money raised on fundraising and overhead to hide their scandalous financial efficiencies from my now-fellow Nevadans.

Several state officials, including Republicans Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (who is campaigning to replace Sandoval when his term ends next year), have refused to enforce a law calling for background checks on private-party gun sales that was actually passed statewide by voters in 2016. They say the law is flawed.

As someone still New To Las Vegas, I find only one conclusion to draw from this and other governmental actions–or inactions. Nevada is a state whose governmental entities and agencies do not take very good care of its citizens. Continue reading

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