It Didn’t Stay Here: Prison for NY pet pound staff who spent stolen funds in Las Vegas

It Didn't Stay HereLike pet shelter organizations everywhere, the Central New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals seeks homes for unwanted four-legged creatures and raises public awareness about abuse and neglect.

But the CNYSPCA in Syracuse is unusual in one big respect. Paul Morgan, its former executive director, and Taylor Gilkey, an ex-staffer identified as his on-and-off girl friend, recently were sent to prison for embezzling more than $800,000 to pay for, among other things, gambling junkets to Las Vegas. That’s money that could have helped a lot of dogs and cats.

Morgan and Gilkey are hereby nominated to my new list, It Didn’t Stay Here. These are people who get into trouble elsewhere for something that happened in that bug light called Las Vegas. My list is a tongue-in-cheek rebuttal of that famous Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” The names of all nominees can be found elsewhere on this page along with, by clicking on their names, their sad stories. Continue reading

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I had to file a public record request for my Las Vegas water usage

Las Vegas water recordsAs a journalist for nearly a half-century, I literally have filed hundreds of freedom of information act/public records requests to get documents from government agencies. In cases decades apart and quite separate, I got the secret testimonies to the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and later-to-be-fugitive-financier Robert Vesco.

I obtained proof of Federal Bureau of Investigation director J. Edgar Hoover’s jealousy about all the attention the 1960s TV show “The Untouchables” gave to rival lawman Eliot Ness, and how the agency monitored the personal life of secretly gay actor Rock Hudson. I showed the odd FBI surveillance of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe (whose name was misspelled in agency reports every single time), the poet John Ciardi and sports editor Lester Rodney of the Communist Party daily newspaper the Daily Worker. I even used disclosure laws to get dog-attack records from the U.S. Postal Service (along with an apology for illegally not providing them faster).

But no request I ever filed was quite as strange as the one I made recently after becoming New To Las Vegas. I was forced to draft and send a formal plea under the Nevada Public Records Act to get my own water records.

I am not making this up. Read on. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Pa. official hit for okaying trip to Las Vegas Mirage

It Didn't Stay Here

Mirage Resort (via MGM Resorts International)

I guess when you live in  hardscrabble northeastern Pennsylvania–especially the area around Easton–any trip to Las Vegas by government workers on the public dime can look suspect. Amy Trapp, the HR director of Northampton County, Pa., of which Easton is the county seat, is on the hot seat for $2,343 spent by two of her workers to fly to Las Vegas, stay at the fancy Mirage Resort on the Las Vegas Strip and attend a training seminar.

Although it doesn’t seem that any rules were broken, the trip has caused a political brouhaha far from Las Vegas. So I’m nominating Trapp for my new list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The list–a play on that great Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here“–consists of folks having problems somewhere else for things that happened in Vegas. Earlier nominations can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

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Shadowy outfit rating medical pros operates in Las Vegas

Shadowy outfit raring medical pros

Material from Consumers’ Research Council of America hanging in the waiting room of a Las Vegas dental practice

As someone New To Las Vegas, I’ve had to get a new set of medical professionals to help keep me alive and functioning: doctors, specialists, dentists and the like. So it pains me to report this. On the walls of offices and waiting rooms I keep seeing laudatory plaques and literature issued by a shadowy ratings group with a misleading name and banal standards set up by a California trophy maker for, it seems, the purpose of selling overpriced plaques.

The group calls itself Consumers’ Research Council of America. Now, if you get that confused with Consumers Union, the publisher of the highly respected magazine Consumer Reports, it’s probably no surprise. And if you think the address Consumers’ Research Council of America lists on its website of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington just four blocks from the White House is a prestige location, think again: It’s simply a mail drop at a UPS store. And don’t bother calling the phone number on the home page either. It is answered by a tape that won’t take a message.

The image elsewhere on this page is that of a hanging on the waiting room wall of a Las Vegas dentist I mercifully will not name. It’s far from the first Consumers’ Research Council of America “endorsement” I have seen around Sin City.

Don’t believe me? Just Google “Las Vegas” and “Consumers’ Research Council of America” (make sure to include the apostrophe), or click on this link. You will get scores of hits of medical and other professionals touting this big honor. Hanging out in the suburbs? Google “Henderson” and “Consumers’ Research Council of America” and you’ll get dozens. Hell, even Googling “Summerlin” (a well-to-do section of the Las Vegas area) and “Consumers’ Research Council of America” pulls up a bunch.

Consumers’ Research Council of America operates nationally. For proof, try my little Google search trick inserting any city in the country you want.

The reason I know something about this is that I wrote up Consumers’ Research Council of America and its m.o. in 2009 for Forbes.com. You can read that story by clicking here. From my further research, it doesn’t seem that things have changed too much.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas meeting leads to New York convictions

It Didn't Stay Here

William T. “Billy” Walters (via cardplayer.com)

Even before becoming New To Las Vegas, I had heard of Billy Walters. He was a big-time Vegas-based gambler–profiled in 2011 on 60 Minutes as “the most dangerous sports bettor in Nevada.”

Turns out Walters, whose full name is William T. Walters, also was a big-time stock investor. A little too big time, I might suggest. Last month, he was convicted in federal court in New York City on all 10 criminal counts he faced involving insider trading in publicly traded dairy company Dean Foods.

According to the indictment and rather abundant trial testimony, Walters used confidential information over six years to profit to the tune of $43 million, either by buying shares ahead of the release of good news or selling them just before bad stuff became known publicly. Walters used tips fed him by Thomas C. Davis, Dean Foods board member and sometimes chairman who was heavily indebted to Walters and who went state’s evidence as part of his own guilty plea to a dozen charges.

Walters, 70, who professed innocence and will appeal after he’s sentenced in July, faces decades in prison–a likely life sentence at his age. He also earns a nomination to my new list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of people who got into trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. The still-embryonic list–a riff on the celebrated Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here“–can be found elsewhere on this page.

How much of what Walters was convicted of actually took place in Las Vegas isn’t completely clear to me. I didn’t attend the four-week trial in Manhattan, and daily news accounts of the proceedings were intermittent. But according to the indictment–remember, Walters was convicted on all counts, so the jury found the totality of the charges convincing–Sin City was definitely a venue for some of his purported dirty dealings.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Illinois politician sentenced to jail for Las Vegas junkets

jail for Las Vegas junkets

Oliver Hamilton (courtesy East St. Louis Township, Ill.)

For years, I have been writing up dodgy charities I have encountered, often after getting a telephone cold call asking for money and then doing a little research. Las Vegas and other parts of Nevada are home to paid telemarketers operating nationally who often receive as much as 90% of the money donated in the name of the charity. (This scurrilous fact is rarely volunteered to the person being called.)

This blog and my previous one, NewToSeattle.com, get a fair amount of traffic from other persons solicited who Google the name of the charity and come upon my musings. Believe it or not, some of these charities have kept calling me asking for money even after I have roasted them online. This is why I have nominated them for a list I started called America’s Stupidest Charities. This is only opinion, of course, but what can be dumber than that? You can see the list of nominations elsewhere on this site.

But New To Las Vegas, I see the need for a second list. The title: “It Didn’t Stay Here,” inspired by the famously cheeky marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” This list will consist of folks and firms getting into trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas.

My first nominee: Oliver Hamilton of East St. Louis, Ill.

A now ex-elected township supervisor, Hamilton. 63, was sentenced earlier this month in his local federal court to five years in prison for spending taxpayer money on, among other things, trips to Las Vegas. The guilty plea to federal wire fraud for embezzling public money covered improper spending of at least $40,000. But the Belleville News-Democrat, the Illinois newspaper that uncovered the scandal by diligently making public-record requests, said Hamilton charged at least $230,000 in personal purchases over a four-year period. Continue reading

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One topic Las Vegas image-makers ignore: Las Vegas scorpions

Las Vegas scorpions

Arizona bark scorpion (via Progressive Pest Control)

The image-makers of Las Vegas, especially the folks who coined the now-famous “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan, are terrific at selling this town. That’s one reason the local airport serves nearly 1 million passengers every single week in an area that has only two million residents.

But here’s one thing the Las Vegas publicists don’t talk about: Las Vegas scorpions. Search the official websites of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns the aforementioned slogan, for the word “scorpion” in a pest context, and you’ll come up with zip.

For me, this really hit home in home a couple weeks ago when a scorpion crawling across the ceiling actually fell into my own bed! Fortunately, I’m a light sleeper and was able to make short work of it with a pillow case organized-crime-style (hey, this is Vegas, baby, where the Mob Museum is a popular tourist attraction). I was careful to avoid the tail, tipped with a stinger that can swoop over and deliver a hefty load of potent venom. Continue reading

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On Las Vegas ethical standards

Las Vegas ethical standards

Rossi Ralenkotter (via LinkedIn)

There’s an interesting story in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Rossi Ralenkotter, the CEO and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, is upset an RJ reporter knocked on the front door of the gated-community home of one of Ralenkotter’s executives. I’m sure his outrage has nothing to do with some recent investigative reporting about his governmental agency by the paper, which happens to be owned by the family of a rival convention center operator.

But here’s the passage in today’s story that really caught my eye. The reporter “violated ethical standards that we in the business community of Las Vegas respect and uphold,” Ralenkotter is quoted as saying.

I have three observations here:

1/ Although I am still New To Las Vegas, it is far from clear to me that the city’s business community has much in the way of ethical standards (i.e. see the Las Vegas connection to the recent Panama Papers scandal). After all, a fair amount of the economy is grounded on vice and bribery.

2/ I immediately thought of the book-turned-movie “All the President’s Men,” which recounted considerable efforts by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward knocking on residential doors and meeting people after business hours. Their activities helped lead to the resignation of a U.S. president.

3/ What Ralenkotter really ought to be most upset about is the possibility that RJ reporters approached at their homes other LVCVA employees, who did not report those visits to him.

The LVCVA is the proud owner of the famous slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” which cheekily encourages behavior in Vegas that many might find offensive or unethical. Ralenkotter is already discovering that what’s reported here, doesn’t stay here.

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

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Far from Las Vegas, Donald Trump taxes and me

Donald Trump taxes

Donald J. Trump (via Wikipedia)

You might have heard about the big reveal on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last night that Donald J. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes in 2005. It certainly was interesting.

But it was not exactly a scoop.

For here is what I wrote for the Informer gossip column of Forbes, which I also edited, published on February 9, 2007:


Just a Bunch of Zeros

A snappy moment enlivened a Camden, N.J. hearing on Donald J. Trump’s libel suit over author Timothy L. O’Brien’s TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald. The book says Trump is worth less than $250 million. “I think I’m going to hire his accountant,” Superior Court Judge Irvin J. Snyder exclaimed on the bench after eyeing Trump’s still-secret-to-the-public tax returns. “He only paid $38,000 in tax.” Huge evidence for the defense? “Actually,” O’Brien lawyer Andrew J. Ceresney stammered, “it’s 38–well, 38 million, Your Honor.” Snyder replied, “Oh, thanks. I missed that.” Trump lawyer William M. Tambussi didn’t skip a beat: “So did Mr. O’Brien, Judge.” Trump says he’s worth $6 billion; FORBES figures $2.9 billion. –William P. Barrett Continue reading

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The caring folks of Las Vegas

caring folks of Las VegasTwo elderly men were in a Las Vegas supermarket shopping together. One was helping the other, taking items off the shelves and later taking those items from the shopping cart onto the belt at the check-out.

It was clear from their dialog–I was right behind them several times–that they didn’t live together or were in a romantic or even paid caretaker relationship. It was simply a stronger friend helping a frailer friend on what I gathered was a more-or-less regular basis.

This scenario–friends helping weaker friends in everyday shopping situations–is one I’ve encountered over and over in the half-year since becoming New To Las Vegas. Besides assorted supermarkets, I’ve seen it at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes’s and Costco.

I know this flies in the face of Las Vegas’s reputation as a “tough” town. And it might even be hard to square with a crime rate that is several times the national average. But it’s happening here, and it warms the heart. Continue reading

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