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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many would-be donors would find this satisfactory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then–click. She hung up.

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

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

Continue reading

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

faux charity pitches in Las VegasSee update at end of story

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

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

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

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

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Forbes 400 roster in Las Vegas falls to two

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visitors, still be aware.

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

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Faux cancer charity pitches Las Vegas with variation on a theme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fatal flaw in Trump's voting fraud claim

Donald J. Trump (courtesy donaldjtrump.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

killer whose victim I found

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, did I learn a lot! Continue reading

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

pandemic still hits Las Vegas

Las Vegas newspaper headline, 1918

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Faux charity trolling Las Vegas for relief causes spent $0 on stated mission

Faux charityThe chipper voice on the phone recently at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said she was soliciting money for Breast Cancer Relief Committee. I hadn’t heard about that organization. But that’s not surprising, since there are thousands of cancer causes out there.

The cold caller went through her spiel about helping ailing women. But she mentioned the way to help them would be by supporting political candidates. Hmmmmm.

“Is that a charity?” I asked, batting my baby-blue eyes at my phone.

“Yes,” the caller replied.

Now, that was a blatantly false answer. Charities are barred by law from making contributions to politicians. The full name of the cause calling me was Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC, as in political action committee. The legitimate function of a PAC is to give received donations to support or oppose candidates for political office in line with the PAC’s stated conceit (conservative, liberal, pro-health care, pro-cop, you name it). Contributions by you to PACs are most definitely not tax-deductible. That might have been why the caller left out the PAC part in her initial pitch to me.

The only reason I don’t call the answer I was given to my question about charitable status a lie is that the caller wasn’t exactly a person, but rather a computer-generated voice controlled by a hidden but live operator who hits keys on a keyboard (using what is known  as “soundboard technology”). It’s possible the hidden but live operator who controls the answers simply hit the wrong key. Of course, the hidden but live operator should have known better.

By expressing some interest in making a pledge, I eventually got switched to a live person who wasn’t hidden. She told me that Breast Cancer Relief Committee is a name used by something called American Coalition for Crisis Relief PAC, in Windermere, Fla. As you will see later, that location is officially false, too.

Let’s cut to the chase. I started perusing records filed with the Federal Election Commission. In its entire reported history, from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2021, American Coalition received $3.46 million in donations, mostly from small donors. Guess how much was given to political candidates?

Zero. Not. One. Penny. You spent more on your last Starbucks.

So maybe, you ask, American Coalition is amassing a war chest for future campaigns (although 2020, a presidential election year with control of Congress at stake, was pretty big)? Nope. American Coalition, which also solicits under the name Veterans Crisis Relief Fund PAC, spent upwards of 98% of the money raised on fundraising expenses and overhead, including fees to a entity apparently controlled by its leaders. Cash in the bank on June 30 was just $54,528.24, which in this era of big-money politics isn’t going to support a lot of candidates going forward.

I call these PACs with outrageous financial efficiencies misleadingly soliciting in the name of seemingly worthy causes “faux charities.” They exist mainly to financially benefit their operators (it’s never disclosed how much they rake off, perhaps in kickbacks from telemarketers), not the public. There’s at least one blog post on the Internet calling American Coalition something a lot worse.

And as it turns out, American Coalition has some interesting ties–and shared m.o.’s, down to key words in the name–to an iffy charity I wrote about in this space exactly four years ago today.

Intrigued? Read on. Continue reading

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A warning to would-be Las Vegas visitors

Las Vegas visitorsSee update at end of story

With 0.7% of the national population, the Las Vegas area this morning reported 3.1% of all COVID-19 deaths nationally, or 24 out of 725. That’s more than four times the national per-capita rate.

This is an unfortunate trend that has persisted locally for months, and is undoubtedly linked to the relatively low vaccination rate in Nevada. Previous New To Las Vegas posts have suggested this is the result of a high local tolerance for risk.

The Las Vegas chunk of the national death rate has been as high as 8%. But it’s dropped not because the locals are doing a much better job of vaccinating but mainly because the death count elsewhere have risen.

Would-be visitors, take note. The risk in Las Vegas begins long before you hit the casinos on the Strip.

UPDATE ON AUGUST 6, 2021: This morning, the Las Vegas area, still with 0.7% of the national population, reported 4.5% of all COVID-19 deaths nationally, 26 of 594. That’s more than six times the national per-capita rate. Things are getting worse in Sin City.

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

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Las Vegas could do a lot more to fight the pandemic

fight the pandemic

Las Vegas Strip

For two months I’ve been writing in this space about how COVID-19 rates in the Las Vegas area were far higher than the national average. That was before the Delta variant pulled up the rates everywhere. But Vegas is still near the top, with nearly1,000 new cases a day!Yesterday, authorities reported 28 COVID-19 deaths in Las Vegas. That was nearly 8% of the national fatality total, even though the Las Vegas metro area population is only 0.7% of the national population. It probably will not surprise you to know that Las Vegas has one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates.

So what are local governmental leaders doing to fight the pandemic? In my view, not nearly enough. Continue reading

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In Las Vegas COVID-19 looks like the issue in 2022 race for governor

Las Vegas COVID-19See update at end of story

In Seattle, a science-oriented city where I lived before becoming New To Las Vegas and which I visited earlier this month, COVID-19 and its vaccination are taken quite seriously. More than 70% of the adults are fully vaccinated. Mask-wearing is embraced. As a result, infection rates are way down, notwithstanding the various variants.

It’s quite a contrast with Las Vegas, a doctor-deficient area where in my view folks still are not taking the pandemic with very much respect. The fully vaccinated rate in Clark County, where Las Vegas sits, is only 41% and folks in my presence give nonsensical reasons why they don’t plan to get the shots. People here were chucking masks even before federal authorities eased the rules. So, as they quote the odds in the many sports books here, the betting line that the person next to me in a store is un-vaccinated is -150, meaning an odds-on favorite of 60%.

On Friday, state authorities reported a whopping 792 new coronavirus cases in Clark County, the largest daily number in months. I say whopping because that was 5.2% of all new cases reported in the entire country, even though Clark County has just 0.7% of the country’s population. The Clark County death count was down to 3 from the usual 7, but that still was still 1.0% of all the deaths in the country. or 42% above the current national per-capita rate.

Because of this, I think next year’s governor’s race in Nevada is going to see the pandemic and the local response as a major issue. It probably shouldn’t be. But we live in super-political times. And pandemic response also may be the best issue that out-of-power Republicans in Nevada have, especially if they can muddle the record a la The Big Lie technique employed by Donald J. Trump. Continue reading

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Once again, Nevada aims for history with execution of Las Vegas murderer

execution of Las Vegas murderer

Zane Floyd (courtesy Nevada Department of Corrections)

An inmate sits on death row in Nevada awaiting execution in a unique way, with a combination of lethal drugs never before used for that purpose. But believe it or not, if carried out, this would not be the first time the Silver State has made death penalty history.

The inmate is Zane Floyd, 45. He was convicted of murdering four workers at a Las Vegas supermarket in 1999. His videotaped confession was played in court–along with store video of his acts. It took a jury barely two hours to convict him of four counts of first-degree murder and various other charges, including an earlier sexual assault.

The Nevada Supreme Court upheld his conviction and sentence way back in 2002. Floyd’s appeals now have been exhausted. With the support of Gov. Steve Sisolak, the Nevada legislature just scuttled an effort to abolish the death penalty in Nevada, maybe Floyd’s last hope.

But the Nevada Department of Corrections has been having problems finding drugs to use in the execution, which is now scheduled for next month. Officials recently told a court a four-drug cocktail, including some alternatives, would be used. One drug for sure would be ketamine, an anesthetic. Floyd’s lawyers say ketamine never has been used in an American execution and thus would be part of a never-before-used protocol. They say it could lead to “excessive secretions from the mouth” and vomiting while generating burning sensation in Floyd’s veins and lungs leading to “unconstitutional pain and suffering” despite the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” They are pushing for a firing squad, saying death would be instantaneous.

The rest of this post mostly repeats word-for-word what I wrote in this space in 2018 involving another impending Nevada unique drug-combo execution case, that of double murderer Scott Dozier. Unlike Floyd, Dozier wanted to die. Fed up with delays caused by lawyers he tried to fire, Dozier eventually cheated the executioner by hanging himself in his death row cell at the Ely State Prison.

As someone New To Las Vegas, I think it can be fairly debated whether a thinly populated, minimal government desert state like Nevada has the expertise and competence to pull off a humane execution using an untested process, in this case the specific drug combo. But astonishingly, this wouldn’t be the first time that Nevada has ventured down this Brave New World path.

You see, Nevada was the first jurisdiction in the entire world to execute a condemned prisoner in a gas chamber. That was nearly a century ago in 1924. The state somewhat botched the first attempt. There are lessons here. Continue reading

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Policy issues remain as Las Vegas killer of victim I found to plead guilty but mentally ill

Las Vegas killer

Jarrid Johnson (courtesy Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.)

While walking the dog near dawn on the shortest day of 2018–December 21–I found the murdered, mutilated body of a homeless man less than a football field away from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. His name was Ralph Franzello, 63.

The person who killed him with multiple stabbings of a knife–Franzello’s knife–turned out to be Jarrid Johnson, a local man who at the time was 25. Perhaps burdened by a guilty conscience, he walked into the Clark County Detention Center a few days later on Christmas Eve and confessed to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police homicide detectives.

According to court records, after lengthy plea bargain talks apparently delayed by the pandemic, Johnson yesterday filed papers agreeing to plead guilty but mentally ill in Clark County District Court to second degree murder. Nevada law allows a guilty but mentally ill plea–most states don’t–but all it seems to mean here is that he is supposed to receive some mental health treatment while incarcerated.

As tragic as this whole situation is, there also is a big underlying governmental accountability issue here, which I wrote about a few weeks after the murder. Johnson had been in jail on a charge of battery upon a relative–apparently an uncle–with a sword. To me, attacking a loved one with a sword suggests mental illness big time. Yet the judge–Karen P. Bennett-Haron of Las Vegas Township Justice Court–had released him from custody on his own recognizance on the motion of his public defender with the approval of the Clark County prosecutor’s office without even requiring that Johnson appear in court so he could be sized up in person.

Not 36 hours later, Franzello was killed in the middle of the night on a desolate street behind a supermarket he shopped at under a streetlight that wasn’t working. Had Johnson been in jail–or even in an outpatient facility–getting the treatment he so clearly needed, Franzello, who according to a sibling moved to Las Vegas from my native state of New Jersey more than 20 years ago and eventually became homeless, might still be alive today.

But of course, Nevada is a minimal government, minimal tax state. Such services are in short supply. The police press release trumpeting Johnson’s arrest did not mention the inconvenient fact that authorities had just released him despite his needy state. Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, faux charity calls me twice in same day

Anna” is pushy. And not very smart.

On a recent day, she phoned me twice at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, several hours apart. Each time, she asked for a contribution to something called the Breast Cancer and Women’s Health Initiative, of Washington, D.C. She said the donation would be spent backing candidates for political office to support policies that would help women with breast cancer.

Listening to her sweet, friendly voice, one might think she was calling on behalf of a health care charity doing good works for humanity. This undoubtedly is what her overlords wanted me to think. But she wasn’t. Her organization is a d/b/a used by something called the United Women’s Health Alliance PAC. PAC means political action committee. I call these outfits faux charities because they sound like a charity but aren’t. (For starters, contributions are not tax-deductible, something the callers do not emphasize.)

I can cast aspersions on the intelligence and character of “Anna” without fear of getting sued by her for defamation. Why? She isn’t a person, but simply a voice generated by a computer being monitored by a real person who hits buttons to generate relevant responses to anything I say (the reason I have been putting quote marks around her name). Continue reading

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In Las Vegas, many folks openly reject COVID-19 vaccinations

reject COVID-19 vaccinations

Entrance to Dog Fancier’s Park, Las Vegas

After a half-year break, I started going back with the pet at night to Dog Fancier’s Park, the off-leash dog park near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. It’s the largest and nicest around Las Vegas, with stadium lighting until 11 p.m. and bathrooms for humans. A friendly place, dog owners chat while their canines cavort. But I’m not sure I’m going to continue visiting.

The reason isn’t so much that in the age of COVID-19 virtually none of the other adults are wearing masks (one of the reasons I stopped going last fall). After all, since mid-February I’ve been fully vaccinated (Moderna, if you want to know). Federal authorities now say I’m good to go, with or without a mask on me or those around me.

It’s that I run into folks who actually brag that they haven’t gotten vaccinated and have no intention of becoming so. They are also sitting at the other end of a park bench from me that’s not really six feet long.

How does the issue of their vaccination status come up? Well, a la Forrest Gump on that Savannah bench, I often ask, as politely as I can. I suppose this might become the New Protocol of the coronavirus age, although in Las Vegas, at least, getting the truth is always a crap shoot. Continue reading

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