Poorly rated child illness charity is back trolling in Las Vegas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Didn't Stay Here

Thomas Malone (via LinkedIn)

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

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

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

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

Las Vegas-area drivers are far worse than the national average

Las Vegas-area driversAllstate Insurance is out with its latest annual rankings of the nation’s 200 most populous cities with the best and worse drivers. It’s not good news for the Las Vegas area.

The giant insurer calculated ranks for seven places in the Las Vegas Valley, comprising 94% of the Clark County population: the cities of Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson, and the unincorporated townships of Enterprise, Paradise, Spring Valley and Sunrise Manor. Averaged together, the seven ranked No. 138, in the bottom third of the list, where No. 1 is best and No. 200 is worst.

That’s bad enough. But the reality was actually more depressing than that, because No. 100–the middle ranking in a list of 200–is not the national average. Continue reading

Far from Las Vegas: U.S. once had a gay president, and vice president, too

gay president

President James Buchanan (via Wikipedia)

Over the weekend, Pete Buttigieg, the only openly gay presidential candidate for 2020, told a TV interviewer that it was “statistically almost certain” that the U.S. already has had a gay president.

I can do a lot better than that. Not only has the U.S. had a gay president, it also had a gay vice president, although not at the same time. But amazingly, the two were an item for many years.

Don’t worry, you didn’t miss this sleeping through your high school class on American history. This kind of stuff just wasn’t in the curriculum in the old days. Continue reading

Far from Las Vegas, UFO-mania began with bogus Roswell Incident

Roswell IncidentThanks largely to The New York Times, UFOs–unidentified flying objects–are back in the news. U.S. Navy pilots went public with accounts of objects whizzing through the atmosphere at speeds suggesting their provenance was extraterrestrial, although none explicitly used that characterization.

Fascination with UFOs is a long-standing thing. Two years ago The Times reported on how Las Vegas’s own U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, now retired, pumped secret U.S. government dollars for years into a secret UFO-research project.

Meanwhile, next month will be the 72d anniversary of the event that is the cornerstone of all UFO claims. I am referring to the Roswell Incident, the assertion that alien bodies from a flying saucer crash were recovered from the New Mexico desert in the summer of 1947. After a brief burst of publicity, the matter faded from light until publication of the 1980 book The Roswell Incident. Its uncredited co-author, Stanton Friedman, just died at age 84 after a lucrative career spreading the gospel of Roswell and other events like supposed alien abductions through paid lectures and writings.

Long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I lived in New Mexico and had occasion more than two decades ago to delve at length into the bona fides of the Roswell Incident. I interviewed some of the folks involved and even Friedman, as well as some of the other researchers, proponents and skeptics. I took a hard look at what could be proved.

Now I’m not here to pass judgment on other UFO incidents; it’s a big universe we live in and, notwithstanding the limitations of the laws of physics, who knows what might be out there? But I am here to tell you that absolutely nothing extraterrestrial happened around Roswell. Zip. Da nada. Goose eggs across the board. The only extraordinary element I found was the ability of the Roswell Incident to turn alleged little green men into actual big green dollars for an army of enthusiasts including certain authors and some of the residents of Roswell.

In August 1996, I published my investigative findings in Crosswinds, New Mexico’s largest alternative newspaper, co-owned and edited by my good friend, Steve Lawrence. Sadly, both Steve and his publication are now deceased. The lengthy story was entitled “Now where was it those aliens crashed?” The text is reproduced below after the break. Were I writing it from scratch today, I’m not sure I would change very much beyond updating (although I did make a few modifications to accommodate this online format, including insertion of some links). A later article by me in 2001 also in Crosswinds debunked the Roswell Incident even more.

The New Mexico map illustrating this post was published with my 1996 story. Please refer to it as you read, as it pretty much gives away the Roswell store. Continue reading

Police-themed cause trolling Las Vegas spent zip on stated missions

Police-themed causeEddie didn’t give me his last name when he called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters recently. Since he was a interactive computer rather than a real person, it’s possible he didn’t have one.

But he got straight to the point. He was calling on behalf of Police Officers Support Association, which he described as a project of Law Enforcement for a Safer America PAC [political action committee], based in Sarasota, Fla. He pressed for a pledge, saying, as I heard it, that donations would go to two missions: (1) supporting political candidates, and (2) helping families of fallen officers.

Okay, I said. How much goes to political contributions and how much goes to families of fallen officers?

Here in its entirety was Eddie’s response: “Okay. Goodbye.” Click.

If you think that seems a little suspicious, so did I. Fortunately, it didn’t take much research through the online records of the Federal Election Commission, where PACs make filings, to see why Eddie or the human undoubtedly monitoring the call might not have wanted to answer my simple double-barreled question.

According to its filings, LEFASA raised $1.09 million in 2018, a major election year. Here’s the amount spent on political contributions: $0. Here’s the amount spent on families of fallen officers: $0.

It doesn’t get any lower than that. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: New York trial for Las Vegas sports payoffs

Las Vegas sports payoffsUpdated on May 8, 2019, and again on October 3, 2019. See end of post.

I can hardly wait for the movie version.

According to testimony in an ongoing New York bribery trial involving college basketball players, corrupt sports agent Christian Dawkins was in a fancy blue-hued suite at the fancy Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas in July 2017. He had to get an $11,000 cash payoff to a Texas A&M player whom he hoped to rep–fast. So he and several others went to a store in the Cosmo, bought a pair of sports shoes, stuffed the bills into the shoes, wrapped the shoe box and shipped it via FedEx, also from the hotel.

What happens here, stays here, they like to say in Las Vegas. Don’t believe it. It’s only a marketing slogan, anyway, dreamed up by a vendor for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau as a cheeky way of promoting the, ah, attractions of Sin City.

And the premise is often false–so often, in fact, that I have started a list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It consists of individuals in trouble somewhere else for something that happened in Las Vegas. You can see the full list nearby. Why, it even includes Donald J. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.

Dawkins is now nominated to the list, along with a slew of assistant college basketball coaches implicated in testimony as doing something untoward in Las Vegas, like taking envelopes full of cash for players Dawkins hopes to represent (a big no-no in the supposedly amateur world of college sports). They include Tony Bland of USC ($13,000), Preston Murphy of Creighton ($6,000), Corey Barker of TCU (also $6,000) and Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans ($4,500). Continue reading

‘What’s it like living in Las Vegas?’

What's it like living in Las Vegas

Backside side of the famous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Strip

It’s a question I hear all the time when traveling, conducting business on the phone or interacting on social media. I tell someone my home is in Las Vegas. The response often is an astonished pause, followed by a breathless, “What’s it like living in Las Vegas?” Or something to that effect. It happened to me during a family trip to Georgia in February, when I was in Los Angeles last month judging a journalism competition, while chatting up someone on the phone in New York last week, and in a Facebook exchange with a long-time friend this week.

It’s almost as though I said I lived in Baghdad, or Pyongyang, or maybe the Moon.

The astonishment, I suspect, has a number of sources, all grounded in the notion that Las Vegas has a reputation as a despicable place not fit for habitation by normal folks (which, of course, helps make it a great place to visit). This reputation perhaps includes perceptions of excessive summer heat, poor air quality, bad local morals, accident-prone drivers, crime, the October 1 massacre, inadequate medical care and under-performing schools.

The “Sin City” nickname probably doesn’t help. Nor does the famous marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” Nor the 1995 movie “Leaving Las Vegas,” featuring Nicolas Cage’s Oscar-winning performance as a down-and-out Hollywood scriptwriter who moves to Vegas to successfully drink himself to death. (When remembered, the upbeat 1964 song fest film, “Viva Las Vegas,” starring Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret, cuts a bit the other way, and Ann-Margret does live now in Las Vegas.)

Some of these factors are undoubtedly valid. But there are 2 million people living in the Las Vegas metro area (a statistic that often surprises people from elsewhere when I cite it), compared with all of 18 at the start of the 20th century just 119 years ago. (Don’t take my word; click here to see the single handwritten U.S. Census enumeration page listing everyone in 1900 in Las Vegas.) The Clark County School District, which includes all of metro Las Vegas, is now the nation’s fifth largest by number of students (another eye-popping number for some). There must be a reason why so many people are here and indeed growing rapidly in number. Continue reading

Poorly rated child illness charity solicits illegally in Las Vegas

poorly rated child illness charityUpdated on April 24, 2019. See end of story.

The phone rang at the New To Las Vegas World Headquarters. The cold caller said her name was Grace Miller. She sought a donation by me to the Childhood Leukemia Foundation, headquartered in far-away Brick, N.J., and asked if I would make a pledge.

I said I would be happy to review any literature she could send me. This apparently was not exactly the answer she hoped to hear. We had a back and forth. But after Miller could not get me to commit to a donation–on what likely was a recorded line, which would be used against me should I decline to pay–she terminated the call.

This afforded me the chance to locate online CLF’s latest financial filings, for the year ending December 31, 2017. They might help explain the extreme urgency of Miller–not actually a person but an interactive computer-generated voice monitored by a human–to get a sight-unseen pledge from me. By CLF’s own filings, the charity spent more than 75% of the money donated on fundraising costs, dwarfing the amount left for, say, helping kids fight illness, the stated mission. Indeed, according to the filings, of CLF’s total expenses for the year, just 21% went to the mission.

Since donors usually want the bulk of their gifts to go to the cause, these are terrible financial efficiency ratios for a charity. How terrible? CLF won’t agree to be evaluated by the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, a charity watchdog group that says no more than 35% of donations should be spent on fundraising expense, and no less than 65% of the total budget on the mission. Not sending the BBB paperwork is a huge red flag for would-be donors.

On its zero-to-four-stars scale, Charity Navigator, another leading nonprofit watchdog, gives CLF an overall rating of zero stars. It doesn’t come any lower than that. Last year, Consumer Reports magazine listed CLF on the bad side of its “Best and Worst Charities for Your Donation.” Yelp reviews are no kinder.

On top of all this that, CLF was soliciting illegally in Nevada. With a few exceptions not applicable here, a 2013 Nevada law prohibits non-religious charities from seeking donations in the state without first registering with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office and renewing that registration annually. CLF does not come up in the online database on the Secretary of State’s website as ever being registered. I confirmed this by calling the main office in Carson City. Nor, I was told, was an application from CLF being processed but not yet in the system. Continue reading