Battling Las Vegas newspaper scorpions sink 11% in one year

Las Vegas newspaper scorpionsUpdated on September 29, 2019. See end of post.

Amid a continuing lawsuit over–what else?–money, the two daily newspapers in Las Vegas, which are distributed together, saw their average print circulation drop a staggering one-ninth in just one year.

The bad news was buried in tiny type in an obscure legal notice replete with typos (see update below) at the bottom of page 10-F in yesterday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal. The paper is owned by conservative Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. It is in a 50-year joint operating agreement with the Las Vegas Sun, which is owned by the more liberal Greenspun family and published as a separate section inserted in the RJ. The RJ handles all advertising, circulation and printing, as well as its own editorial project.

According to the notice, which is also submitted to the U.S. Postal Service under oath, the total average paid print circulation for the previous 12 months was 69,081. The year-earlier figure, published just as obscurely in the paper on September 23, 2018, was 77,826. Do the math, and that works out to a 11.24% drop–more than one-ninth. Because the 69,081 is a 12-month average of daily and Sunday, the current average print circulation for, say, last week, was probably even lower by several thousand.

In predicting this continuing circulation drop several weeks ago, I likened the situation to two scorpions fighting in a sinking bottle; the victor eventually will die, too. Nothing in the new numbers alters my view in the slightest. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas aloha to union money allegedly stolen in Hawaii

Brian Ahakuelo

Hawaiians call Las Vegas their “ninth island” because they love to visit, gamble and, thanks to the lower cost of living, even live here. By one account, every year 10% of all Hawaiians make the 5,550-mile roundtrip to Vegas, many traveling several times a year. Dozens of Hawaiian high school class reunions are held annually in Sin City. The California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas caters mightily to this offshore market with Hawaiian signage and cuisine. As someone New To Las Vegas, I run into native Hawaiians around town all the time.

Among those frequent visitors has been the family of Brian Ahakuelo, a once-prominent union leader on the islands. However, there may be a problem with some of the travels. If a recent 70-count federal indictment in Honolulu is to be believed along with an earlier union investigation, some of the trips were financed with money stolen from his union.

Ahakuelo, 58, wife Marilyn Ahakuelo, 55, and sister-in-law Jennifer Estencion, 52, all have pleaded not guilty to all the charges, the result of a three-year federal probe. Their lawyer promises a vigorous defense. The allegations include embezzlement, wire fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Some of the criminal charges carry prison sentences of up to 20 years.

That makes Ahakuelo and his wife the newest candidates for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. It’s a roster of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Vegas. It’s my rebuttal to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famously cheeky marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The list can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading

Las Vegas Sun versus Las Vegas Review-Journal: Two scorpions battle in a sinking bottle

Readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal opened their paper a week ago on August 30 to see this prominent headline in the lead upper-right corner of the front page: “Why we want to stop printing the Sun.”

The daily RJ is owned by casino tycoon and conservative Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The Las Vegas Sun, distributed as a skinny one-section ad-free insert in the RJ, has been owned since its founding in 1950 by the more liberal Greenspun family. Its founding patriarch, Hank Greenspun, had been a publicist for a mob-run casino as well as a convicted gunrunner (later pardoned by President John F. Kennedy). Since 1989 the papers have been in a joint operation agreement, sanctioned by a federal law that allows immunity from antitrust laws so long as one paper was in danger of failing (here, the Sun) and editorial operations remain independent. The Las Vegas JOA is scheduled to run until 2040.

The editorial–that’s what it was labeled–asserted that what was called the Sun‘s failure to produce a “high-quality metropolitan print newspaper” breached the JOA agreement, entitling the RJ to end the agreement. “The Sun would be free to have someone else print, sell and distribute their newspaper, if they wish,” the editorial asserted. That’s a facetious contention in my judgment since dissolution of a JOA almost always results in the demise of the weaker product, which the Sun surely is. In the past 40 years, all but five of the 30 or so JOAs around the country have collapsed, leaving a single paper in each remaining. And generally those survivors today are in worse shape than ever before.

A JOA is best understood as a stay of execution for the ailing partner. Or, using in this situation a Darwinian example, in a battle between two scorpions in a bottle, only one will survive–assuming the bottle doesn’t sink in water and also kill the victor. Continue reading

Now it’s Las Vegas grasshoppers getting ridiculous media attention

About a year ago, the folks around Winnemucca, a city of 7,400 in northern Nevada near the Oregon line, had an invasion of Mormon crickets. The ugly creatures were swarming everywhere, coating structures and yuckily eating their brethren run over by cars. For a couple weeks, a big mess all around.

Don’t remember reading about what I might call the Winnemucca Wipeout? Then you should ponder why the entire world is hearing about the Grasshopper Grossout now winding down in Las Vegas. I have a theory about this.

My Google search for material containing the words “grasshoppers” and “Las Vegas” just returned nearly 3 million hits. My Google search for “Mormon crickets” and “Winnemucca:” only about 1,000.

The video nearby–with spooky music and a grasshopper closeup resembling Godzilla proportions–was put online by The Hindu. That’s the second-largest English language newspaper in far-away India (with a circulation five times greater than all Nevada dailies combined). There are scores of breathless other clips posted by foreign media outlets, all with horror-movie-like images. Continue reading

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 Authority 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 Authority 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

Also for Joe Biden, It Didn’t Stay Here in Las Vegas

It Didn't Stay Here

Joseph R. Biden Jr.

It’s anyone’s guess whether, before next year’s presidential election, Donald J. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. will appear on the same platform to debate the great issues of the day. But they both are now on the same platform–right here.

Those of you who follow this space know that I have a long-running feature, “It Didn’t Stay Here.” It consists of stories about folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. It’s a pointed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the well-known marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. The full list is nearby.

In 2017, New to Las Vegas, I nominated Trump for the list after a 2013 video surfaced of him partying along the Strip with Russians and Rob Goldstone. He’s the British publicist who later set up the infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., brother-in-law Jared Kushner, then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a clutch of Russians supposedly bearing gifts in the form of Kremlin-sanctioned dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Vegas has a funny way of popping up at the most unexpected of times. On Friday, prominent Las Vegas politician Lucy Flores wrote an essay for the New York Magazine website “The Cut” saying then-Vice President Biden inappropriately smelled her hair and kissed her on the back of her head at a 2014 Democratic campaign rally in a Las Vegas union hall during her unsuccessful bid to be Nevada lieutenant governor. Biden “touched me in an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners—and I felt powerless to do anything about it,” she wrote. At the time Flores was 35 year old; Biden was 71. (Click here to see photos of the rally.) Continue reading

Green Book–the real thing, not the movie–shows racist history of Las Vegas

racist history of Las Vegas

Green Book 1962 edition (courtesy New York Public Library)

The name of the Best Picture Oscar-winning movie “Green Book” comes from a published guide to places where black travelers and tourists could stay without being hassled on account of their race during much of the 20th century after the advent of automobiles. In the movie, the Green Book was used to help guide real-life characters–black pianist Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali, who won his own Best Supporting Actor Oscar) and his white driver/bodyguard, Tony Vallelonga (portrayed by Viggo Mortensen)–across the deep South during a 1962 concert tour.

The South, of course, was infamous for its racial intolerance. So it’s easy for folks in other parts of the country to look back and smirk. However, the Green Book–its full name was the Negro Motorist Green Book–quickly came to cover the entire United States.

And it proved to be an interesting measure of racial comity. Based on the paucity of listings in most places, few regions came out looking good.

But few fared as poorly as Las Vegas. Continue reading

Iffy cancer charity trolls anew in Las Vegas

Iffy cancer charityIt was Alice on the phone again at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. She was shilling again for United Breast Cancer Foundation, imploring me to make a small pledge “for the ladies.” I kept saying I first wanted to review any literature she might care to mail me. On what likely was a recorded line, that was not a condition that pleased her, as it would not be possible for UBCF to follow up with a letter demanding I make good on my oral pledge. After going back and forth, she finally ended the call by beseeching me to tell three women to get mammograms.

Alice was not a real person but rather a voice generated by an interactive computer using artificial intelligence and monitored by a real human. This technology still has a way to go. In my opinion Alice wasn’t all that responsive to my remarks and actually came across as a little slow on the uptick.

Which I would say much the same about UBCF, which is based in Huntington, N.Y. After Alice called me a year ago, I researched the charity, saw how little of the cash donations went to items I considered meritorious, and wrote a withering post. Now I’m getting called again by UBCF and still being asked for money. So I’m nominating UBCF to my long-running list of “America’s Stupidest Charities.” It’s a roster of nonprofits that solicit me for a contribution after I already have strongly criticized them in a public post. Really, can it get any dumber than that? You can review the list elsewhere on this page.

Alice’s call gave me an excuse to dig up UBCF’s latest available financial filings and conduct a fresh analysis. I was able to find the audited financial statement and IRS Form 990 filing for a later period, the year ending December 31, 2017, on the website of the North Carolina Secretary of State. (Despite a state law, the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office doesn’t post online meaningful financial filings). It’s still not a pretty picture. Continue reading

Accused knife killer of homeless Las Vegas man I found had just left jail facing a sword charge

knife killer of homeless Las Vegas man

Jarrid Johnson (booking photo courtesy Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept.)

See updates at end of story

It’s possible Jarrid Johnson, the man charged with stabbing to death the homeless Las Vegas fellow whose body I found last month on the street near my home, has a thing with blades.

According to my reading of the public court record, Johnson, 25, had been released without bail on his own recognizance less than two days earlier for another felony charge. That alleged offense: domestic violence using a sword!

Had Johnson remained in custody, he wouldn’t have been on the street to encounter Ralph Franzello, 63. It was Franzello’s lifeless body, surrounded by a lot of blood and his remaining life’s possessions in an overturned shopping cart, that I spotted on a deserted block while walking the dog near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters. The time was just before dawn on the morning of December 21–the year’s shortest day. I quickly called 911.

According to authorities, a remorseful Johnson turned himself in unprompted at the county jail three days later and confessed to the crime, saying he used Franzello’s own folding knife in the middle-of-the-night deed. One news account said Johnson acknowledged attacking Franzello after being caught going through Franzello’s possessions, presumably in the shopping cart that remained at the scene of the crime for several days thereafter. Johnson is being held on $500,000 bail pending a hearing scheduled for tomorrow.

But the same authorities that eagerly issued a press release about Johnson’s arrest didn’t bother to mention that he had been freed from custody literally hours earlier with the state’s consent pending trial in a separate case of violence involving clear indications of mental illness. At least, that’s what alleged use of a sword in an assault on a family member says to me. So the Johnson matter may well raise serious issues about how the overworked Nevada court system evaluates such troubled individuals even before being convicted. I also believe some of these details concerning Johnson’s background have not been reported elsewhere in the Las Vegas media.

Continue reading

Belongings of slain homeless person purposefully left on Las Vegas sidewalk

slain homeless person

Slain homeless person’s possessions and blood at murder site two days later in Las Vegas

See updates at end of story

Walking the dog Friday morning before dawn on the year’s shortest day, I came across a grisly sight near the New To Las Vegas world headquarters: the body of a homeless man on the side of a deserted semi-commercial cul-de-sac. Blood coated the asphalt around him. Nearby: an overturned shopping cart containing his possessions.

I called 911, and Las Vegas Metro Police units quickly responded. The street was closed off for about 12 hours as ambulances, detectives, police photographers, coroner office personnel and eventually some kind of hazmat clean-up team worked the site. Officers confirmed to me–and to the Las Vegas news media–that the man had been stabbed multiple times with a knife, likely overnight some hours before I passed by. A murder investigation is underway.

This morning, a full two days later, I walked that block again with the dog. I observed several elements of note, all of which I documented in a photo I took that is nearby.

First, someone had put a memorial lit candle by the spot where I found the body.

Touching.

Second, the hazmat team did such a poor job of cleaning that the victim’s blood was clearly visible in the street more than 48 hours later (that reddish rectangle to the left of the candle).

Gross.

Finally, the victim’s meager possessions were still in the shopping cart, which had been righted and put on the sidewalk.

Indefensible.

I am advised that it is official Metro policy to leave the belongings of deceased homeless folks where they are found if in a public place. Two officers told me Metro feels it doesn’t have the legal authority to take away stuff that isn’t evidence. Even putting aside the obvious lack of dignity and humanity, that’s ridiculous. Authorities surely can temporarily store such goods until the victim is identified, and any next-of-kin notified and given the chance to retrieve the possessions.

This is taking way too far the semi-official Las Vegas slogan, “What happens here, stays here.”

Update on December 27, 2018:

If a report on KVVU-TV, the Fox affiliate, is to be believed, the killer might have been asleep in a nearby dumpster when I found the body, and not discovered by the police who quickly responded. According to the report, one Jarrid Johnson, 25, walked in the county jail three days later and confessed to the crime. He was charged with murder with a deadly weapon. The homeless person victim was identified as Ralph Franzello. He reportedly caught Johnson going through his things, a fight ensued and Johnson repeated stabbed Franzello, quite possibly with the victim’s own knife.

Further update on January 1, 2019:

A notice on a Las Vegas funeral home website says Franzello was 63 years old, two decades older than the original estimates in news account of a man in his 40s. No other details were given.

Yet another update on January 3, 2019:

Nearly a week after KVVU-TV, citing a police report, identified the victim as Ralph Franzello, the Clark County Coroner’s Office confirmed the ID and ruled his death a homicide. Stated cause of death: “multiple sharp and blunt force injuries.” That certainly would account for all the blood I saw when I found the body. Meanwhile, according to the website of the Clark County Detention Center, Jarrid Johnson, the accused killer, remains jailed in lieu of $500,000 bail and has some kind of hearing scheduled for January 18.

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

It Didn’t Stay Here: Alleged bribe to NY cop included hooker in Las Vegas

hooker in Las VegasSee update at end of story

t continues to amaze me how questionable stuff that happens in Las Vegas can make big news elsewhere but not cause much of a stir here.

My latest example is a long-running criminal case in New York City currently the subject of a federal-court trial. Among other things, James Grant, a former high-ranking New York Police Department officer, is accused of taking bribes that included a room at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas during a Super Bowl weekend and the services of a hooker who flew in with him on a private jet to, ah, watch the game with him.

This scandal has been playing itself out in the New York media for more than two years, with headlines like “Ex-Hooker Testifies About Vegas Debauchery at NYPD Bribery Case.” That came during the ongoing criminal trial, in which a verdict hasn’t been reached. But you wouldn’t know about the case from the Las Vegas media. A search of the online Las Vegas Review-Journal archives shows no coverage at all. In 2016 the Las Vegas Sun website ran an Associated Press story about the arrest of Grant that mentioned (1) the hooker, (2) Super Bowl weekend, (3) the private jet and (4) a fancy hotel room while editing out (5) this took place in Las Vegas.

Still, the caper is good enough to make Grant and co-defendant Jeremy Reichberg, accused of bribing him, candidates for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. Still New To Las Vegas, I call this my continuing rebuttal to “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous (or infamous) marketing pitch of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Previous nominees, which includes some big names, can be found elsewhere on this page. Continue reading