At the New To Las Vegas world headquarters recently, I received a telephone cold call from one Bob Malone. He was calling on behalf of American Coalition for Injured Veterans PAC. “Our vets desperately need your help,” he declared in a light Southern accent as he asked for a contribution.
Great, I said. Where is the organization located?
The next sound I heard was a click. Malone hung up on me without uttering another word.
Now that sure seems like a deal on the up-and-up, doesn’t it?
I knew immediately Malone was not a real person, but rather a computer-generated voice working with artificial intelligence and a real human being monitoring calls ready to pull the plug at the first hint of an obstacle. American Coalition isn’t all that real, either, in the sense that virtually none of the money raised benefits ailing veterans. The outfit, ostensibly based in Washington, D.C., was founded by Zachary Bass, a fellow from Baltimore I know a little bit about, and who has gotten into trouble with regulators for other endeavors.
You might get a call from one of Bass’s enterprises. So read on and be warned. Continue reading →
On a wall at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters is a blown-up replica of arguably the most famous magazine cover ever. “View of the World from 9th Avenue” by illustrator Saul Steinberg, graced the March 29, 1976, issue of The New Yorker. Its careful distortion of diminishing detail and distance–still studied in art schools–perfectly captured the notion that elite New York City residents are haughty folks full of hubris wrapped up in their own surroundings and barely able to distinguish much of anything west of the Hudson River.
Take a close look at the cover, which I have reproduced elsewhere on this page. Past the thin band across the middle of my native “Jersey,” you can see Chicago, Texas, Los Angeles, something representing the Rockies, and in the far distance beyond the Pacific Ocean, China, Japan (as one island) and Russia.
The U.S. Attorney in Manhattan this morning announced an indictment of four men–including three born in the lands of the former Soviet Union–on campaign finance charges involving laundering of Russian-money contributions benefiting Donald Trump and Republican candidates to state office in Nevada. Among many other things, the indictment states that an alleged conspiracy involving the four included a 2018 meeting in Las Vegas and hints the goal of the Nevada contributions–which public records suggest were to the campaigns that year of Attorney General Adam Laxalt for governor and Wesley Duncan for attorney general–was to grease the skids to get a retail marijuana license.
I have no idea whatsoever about the merits of the allegations, and there is no public evidence now that Laxalt and Duncan, accused of nothing, knew anything about purported motives. But the four-count, 21-page indictment is more than enough to make the four named defendants–Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, David Correia and Andrey Kukushkin–candidates for my list It Didn’t Stay Here. That roster consists of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas, refuting “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Visitors and Convention Authority. I’d say an indictment brought by feared federal prosecutors in the Southern District Of New York qualifies as trouble elsewhere. You can see previous nominees nearby. (As it happens, they also include Trump for an earlier matter).
This indictment will get massive attention because two of the defendants, Parnas and Fruman, have been helping Trump attorney/fixer Rudy Giuliani gin up allegations concerning Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, over their dealings in Ukraine. But as someone New To Las Vegas, I prefer to focus on the sideshow of the local angle. Continue reading →
This morning, the 38th edition of the Forbes 400, the famous annual ranking of the richest Americans, was released, and again it was bad news for the Las Vegas area. Of the seven locals on last year’s list, two dropped off completely, and most showed a decline in their individual net worth.
From a ranking standpoint, the biggest losers were brothers Lorenzo FertittaandFrank Fertitta, casino owners who last year were tied at No. 388 with net worths of $2.1 billion each year. Thanks to a 30% decline in the share price of their Red Rock Casinos, their stash is now assessed at $1.9 billion each, a 9½% decline. That put them below this year’s cutoff of $2.1 billion, and likely ranked in a tie for No. 404. But that’s no cigar on a list of 400. Continue reading →
Imagine two thieves who, after a heist, can’t agree on the division of spoils, and one of them actually sues the other in court. Outrageous, eh?
That’s sort of how I see the newest lawsuit brought by the Las Vegas Sun against the owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The Sun and the RJ have been in an federally sanctioned agreement for 30 years that allows them carte blanche to violate antitrust laws. Yet after three decades of enjoying these benefits, the Sun now claims the RJ is–wait for it–violating antitrust laws.
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →
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 →
Here’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.
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 Timesreported 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.
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 →
Allstate 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 →
Thanks 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 →
Eddie 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.
Updated 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). Theyinclude 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 →
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 →
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 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 →
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 →