A snapshot of Las Vegas

Among the most important stories right now on a Saturday afternoon around the New To Las Vegas headquarters, according to the home page of the Las Vegas Review-Journal: four suspicious deaths in three incidents and an Army deserter running in a GOP primary (considered the least significant of the four stories). Welcome to Sin City.snapshot of Las vegas

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Unique execution of Las Vegas killer would not be Nevada’s first

execution of Las Vegas killer

Scott Dozier (courtesy Nevada Department of Corrections)

Scott Dozier sits on death row in Nevada awaiting execution for the 2002 murder in a Las Vegas Strip motel of a fellow drug dealer, who was then sawed into multiple pieces, stuffed (mostly) into a suitcase and discarded. Dozier, 47, who also has been convicted of murder in Arizona, acknowledges guilt and says he wants to die. The State of Nevada is quite willing to accommodate him.

But for the prescribed method of lethal injection, the Nevada Department of Corrections has proposed using a three-drug combination that has never been used before, in Nevada or elsewhere. Even though Dozier now says he doesn’t much care how he dies, the case has been bouncing around Nevada courts. One issue is whether the specific mix–the paralytic drug cisatracurium, the anti-anxiety drug diazepam and the pain reliever fentanyl–violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” if not for Dozier, then for future condemned inmates.

Now, 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, it was Nevada that became 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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Las Vegas as observed by Tom Wolfe in 1964

Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe (via National Endowment for the Humanities)

Some of the tributes to Tom Wolfe, the famously cutting New Journalism wordsmith who died last week at age 88, made reference to one of his earliest magazine efforts, a 1964 article for Esquire about a town arising in the Nevada desert called Las Vegas. As his obituary in The New York Times quoted–high up–one literary critic, “His prose style is normally shotgun baroque, sometimes edging over into machine-gun rococo, as in his article on Las Vegas which begins by repeating the word ‘hernia’ 57 times.”

I read that article years before becoming New To Las Vegas. After locating a copy this week, I counted. Indeed, the word “hernia” does appear exactly 57 times at the start.

Wolfe’s work is entitled “Las Vegas (What?) Las Vegas (Can’t Hear You! Too Noisy) Las Vegas!!!!” That might give you a sense of Wolfe’s overall take, which isn’t too complimentary. But his piece sure is a great read.

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In Las Vegas, Nevada Secretary of State’s Office proves its incompetence yet again

An expose put online today by the Las Vegas Review-Journal describes how the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office does little to nothing to stop scamsters from making fake corporation filings with the agency to swindle folks out of property in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Even worse, the agency disclaims any responsibility. The story, by reporter Brian Joseph, says this lack of due diligence by the office has been a problem “for years.”

I’ll say. Way back in 1991, long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I wrote in Forbes about how the very same office accepted incorporation papers from a nonexistent company in a nonexistent country, both established by a sketchy, mysterious character who turned out to be a repeat conman still on parole. Even worse, agency officials said they were under no obligation to check anything–even after they got a warning from another Nevada agency.

It sounds like nothing has changed. Continue reading

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As feds ponder nuke dump near Las Vegas: Payback for decades of dirty dealings?

nuke dump near Las Vegas

Mushroom cloud from 1951 nuclear test within sight of Las Vegas casinos (via Wikipedia)

Much of the Las Vegas and Nevada political establishment is up in arms over legislation moving through Congress that would jump-start plans to store power plant nuclear waste from 39 states at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. By an overwhelming vote a bill to resume the licensing process after an eight-year delay just passed the House of Representatives. The Senate Republican leadership won’t consider it until after the November elections to give Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, in a tough re-election campaign, some breathing room. Even though he opposes Yucca Mountain, it wouldn’t look too good if the legislation passed on his party’s watch.

The Yucca Mountain proposal has been around since 1987; the feds already have spent something like $9 billion in research and test tunnel costs. When he was the Senate majority leader, long-time Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saw to it that plans went nowhere. But then the Senate turned Republican. Reid retired. Ergo, the Yucca renaissance.

As someone still New To Las Vegas, I have a theory here. To me, the potential siting of a nuclear waste dump in Nevada smacks of payback for all the years the state profited mightily from stuff illegal for the longest time in the rest of the country: casino and other forms of gambling, prostitution, quicky marriage and divorce, tolerance for organized crime, and super-secret incorporation laws.

Then there’s the state’s tax structure (no state income tax and modest property taxes), which attracts new residents from other states struggling to hold on to their tax bases. Add to that Nevada’s still-modest population of barely 3 million, its remoteness and its wide open spaces. It’s not hard to see why Nevada would be an inviting prospect (to non-Nevadans) for a nuclear storage facility that would have to last at least 10,000 years. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: 15% of all accusations against Bill Cosby cited Las Vegas

It Didn't Stay Here

Bill Cosby (2015 booking photo courtesy Montgomery County [Pa.] district attorney’s office)

There already were some famous nominees for my list It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster features folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas, disproving the cheeky local marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” President Donald J. Trump is one, thanks to a videotaped 2013 party that involved a whole lot of Russians. Another is Emmanuel Macron, who, before he became president of France, presided over an out-of-budget-control marketing event at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show. The entire list is displayed nearby.

To these luminaries I now add another–Bill Cosby. Last week, the 80-year-old comedian was convicted in a Norristown, Pa., courtroom of all three felony aggravated indecent assault counts against him. Five women, plus Andrea Constand, whose situation led to that prosecution, described in court a long-standing pattern of using drugs to overcome their lack of consent. More to my point, two of those five recounted attacks in Las Vegas at what was then the Las Vegas Hilton, previously the International Hotel and now the Westgate Las Vegas, where Cosby frequently performed.

By my count from news reports, at least another seven of the 60 or so women who have come forward publicly in the past 15 years to accuse Cosby of crimes said their incidents took place in Las Vegas. That makes Vegas with that anything-goes-but-keep-it-quiet imprimatur the crime venue of 15% of all known allegations against Cosby.

Cosby faces a prison sentence in Pennsylvania of up to 30 years. That certainly meets my New To Las Vegas definition of being in trouble elsewhere.

None of the claims emanating from Las Vegas, which are in the time period 1970 to 1989, has resulted in criminal or civil cases in Nevada against Cosby, who generally has denied all allegations everywhere. That is partly because Nevada’s statute of limitation for criminal prosecution of rape was only four years until 2015, when it was extended to 20 years at the urging of Lisa Lotte-Lublin, who testified at the Cosby trial. I’m also thinking that overall societal support for the national #MeToo movement might be a little thinner here. Continue reading

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Far from Las Vegas, Curse of Lew Wallace resurfaces in New Mexico

Susana Martinez, 137th governor of  New Mexico since Western colonization

Every once in a while, I see something happening outside my bailiwick that I can’t resist commenting upon at length. Such an event occurred today in New Mexico, where I lived for 12 years long before becoming New To Las Vegas. In Santa Fe the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously invalidated 10 vetoes issued by Susana Martinez, the state’s hapless two-term Republican governor. I say hapless because all she had to do was issue the vetoes in a timely fashion and include one-sentence explanations, or “objections” as they are called in Article 4, Section 22 of the 213-page New Mexico Constitution.

This isn’t a very hard task; vetoes that stick happen routinely in state capitals across the country. But Martinez somehow blew it, big time.

However, in her defense her lapse may have something to do with a culture of incompetence of New Mexico. This is not a new thing.

Curse of Lew Wallace

Lew Wallace, 97th governor of New Mexico since Western colonization

Some 137 years ago this very weekend, the state’s most illustrious governor–Lew Wallace, author of the famous novel, Ben-Hur–defined that culture when he memorably wrote, “All calculations based on our experiences elsewhere fail in New Mexico.” In May 1998, after yet another governmental debacle, I explained what Wallace might have been referring to in an article for Crosswinds, then New Mexico’s largest alternative newspaper, entitled “The Curse of Lew Wallace.” Below is the text of what I wrote. (Another version with more photos and an image of the legendary wording in Wallace’s own handwriting can be found by clicking here.) Were I composing from scratch today, I would only update a few names and facts. Continue reading

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Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, may revise John C. Frémont exhibit after my criticisms

John C. Frémont

John C. Frémont

An official of the Nevada State Museum says a traveling exhibit now in Las Vegas about the life of 19th century military adventurer and politician John C. Frémont might be revised to add negative material that I complained had been left out, like his war-criminal slaughter of Latino civilians and Indians in the run-up to the Mexican War.

Eugene M. Hattori, curator of anthropology at the museum, which has facilities in Las Vegas and Carson City, acknowledged there were significant omissions in the chronology presented at the exhibit of Frémont and that he was open to fixing that. Hattori spoke during a back-and-forth interview with me moderated by Joe Schoenmann aired today on “KNPR’s State of Nevada,” a weekday public affairs show on Las Vegas public radio station KNPR.

That interview can be heard by clicking here and in the next window clicking on the word “LISTEN.”

In a New To Las Vegas post and update earlier this month about the exhibit, entitled “Finding Frémont,” I wrote that so much bad stuff about his life had been left out that the exhibit should be renamed “Whitewashing Frémont.” I wrote then:

I saw no mention of his massacre of Indians, no mention of his massacre of Latinos, no mention of his being a tax cheat, no mention of his using inside information to get a lucrative land grant and fiddle with its boundaries, little mention of his poor military skills, little mention of his dreadful political skills, no mention of his role as an absentee lawmaker and office-holder, and no mention of his peddling worthless bonds or conviction and prison sentence for fraud.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Alleged Pittsburgh-area fraud involved Las Vegas spending

It Didn't Stay Here

The Bellagio and its fountains (via Wikipedia)

George Retos Jr., a 69-year-old businessman and former lawyer who lives in the Pittsburgh, Pa. suburb of East Washington, was a big, big fan of Las Vegas. He especially liked visiting the Bellagio, the giant Strip casino hotel known for its spectacular fountain displays. Another favored place was the Cosmopolitan, the trendy casino hotel that frequently tops best-places-to-stay lists.

He used debit cards to run up personal charges at both facilities. But there was a big problem with this–if federal prosecutors in Pittsburgh are to be believed. The mention of federal prosecutors might make it possible for you to sort of guess where I’m going with this.

According to a 32-page federal indictment issued last month, Retos orchestrated several schemes to misappropriate the proceeds of federally guaranteed loans made to several private businesses he controlled in the plastics industry and to evade taxes “for his own personal use and the use of his family members.” The Las Vegas expenditures are identified as part of this effort.

The 13 counts in the indictment include wire fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. There are some other interesting charges, too, including false bankruptcy declarations and possession of a handgun despite being a long-convicted felon.

Earlier this month, Retos, the only person charged in the indictment although others are mentioned as unindicted co-conspirators, pleaded not guilty and remains free on $25,000 bond. Although this case has plea bargain written all over it, if convicted and hit with maximum sentences, Retos faces what amounts to the rest of his life in prison. A spokesman for him was quoted by a local newspaper as calling the charges “a misrepresentation of facts.”

While the court is sorting this all out, I am nominating Retos for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster consists of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in that Mecca of Mischief called Las Vegas. My list is a New To Las Vegas rebuttal of that famous Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing pitch, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” Other nominees can be found on this page. By clicking on their names, you can learn their sad stories, too. Continue reading

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Another dodgy cancer charity comes acalling in Las Vegas

dodgy canceer charityThe recent telephone call to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters followed the usual pattern. The telemarketer stated the cause, in this instance The Breast Cancer Charities of America, based in The Woodlands, Tex. I was asked to make a verbal donation pledge on the spot, in this instance for “the ladies.”

Tracking the usual pattern, I would be pleased to read any literature sent me but that I couldn’t consider committing to a donation without first having something in writing to review.

Rather than agreeing to mail me materials, the caller promptly hung up. This also traced the usual pattern.

Besides the somewhat abrupt call termination once I expressed a reluctance to donate sight unseen, there were these other elements of the usual pattern. The caller wasn’t even a human but an interactive computer affecting a pleasant voice (female, this time).

And subsequent research by me suggested that the charity was thisclose to being a scam. Looking at BCCA’s own filings with regulators over the past six years, maybe 3% of the cash donations received was spent directly in grants to those in need. The percentage for the most recent year with filings, 2016, was 7%–a little better but still terrible. BCCA also has some skanky running buddies and has received a fair amount of adverse scrutiny, as I will point out.

Now you might assume an outfit with a plural in its name–the Breast Cancer Charities of America–is a widespread organization with scads of employees and volunteers. Your assumption would be way off. While the nonprofit also solicits under other names, including IGoPink and Breast Cancer Support Foundation, the latest tax return in 2016 stated it had only six employees and zero volunteers.

Want to learn more? Come along for the ride. Continue reading

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