In Las Vegas, watch what they write, not what they show, at Sprouts

At Sprouts Farmers Market in Las Vegas–and, I suppose, everywhere else across the 325-store chain in 19 states–it’s fine to look at the big colorful packaging on the items. But make very sure you read the smaller type.

Here’s what I saw today in the store at the corner of E. Flamingo Rd. and S. Pecos Rd. The red annotation was added by yours truly at the nearby New To Las Vegas world headquarters.


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Sketchy law enforcement supporter trolls Las Vegas

Sketchy law enforcement supporterIn the past month or so I have received several telephone calls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters from cold-calling telemarketers soliciting a donation for something they call Association for Police and First Responders. They made it sound like a charity that would funnel large amounts of needed aid to, well, police and first responders.

Don’t believe it.

For starters, there really is no APFR. It’s a dba used by a Washington, D.C.-based outfit called Heroes United PAC. That’s right, PAC, as in political action committee, supposedly working to influence elections. Heroes United PAC isn’t a charity at all, although it also solicits under the seemingly charitable name Volunteer Firefighters Association.

According to Heroes United PAC’s filings with the Federal Election Commission–not exactly a charity regulator–in a year-and-a-half of existence, about 90% of the $2.6 million raised went for fundraising costs. That left just 10% for the mission, in this case exercising political influence to advance law enforcement interests. That only 10 cents on the dollar went to the cause is a fact that would-be donors are not advised of upfront and likely would not be pleased to learn even if they didn’t mind being fooled by the charity-sounding spiel of the telemarketers.

Aside from a single $9,800 expenditure in support of one candidate, it’s a little unclear where all of the other money has gone–so much so that the FEC has raised questions. But gone it has. Despite receiving that $2.6 million, Heroes United PAC as of June 30 had only $3,533.87 in cash on hand. That’s not going to fund much of a campaign for anyone or any cause in the fall elections.

Indeed, Heroes United PAC is so sketchy it can’t even get its names all straight. The telemarketers who called me, the website and even the logo displayed nearby on this page called it the Association FOR Police and First Responders (my emphasis). But the filings to the FEC–which are under penalty of perjury–used Association OF Police and First Responders (again my emphasis). It’s only a preposition, but the variance is further evidence to me that something is off. Continue reading

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It Didn’t Stay Here: New Jersey jail guard fired after phoning in sick from Las Vegas

It Didn't Stay Here

Camden County Correctional Facility, Camden, N.J. (courtesy Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders)

The title of the 40-page document is hardly a grabber: “State of New Jersey, Final Administrative Action of the Civil Service Commission. In the Matter of Tia Smith, Camden County Correctional Facility, Department of Corrections.” But for several reasons its contents spoke loudly to me.

Smith, a correction officer with two college degrees and six years on the job, flew with friends to celebrate her birthday in Las Vegas last year. But according to the decision, rather than getting back in time to Camden for her next assigned shift, she falsely phoned in sick while still in Las Vegas. Partly because this was not her first offense as an employee, Smith was fired. The dismissal was upheld this month by the independent New Jersey state agency charged with protecting governmental workers against arbitrary employment actions.

This more than makes Smith a candidate for my list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster consists of folks in trouble somewhere else for something that happened in Vegas. It’s a refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau. My ever-lengthening list of nominees can be found elsewhere on this page. Smith has some prominent company, including Bill Cosby, Donald J. Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron.

But there’s another reason this case drew my attention. Long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I was New To Camden, which is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. I was born and raised in Camden County, then and now a place full of governmental mischief. For most of the 1970s and into the 1980s I worked there as a reporter for several newspapers. One of them was the Camden Courier-Post, whose reporter, Jim Walsh, recounted today the sad story of Smith’s dismissal, for which I am indebted. My account is drawn from the aforementioned Civil Service Commission decision, incorporating and ratifying the written opinion of Administrative Law Judge Dorothy Incarvito-Garrabrant. Continue reading

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A charity fundraising pitch in Las Vegas for the dogs

Dogs for Law EnforcementUpdated on June 18, 2018.   See end of post

The recent telephone caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said his name was Sam. He was cold-calling on behalf of Dogs for Law Enforcement. Sam described this as a national charitable organization based in the Houston area providing police agencies with trained dogs that cost $20,000 to $50,000 each. The agencies, Sam said, get the pooches “at no cost to the taxpayer.” He asked for a pledge that he said would be tax-deductible.

I sniffed the air. A tax-deductible contribution would cost taxpayers somewhere the value of any tax savings I might get, even if not where the dogs were furnished.

I sniffed the air again. Since Sam volunteered nothing, I asked him directly how much of the donations received actually went to the stated mission of providing and training dogs.

There was a pause. Ten percent, he replied.

So that meant 90% of cash gifts went for fundraising and other stuff rather than dogs, I suggested. Sam had a reply I didn’t understand.

But with for-profit middlemen getting such a rake-off, I knew by then the essence of what I needed to know. After Sam and I ended our conversation, I did some more sniffing around. It’s actually worse than I thought, including the fact that DLE never has been registered to solicit in Nevada. That makes very illegal the pitch to me on behalf of, ironically, dogs helping the law. Continue reading

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Far from Las Vegas, thoughts on the Abscam sting of conman Mel Weinberg

Mel Weinberg

Christian Bale playing the Mel Weinberg character in “American Hustle” (courtesy Sony Pictures)

The New York Times just published an obituary of Mel Weinberg. Can’t place him? He was the convicted conman-turned-FBI-informant who brought down a slew of bribe-taking politicians in the Abscam scandal, which surfaced in 1980 along the East Coast in such places as Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, New York City, Long Island, Camden, N.J. and Atlantic City.

You might remember the 2013 movie “American Hustle,” which is somewhat based on Abscam. The Weinberg character, renamed Irv Rosenfeld, is played by Christian Bale. His girlfriend is played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Weinberg died in Florida at age 93, having outlived just about everyone he plotted with or swindled. The Times for some reason afforded him an honor normally reserved for the high and mighty: a pre-death interview for the obituary. “I’ve had a good life, a charmed life,” he said in 2017. “I should have been dead a long time ago.”

As a newspaper reporter long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I covered Abscam when it broke. I never met Weinberg. But after “American Hustle” was released in 2013, I wrote an essay about the film’s connection with reality for, a previous blog of mine, and discussed Weinberg. Below is my lightly re-edited account. Continue reading

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Far from Las Vegas, the racist cant of the National Anthem and its lyricist

racist cant of the National Anthem

Francis Scott Key

You might think that President Donald J. Trump, who demands that pro football players stand for the National Anthem, would at least know its words himself and sing them with hearty gusto. Alas, it was painfully clear from his White House event yesterday, rebranded as a patriotic “Celebration of America” function after most players on the Super Bowl-winning Philadelphia Eagles signaled they would skip the visit, that he doesn’t and can’t. Per the video,Trump seemed to have trouble remembering and vocalizing all the lyrics.

But overall that may not be such a bad thing. As I have pointed out before, “The Star-Spangled Banner” contains lyrics–mercifully, rarely sung–that welcomes the killing of fleeing slaves. Moreover, lawyer Francis Scott Key (1779-1843), the man who wrote those words as a poem in 1814, was a slaveowner himself who opposed abolition and who as a government prosecutor once tried to jail a writer who truthfully wrote that the nation’s capital was a stinking, lousy place for blacks to live.

Growing up in the Philadelphia area long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I rooted for the Eagles. The forthright position now of the team’s players, who unlike some on other NFL teams never failed to stand for the anthem (contrary to what Trumpeter Fox News reported for a time) but respected those who didn’t, makes me think I should repeat some of the bad history.  Continue reading

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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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