Another iffy police fundraiser in Las Vegas flouts Nevada law

iffy police fundraiserThe caller to the New to Las Vegas world headquarters identified himself as Brian Hill. The purpose: to solicit a contribution for National Police Support Fund PAC, which he described as an organization to bolster law enforcement.

I cut to the chase. A new Nevada law requires fundraisers in the state working on behalf of law enforcement causes to register and make filings, I said. Are you registered to solicit in Nevada?

“Hold on a sec,” the caller replied. There was a pause. “Hold on.”

Then “Brian Hill” hung up on me.

I’m using quotes around the name because Brian was not a real person. Rather, I was hearing a realistic-sounding voice generated by a computer monitored by an anonymous supervisor using what is known as soundboard technology. But the hang-up hardly surprised me. I’ve gotten calls before from “Brian Hill,” and I’ve researched NPSF, which is based in Arlington Va. It is not registered to cold-call in Nevada, according to the website of the Nevada Secretary of State. But in this minimal government state, I don’t expect authorities to do anything about that. When it comes to Carson City, what they say isn’t always what they do.

Moreover, from what I can tell from its filings, NPSF has terrible financial efficiencies, spending the overwhelming bulk of the money raised in raising it, leaving very, very little to further the stated mission. Would-be donors, of course, are not told this. There is no shortage of withering commentary on the Internet about NPSF, although not so much on financial matters. The criticism is tempered a bit by posts suggesting the outfit does actually advocate for cops, even if not a lot in my judgement given the amount of money raised.

The PAC in the name stands for political action committee, meaning NPFS is not a charity although its pitch on the phone about helping police officers might make you think it is. This accounts for some of the expressed hostility. Continue reading

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez continue grand Las Vegas wedding tradition

Las Vegas weddingThe celebrity gossip site TMZ broke the big news today that Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck got hitched over the weekend in Las Vegas. E! News reported marriage was solemnized–you know, the “I do” stuff–at the venerable A Little White Wedding Chapel. Can there be better evidence that Sin City is back as a destination?

Five years ago next week, not long after becoming New To Las Vegas, I wrote about the quicky wedding industry in Las Vegas and Nevada, and its surprising influence and importance in the regional economy. I described how it’s possible to get a marriage license on a weekend–as Ben and Jen did at 11:32 p.m. on Saturday night–and even described the history of A Little White Wedding Chapel. The post, with a touch of updating, is reproduced below. Were I writing anew on the important topic, I might change a few numbers–the pandemic certainly affected things–but not much else.

Las Vegas weddings are still a big industry

Continue reading

Far from Las Vegas: Phony Roswell Incident hits 75th anniversary

Roswell IncidentJuly 4 today marks the 246th birthday of the country’s founding. But there’s another anniversary of note this week. It was 75 years ago, in 1947, the world learned about something that happened in the New Mexico desert which later became known as the Roswell Incident. Over time–like more than 40 years–the affair morphed into a fantastic account that an alien flying saucer crashed and recovered alien bodies sat in a morgue somewhere amid a giant government cover-up. Notoriety about the Roswell Incident helped spur public interest about UFOs, which continues to this day. Last year, the Pentagon admitted to Congress that it can’t explain 143 incidents dating back to 2004 of what it now calls Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP).

Long before becoming New To Las Vegas, I lived in New Mexico and had occasion more than a quarter-century ago to delve at length into the legitimacy of the Roswell Incident. I took a hard look at the evidence and interviewed a lot of folks.

I’m not here to opine about all the other UFO claims out there (although I once wrote on another blog about the Maury Island Incident, a debunked UFO episode in Washington State the same summer as the Roswell Incident). But I am here to tell you there’s no good evidence that anything extraterrestrial happened around Roswell. And no bodies. The only noteworthy 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 Roswell residents. (Las Vegas and Nevada are not immune from UFOs as a business opportunity, either, as I wrote here in 2017.)

In August 1996, I published my investigative findings in Crosswinds, at the time 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, with any substantive updates [in brackets like this], is reproduced below. (A version of this post was published in this space in 2019.) Were I writing it from scratch today, I’m not sure I would revise anything beyond adding more evidence of the grift. A later article by me in 2001 also in Crosswinds debunked the Roswell Incident in even greater detail.

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

In Las Vegas there’s vision–and then there’s reality

The “vision statement” on the website of the Clark County (Nevada) Assessor’s Office in Las Vegas says the goal is to become “the most technologically advanced, user-friendly Assessor’s Office in the country.” As this montage of screenshots shows on Wednesday, the day before some property tax cap forms are technically due and taxpayers, including those at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, are frantically trying to look up their parcel number, the vision is still a bit short of reality.Clark County Tax Assessor

Poor financial efficiencies for first responder ‘faux charity’ illegally trolling Las Vegas

first responder 'faux charity'Recently, at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters I got a cold call from one “Ralph Bennett” soliciting money for Firefighters and EMS Fund, which lists an address in Alexandria, Va. I use quotes because “Ralph” wasn’t a person in the traditional beating-heart sense of the word. Rather, “Ralph” was a voice generated by a computer monitored by a human operator using what is known as soundboard technology. The operator chooses–sort of like a DJ–among scores of pre-recorded sound bites to entice the would-be donor.

“Ralph” went on about how his national organization helped first responders. I cut in and asked if Firefighters and EMS Fund was a charity. “Yes,” he replied. I politely challenged that characterization, suggesting with another question the outfit was simply a political action committee. A PAC most definitely isn’t a charity since, among other reasons, contributions aren’t tax-deductible and it doesn’t do what most folks would consider good works for society.

“Yes,” replied “Ralph” again.

Perhaps even he realized this conversation wasn’t going well from his perspective. “Ralph” finally said Firefighters and EMS Fund was “rebranded” and used to be called Firefighters Support Fund. Now that piqued my interest “Why was it rebranded?” I asked.

“Ralph” hung up.

Poking around the Internet, it didn’t take long to figure out a possible reason for the rebranding. Under its old name, “Ralph’s” organization had drawn negative comments for misleading would-be donors about what it does.

But for me there are two bigger issues. First, from my review of filings, only a sliver of what Firefighters and EMS Fund/Firefighters Support Fund received in contributions was spent for what I would call its stated mission of generating political support for first responders. Almost all the money went for fundraising expense, overhead and, presumably buried somewhere amid thousands of pages of filings, compensation for its operators. Firefighters and EMS Fund is what I called a “faux charity,” a PAC that hopes would-be donors will think it is a real charity. Some other commentators call such operations a “scam charity.”

Secondly, by calling me, Firefighters and EMS Fund violated a Nevada law that look effect last year. The law requires fundraisers working in Nevada for, among other causes, firefighters and public safety to first register with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office and make financial filings. I just checked with the SOSO’s website, and there is no registration for Firefighters and EMS Fund, Firefighters Support Fund or Firefighters Support Alliance, another name associated with the operation.

But don’t bet on Nevada state regulators doing much about it. Continue reading

Bugsy Siegel murder 75 years ago changed Las Vegas forever

Bugsy Siegel

Murdered body of Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel, Beverly Hills,    June 20, 1947

Seventy-five years ago this month, the most famous murder of consequence in Las Vegas history took place. The killing, which officially remains unsolved, profoundly changed the future gambling mecca forever. Yet the crime didn’t happen here, or even within the state.

I’m referring to the grisly assassination on June 20, 1947, of Las Vegas organized crime boss Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel. Just 41, he was shot multiple times at point-blank range while reading a newspaper by an unknown sniper wielding a .30 caliber military M1 carbine. Where?  The living room of the home of Siegel’s girlfriend–280 miles away in Beverly Hills, Calif. His eye was found 15 feet from his once-handsome but now blasted-away face, an image immortalized in famous newspaper pictures.

Siegel was a truly despicable character with, despite his relative youth, a decades-long history of murder, extortion and racketeering on both coasts and points in between. Yet his eternal identification with Las Vegas comes notwithstanding his remarkably short residential stint here–barely one year. Public understanding of Siegel is far more myth than fact, thanks to over-hyping authors, short memories and a popular movie portrayal fudging the facts and glorifying his image.

While Siegel with mob money had opened the Flamingo, Las Vegas’s first lavish casino resort on what would become the Las Vegas Strip, it wasn’t his idea at all. Indeed, it is simply false to say that Siegel during his life was the father of the modern Las Vegas gambling-hotel-entertainment scene.

However, it would not be false to say that his death was. Continue reading

Again from Las Vegas: Second Amendment defenders are defending slavery

Second AmendmentEvery time there’s a mass shooting–like the school shooting this week in Uvalde, Texas, that murdered 21, the supermarket shooting earlier this month in Buffalo that killed 10 or the one just a few miles from the New to Las Vegas world headquarters in 2017 that claimed 60 lives–a national debate breaks out over gun rights and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The powerful National Rifle Association claims folks have a largely unfettered right under that amendment to pack heat, even assault rifles. Majority public opinion is clearly somewhere else, but many politicians are too afraid of the NRA’s campaign contribution money to do anything substantive. They hide behind language in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, which clearly gets in the way of meaningful reform.

So allow me to throw another log onto this fire. As I read our country’s history, people who defend the Second Amendment are actually defending a provision attached to the U.S. Constitution that was worded to make it easier for Southern states to preserve slavery. That’s right, slavery. The “well-regulated militia” phrase so famously found in the amendment, just before the equally famous “right of the people to keep and bear arms,” was a reference to officially organized whites-only posses in the South created for the purpose of keeping in line black slaves, who in many places outnumbered the whites.

Southern politicians were afraid of the nascent Federal Government, soon to be dominated by Northern anti-slavery interests. They specifically were worried southern states would be prohibited by federal authorities from continuing to have militias that could rummage through slave quarters without warrants and, I suppose, shoot black folks who got out of line.

For background, I am relying on several sources and a certain amount of supposition. By far the most accessible material on this subject is a lengthy 1998 article by law professor Carl T. Bogus (yep, that’s his real last name) in the University of California, Davis, Law Review, entitled, “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment.” You can download a copy by clicking here. For a law review article, it’s pretty readable by non-lawyers.

As drafted in Philadelphia and sent to individual states for ratification in 1787, the Constitution contained no provision at all on the right to keep and bear arms. But it had plenty of provisions bearing on militias–state-created part-time armies–and slavery. Article 1 Section 8 gave Congress plenary power to set rules for governing militias and calling them up. Article 2 Section 1 put the President of the U.S. in charge of militias when in federal service. There actually wasn’t much authority given to the states beyond the right to choose militia officers and train its members according to federal standards.

The word “slave” or “slavery” deliberately did not appear in the Constitution. But assorted provisions tolerated the practice. Article 1 Section 9 allowed the slave kidnapping trade from Africa (benignly called “importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit”) to continue for at least another 20 years. The Federal Government could collect a tax on each new slave of up to $10 a head ($330 in today’s dollars).

Article 4 Section 2 prohibited Northern states from freeing an escaped slave (called a “person held to service or labor in one state”) while requiring return of such a fugitive to the slave’s owner. Article 1 Section 2 allowed Southern states to count 60% of slaves (euphemistically styled “other persons”) when determining representation in the House of Representatives, giving those state a lot more seats and electoral votes–although, of course, those slaves couldn’t vote.

Remember, we’re talking about a document whose preface outrageously proclaimed a goal of securing “the blessings of liberty.”

All these provisions were part of a compromise among the 13 states to get approval of the draft Constitution by nine, the minimum needed for ratification. But the ratification process was stalled at eight–not every state wanted to chuck the weak-central-government Articles of Confederation, under which the country had been operating since 1781–when Virginia chose 173 delegates who gathered in Richmond in 1788 to deliberate and vote.

Patrick Henry–the slave-owning ex-governor best known now for his stirring pre-Revolutionary War battle cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!”–warned the assembly that the proposed Constitution gave Congress all the real authority over militias. George Mason, another prominent delegate who owned slaves (but said he was against slavery), said the feds could order the Virginia militia into a far-away state and leave Virginia unprotected. Even worse, Mason said, the feds could order the disarming of the Virginia militia. Mason had refused to sign the draft Constitution.

Professor Bogus argued that this was all coded language for a fear that Virginia could be left defenseless against slave uprisings.

In Virginia and other Southern states, the duties of militias including operating slave patrols, armed groups of white males who made regular patrols. “The patrols made sure that blacks were not wandering where they did not belong, gathering in groups or engaging in other suspicious activity,” Bogus wrote. “Equally important, however, was the demonstration of constant vigilance and armed force. The basic strategy was to ensure and impress upon the slaves that white were armed, watchful and ready to respond to insurrectionist activity at all times.”

Against this backdrop, Henry became even blunter by suggesting that the Federal Government under its power to provide for the general defense could enlist slaves in a federal army and then emancipate them. “May they (the federal government) not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by that power?” he asked.

James Madison, a Virginian and future U.S. President who was the principal author of the Constitution, a delegate to the Richmond Convention and, yes, a slave-owner, too, defended his work by saying Virginia certainly would have “concurrent” authority to arm a militia if the feds didn’t. But if Virginia ratified the Constitution, he agreed to propose amendments to the future Congress. With that proviso, the Richmond Convention narrowly ratified the Constitution 89-79, and it soon took effect.

The Richmond delegates formally suggested a long “Declaration of Rights” for the new constitution, including one holding “that the people have a right to keep and bear arms.” Such language was not revolutionary; the English Declaration of Rights of 1689 contained a similar provision. But a bill of rights Virginia had adopted in 1776 did not contain that wording. However, in the context of the looming Constitution and the perceived need, in the South, anyway, to preserve slavery, it became an imperative.

In 1789, Madison was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in the First Congress (defeating James Monroe, another future U.S. President), and resolved to make good on his promises to his fellow Richmond Convention delegates. In pertinent part he initially proposed this language as a constitutional amendment: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country.” The wording seemed to meet Patrick Henry’s concerns about free whites being defenseless against agitated black slaves.

By the time what became the Second Amendment emerged from Congress and was sent to the states for ratification, “free country” had been changed to “free state.” The syntax had been reversed and boiled down to a single 27-word sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

There isn’t a lot of legislative history explaining the rationale behind the wording changes, especially how “free country” became “free state,” although that, too, might be evidence of that Southern state slave revolt fear. Overall, Professor Bogus said the final version squared with the spirit that allowed anti-slavery Northern states and pro-slavery Southern states to agree on a governing document that tolerated the odious practice. “In effect,” he wrote, “Madison proposed that the slavery compromise be supplemented by another constitutional provision prohibiting Congress from emasculation the South’s primary instrument of slave control, and Congress acceded to that request.” The Second Amendment took effect in 1791.

Now, the post-Civil War ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 ending slavery (except as a punishment for crime, the main reason convicted prisoners today can be forced to make license plates) served in effect to repeal a number of other slavery-linked constitutional provisions. These included the fugitive slave clause in Article 4 and the slaves-count-as-three-fifths provision for Congressional representation in Article 1.

So if the Second Amendment was intended to support slavery, how about someone arguing in an appropriate court case that it, too, was equally repealed sub silentio by the 13th Amendment, and no longer in force? Win that case, and we really can get around to some decent gun-law reform.

That’s yet another log on the fire from me.

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

Sketchy police-themed cause again trolling in Las Vegas

sketchy police-themed causeOn a recent day I received a call at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters from one “Andy Bautista” asking that I give money to Police Officers Support Association. The pitch made it sound like POSA was some kind of a charitable endeavor.

“Bautista” was not a real person–that’s why I use quote marks–but a computer-generated voice using soundboard technology.  Unfortunately for the hidden but very real person monitoring the call for some paid telemarketer, however, this was not the first time I had been solicited by POSA.

In 2019 and 2020 I was pitched a number of times, and learned several things: (1) POSA was simply a trade name used by Law Enforcement for a Safer America PAC, as in political action committee, which in this post I’ll call the parent PAC, (2) POSA and its parent PAC most definitely were not charities, (3) they spent almost all the money raised on fundraising expenses and overhead and very little on the stated mission, as listed in filings, of supporting sympathetic political candidates for public office, and (4) POSA and its parent PAC are affiliated with the International Union of Police Associations AFL-CIO, a Sarasota, Fla.-based trade union that in the past has made its own deceptive fundraising pitches for the undisclosed purpose of funding collective bargaining negotiations.

I consider POSA and its parent PAC each to be a “faux charity.” That’s my term for a political action committee that presents itself to would-be donors like they’re pursuing a worthy charitable cause, but isn’t. The police union isn’t a PAC but its pitches on the phone have been no better. All three outfits are so dodgy that I nominated them as candidates for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities (click here and here. It’s a simple criteria: exempt organizations that call me asking for money despite a previous critical post by me, usually eviscerating the financial efficiencies. Seriously, in the world of fundraising, it can’t get much dumber. You can see the full list elsewhere on this page.

Two years later, it appears the m.o. remains largely the same for this crew. But some things have changed. Since my last encounters in 2020, Nevada enacted a law requiring fundraisers for, among other causes, law enforcement to first make filings with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office before hitting up folks in the Silver State like me. I just checked with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office, and there are no filings for POSA or its parent PAC.

And a person with the same unusual name as the treasurer listed on recent filings of the parent PAC is facing felony fraud and theft charges on allegations of taking money from a local police union in Florida.

Find any of this interesting? Read on for details. Continue reading

Why the Las Vegas body-in-a-barrel story got insane worldwide publicity

Las Vegas body-in-a-barrel

Barrel with body found near Las Vegas

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. The famous Las Vegas marketing slogan, “What happens here, stays here” is a bald-faced lie. Latest proof: the insane worldwide publicity generated by the discovery a few days ago of a still-unidentified, long-murdered man in a barrel found at the bottom of receding Lake Mead just east of Las Vegas.

From the New To Las Vegas world headquarters, I just Googled the simple search command “body barrel Lake Mead Las Vegas,” going back only to Sunday when the story broke. I got 168,000 hits.

They’re from far beyond local and regional outlets. The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe New York Post. USA Today, Detroit News, The Hill (which normally just covers D.C.). Smaller papers in places like Honolulu and Syracuse. Even the New York-based National Herald, which bills itself as “the paper of record of the Greek Diaspora community.” (Do its editors know something?)

CBS. NBC. CNN. Local TV stations from coast to coast in markets big and small (Chicago, Milwaukee, Mobile, Ala.; Springfield, Mass.; Ft. Wayne, Ind.; and Harrisburg, Pa., to cite a few).

International outlets like Sky News and the Independent in the U.K., and 1News in New Zealand.

I’m really only scratching the Internet surface.

As I will detail below, murdered bodies found in a barrel is actually not such an unusual occurrence, at least in the U.S. But they rarely if ever get much publicity outside their local area. Why this case has says much about the poor perception that far-away editors–perhaps reflecting the public–have of the culture and history of Las Vegas. These are themes I have touched on before and am happy to revisit. Continue reading

What’s Buried Here, Stays Here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 5)

famous Las Vegas graves

Robin Leach memorial, Palm Memorial Park, Las Vegas

It’s time for Part 5 of my periodic series about the few famous graves of Las Vegas and how they came to be here. The conceit is simple. Even though the Las Vegas area has a population topping 2.3 million, there are remarkably few final resting spots here of people famous outside the Las Vegas area, no more than 20 by my count. Why? The city was founded barely a century ago, in 1900, and as late as 1950 still had fewer than 50,000 residents. You need famous live bodies to produce famous dead bodies. I’ve also speculated that for the longest time Las Vegas had a stigma that led the next-of-kin of many prominent folks to dig elsewhere.

In Part 1 I described three well-known athletes: boxer Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky and tennis great Pancho Gonzales. In Part 2 I profiled two prominent entertainers: movie icon Tony Curtis and TV star Redd Foxx. In Part 3 I detailed the only big-name organized-crime boss planted here, Morris Barney (Moe) Dalitz. I also wrote about Phyllis McGuire, centerpiece of the famous McGuire Sisters singing act and the long-time girlfriend of Sam Giancana, a famous Chicago mobster with Las Vegas interests. In Part 4 I examined a pair with mob ties who nevertheless played important roles is developing Las Vegas as the go-to place for wagering: casino operator (and killer) Benny Binion and Nick (the Greek) Dandolos, for decades the world’s most famous gambler.

So I’ve written up only nine folks, yet I’m almost halfway through my famous-here-for-all-eternity list. In this post, I’m going to look at two TV personalities–with identical years of birth and death–who came to Las Vegas for another chance and actually passed after I became New To Las Vegas.

Robin Leach never became a U.S. citizen nor lost his rowdy English accent. But long before relocating to Las Vegas, he became one of the world’s most famous TV personalities by virtue of an exuberant personality and his hosting for 15 years of a TV series that defined the “greed is good” end of the 20th Century. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” with its you-are-there footage of celebrities in their acquired environments, started a trend in high-end reality TV shows that really hasn’t ended. As Leach himself once said, “Nobody would watch Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown.”

Born August 29, 1941, in London, Leech grew up in a middle-class family. Eschewing college, he moved into journalism and by age 18 was a star reporter on the Daily Mail, one of the U.K.’s major dailies. In 1963 he moved to the U.S., first to New York, where he helped launch People magazine, while spending a lot of time in Los Angeles, where he got into television covering entertainment news. In 1980 he became CNN’s first showbiz reporter and in 1981 helped launch “Entertainment Tonight,” where he was an on-air correspondent for three years. In 1984 Leach became the host of “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous,” syndicated by CBS for 11 years from 1984 to 1995. In interviews Leach credited Ronald Reagan for making glitz chic. Donald Trump was a frequent guest. Leach’s loud, rapid-fire delivery, and his ability to continually exude wondrous amazement, was so unique that he found himself parodied by Dana Carvey on “Saturday Night Live” (“I’m Robin Leach! I’m yelling and I don’t know why!”)–a sure sign of cultural fame. A foodie, Leach was also an early presenter on the Food Network, which started in 1993.

But after his run ended on “Lifestyles,” Leach sort of hit a career slump. Long divorced, he moved four years later, in 1999, to Las Vegas, famed as a city of renewed chances. He settled into a nice but far from over-the-top house–3-bedroom, 3-bath with a swimming pool in an exclusive neighborhood on the city’s west side. (After his death it sold for $718,000.)  That tended to support his long-standing assertions he was never as rich as the folks he profiled, perhaps because he didn’t have huge equity chunks in many of his endeavors and also because he lived large. Leach kept up a national TV, cable and even film presence (frequently playing himself), dabbled in local online websites, raised money for Las Vegas charities, touted the praises of Las Vegas and became a popular figure hereabouts. “The thing that I love about Vegas is, you are within 45 minutes of Hollywood without having to deal with the 405 and state taxes and fees,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. Eventually, he went back to his print roots and took entertainment columnist positions, first at the Las Vegas Sun and then, in 2016, at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. As fluffy and un-serious as his journalistic output was viewed by some, Leach saw his fame surpass and even outlast many of the celebrities he profiled. After his death the City of Las Vegas renamed a street for him.

In November 2017 Leach had a stroke while vacationing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and never fully recovered. On August 24, 2018, he died in a Las Vegas area hospital a few days after a second stroke, at the age of 76. According to his death certificate, his remains were cremated and likely put in a plot overlooking a lake in the Lakeside section of Palm Memorial Park, 7600 S. Eastern Ave. The marker contains the famous words he uttered at the end of every “Lifestyles” episode: “Champagne wishes & caviar dreams.”

Richard (Old Man) Harrison also became a celebrity due to reality TV but his public personality was the mirror opposite of Leach’s. For nearly three decades Harrison with his family was the co-owner of what became the World Famous Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. It–and he as the irritable proprietor–truly became famous after cable TV’s History Channel in 2009 started “Pawn Stars.” That’s a reality show based on the daily interactions of the staff–son Rick, grandson Corey and family friend Austin (Chumlee) Russell–with customers seeking to pawn or value items. “Pawn Stars” quickly became the History Channel’s highest-rated show, a reality-TV hit and is still on the air. In 2012, Harrison and Rick made Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential persons in the world.

Harrison was born on March 4, 1941–five months before Leach–in Virginia and grew up poor in North Carolina. He enlisted in the Navy at age 17 after getting caught stealing a car, and served on a number of ships for 20 years, rising to petty officer first class. He mustered out in 1979 in San Diego, where his wife, Joanne, had a real estate business. That went poof in the 1981 high-interest-rate recession.

Essentially broke, the family moved that year to Las Vegas. Already called The Old Man–even though he was just 39–Richard and Joanne opened the first of several pawn-like shops on a seedy section of Las Vegas Boulevard just north of the Strip. The business bounced among several locations before hanging out a shingle at 713 Las Vegas Boulevard S in 1989. Twenty years later, the business hit the jackpot when Pawn Stars went on the air and drew a worldwide audience. Richard was blunt about his stern countenance in the production: “My role on the show is to be an old grump.” Rick was more the out-front face. The shop drew thousands of tourists daily, selling a lot of souvenir T-shirts. But was there any real family kumbaya? After Harrison’s death, it became known he cut one of his other sons out of his will. And earlier this year, Joanna, now 81, sued son Rick, in effect claiming she was hookwinked years ago out of her 49% interest in the business. Rick denied wrongdoing. That lawsuit is still pending.

The patriarch died on June 25, 2018–just two months before Leach, who over the years had interviewed him–from Parkinson’s disease at age 77. After a public viewing and funeral that featured a flag-draped coffin, Harrison was laid to rest in Palm Northwest Cemetery, 6701 N. Jones Blvd., in the Eternal Life 1 section, PG 15, Space 2. Unusual for a cemetery–but perfectly in keeping for a TV personality–his marker in the large plot is adorned with a picture of him, stern-faced but tipping his hat. The caption beneath the photo: “Old Man.”

More to come.

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

Despite big talk, Las Vegas economy remains a one-trick pony

Two years ago in this space, as the pandemic was starting to hit the Las Vegas economy disproportionately hard, I recounted the utter failure of the area’s movers-and-shakers to diversify the economy. Despite years of big talk, especially in the devastating aftermath of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, I cited a lot of data to suggest the Vegas economy had continued its boom-or-bust reliance on the one-trick pony of gambling/hospitality/live entertainment.

With the pandemic easing–maybe–the big talkers are again saying that now is the time for the Las Vegas to diversity for a sustainable future. ““Our recovery does not necessarily come from rebound, but from rebalancing,” Michael Brown, executive director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, recently told a session of the grandly named Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance. “Rebalancing will build the resiliency that we need in the Nevada economy going forward.”

But in my New to Las Vegas view, if local history is any guide, significant diversification ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. It’s simply a lot easier to stick to what you know best–here, quickly separating visitors from their money–than it is to strike out in a totally new direction involving, say, more better jobs for the locals.

And it’s sort of by a design that goes back to near the advent of legalized gambling–and quickie marriage and divorce–in 1931. The official policy long has been to do little to encourage economic development outside of this core. You don’t have to take my word for this. “Nevada must be kept small; let industry go elsewhere,” political kingmaker Norman Biltz, famously known as the “Duke of Nevada,” was quoted as saying in The Green Felt Jungle, the best-selling 1963 book about Las Vegas mob corruption by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris. “Large industrial payrolls bring in large families, which cost more money in taxes for public services.”

Nearly six decades later, Nevada remains a minimal tax, minimal government state, with poor public schools and inadequate health care to show for it.

Underscoring this, the recently released new annual economic study by the Milken Institute of the U.S. “Best-Performing Cities” makes very clear that Las Vegas is anything but. On a list of 200 large metro areas, Las Vegas fell from a heady No. 23 in 2018 to No. 149 (a numerically lower rank is better), just outside the bottom quarter. Most of the drop came in the last year alone (from No. 88 to No. 149), one of the biggest falls on the list. This is not surprising, as few economies in the U.S. remain more dependent on a lack of social distancing than Las Vegas. The area now sits considerably behind such exciting large metros as Dayton, Ohio; Wichita, Kan.; Gulfport, Miss.; and Bakersfield, Calif. Continue reading

Child illness charity soliciting in Las Vegas fibs about fundraising costs

fibs about fundraising costsThe recent telephone caller to the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said his name was Jake Williams. He was soliciting a contribution to the Childhood Leukemia Foundation, a charity based in far-away Brick, N.J.

Okay, I said, how much of what’s raised is spent on fundraising? The excited reply: “Fifty percent to the foundation after fundraising!” This was not a direct reply to my question, which asked for the amount of fundraising expense rather than what’s left over. But it was the mathematical equivalent of saying the fundraising efficiency ratio–the percent of donations remaining after subtracting fundraising costs–was 50%.

As I will explain below, that’s not a great percentage. But for CLF it’s not even close to the truth, based on its very own latest available financial filing, submitted under oath. The actual percentage easily calculated from the filing: 21%. Put another way, 79 cents of each donated dollar went right out the door in fundraising, leaving the foundation with only 21 cents of each dollar for the stated mission and other overhead.

I also will explain below why I think the response was so off it might have violated Nevada law and constituted an actionable deceptive trade practice.

Now, I admit I followed that old trial lawyer trick of not asking an important question I don’t know the answer to. With Jake Williams–probably a computer-generated voice controlled by a  human supervisor using soundboard technology–this was ridiculously easy to do. You see, CLF and I have a history together going back to BC (Before Covid). CLF’s financial efficiencies haven’t gotten better. In 2019 after being solicited two times on the phone I twice wrote up CLF’s poor financial efficiencies and other deficiencies. (You can read the posts here and here.) The second time, I even made CLF a candidate for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is simple: fundraisers that call asking for a donation despite a previous critical post by me. In that line of work, how much dumber can it get? You can find the list of nominee nearby. I don’t have to update it today with CLF because it’s already listed.

Let’s walk together through the numbers, plus some other issues. Continue reading

What’s buried here, stays here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 4)

famous Las Vegas graves

Benny Binion couch crypt, Bunkers Eden Vale Memorial Park, Las Vegas

Welcome to Part 4 of my periodic series about the few famous graves of Las Vegas and how they came to be here. Part 1 dealt with athletes: boxer Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky and tennis great Pancho Gonzales. Part 2 described entertainers: movie icon Tony Curtis and TV star Redd Foxx. Part 3 concerned the Las Vegas Strip-creating Mob and associates, featuring the only big-name organized-crime boss planted here, Morris Barney (Moe) Dalitz. Plus Phyllis McGuire, the centerpiece of the famous McGuire Sisters singing act who was the girlfriend for 16 years of a famous Chicago mobster, Sam Giancana, who was murdered in his basement.

Let me repeat my operating thesis. Despite the area’s current population topping 2.3 million, the Las Vegas Valley is the eternal home of an extremely tiny number of individuals–by my count, no more than 20–who remain well known to folks outside the local area. I attribute this to several factors. Among them: Las Vegas’s relative youth as a city, being founded only in 1905, and the fact the population grew slowly and was still under 50,000 in 1950. You need a fair number of people dying over a significant period to produce famous graves. Then there’s the possibility that the stigma of Las Vegas for the longest time was such that prominent individuals and their families went elsewhere for that final act of interment. This certainly seems to be true of most local mobsters.

In this segment, I’m focusing on two characters integral to the development of Las Vegas as a gambling mecca with their own connections to organized crime. Continue reading

In Las Vegas, faux cancer charity still solicits and still spends $0 on mission

fau cancer charityThe cold caller on the phone at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters said she was Diane Samson soliciting a gift for Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC. I asked if her cause had complied with a new Nevada law requiring pre-registration for many fundraisers.

Yes, “Diane” said.

That wouldn’t be her only false statement.

I asked where the organization was based. “Windermere, Fla.,” she replied. The problem with “Diane’s” response is that on its website, American Coalition for Crisis Relief PAC, which is the parent of child Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC and incorporates its financials, lists its address in Dallas, Tex. And for what it’s worth, my caller ID listed a number around Tucson, Ariz.

“Diane”–I’m using quotes around her name because she isn’t a real person but a computer-generated voice controlled by a human using soundboard technology–gave me an 800 number that she said I could call to get more information. I wrote it down and called. The number turned out to be that of an unrelated business.

Still, I already knew a lot–like the fact that American Coalition completely stiffed its donors on its stated mission of supporting political candidates for a sympathetic cause. That’s what a PAC, which stands for political action committee, is supposed to do. I call these kinds of PACs faux charities, although some watchdogs use stronger language.

You see, this wasn’t the first time that I had been called by Breast Cancer Relief Committee PAC. You can read my account of that last encounter in August 2021 by clicking here. But now child and parent are candidates for my list of America’s Stupidest Charities. The criteria is insanely simple: fundraisers that call me asking for money despite a previous critical article by me, usually focusing on terrible financial efficiencies. Seriously, folks, can it get dumber than that? You can see the other entries nearby. Continue reading

Nevada governor gains wide fame from videotaped verbal assault in Las Vegas

verbal assault in Las Vegas

Screenshot from confrontation between Steve Sisolak (left) and Justin Andersch

It’s been five days since Nevada governor Steve Sisolak and his wife were accosted by a right-wing conspiracy pusher at a popular Las Vegas restaurant. With a cell phone camera running, he unleashed a string of profanities/racial taunts and declared, “We could string you up by a lamppost right now,” in a clip quickly posted on social media.

Now Sisolak, a moderate running-for-reelection Democrat so low-key he often travels around Nevada without security, suddenly has become one of the world’s most famous elected officials, at least for 15 minutes.

Okay, he’s no Biden, or even Putin, in terms of coverage. But a Google search for “Steve Sisolak and wife” returned 12,000 hits in the past week about the incident, many of them reprints of news accounts by the Associated Press. The far-flung outlets have included newspapers, TV stations, magazines (i.e. People) and websites across the country and in a number of foreign countries, including the U.K. and China. One YouTube clip of the incident has drawn nearly 15,000 views.

Nevada governor threatened while dining in Las Vegas,” screamed a headline on the English-language website of the official Chinese outlet Xinhua. “Nevada governor and his wife accosted at restaurant by men shouting ‘racist threats,’ ” declared The Guardian of London. “Social video shows ‘racist’ taunts of Nevada governor, wife,” proclaimed a headline on the website of the Albany (NY) Times Union. (Sisolak’s wife, Kathy, was born in a rural Nevada city to Chinese parents and worked in public finance before marrying Sisolak after his election in 2018.) I’ve been asked about the incident by friends from distant places I lived in before becoming New To Las Vegas.

In my view, the episode says more about how the media works than it does about how politics works, and not just in Nevada. But that could change as we get closer to the November elections in which Republicans challenging incumbent Democrats are going to try to make COVID-19 the No. 1 issue. Continue reading

Overlooking Las Vegas, the mystique–and myths–of Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston

Mount Charleston as seen last week from near the Las Vegas Strip

Sitting as it does in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada, less than 300 miles from Mexico, the immediate Las Vegas area has pretty mild winters, with no snow most years. Except for this: A scan of the mountainous horizon surrounding the Las Vegas Valley shows one–and only one–snow-capped peak easily visible from the Las Vegas Strip. It actually stays white more than half the year well into the warm late spring and is rather noticeable. Tourists wearing T-shirts are amazed as they waddle from casino to casino.

I’m talking about Mount Charleston, or, as it’s officially called, Charleston Peak. Just 30 miles to the northwest, the 11,916-foot-high federally owned pinnacle–nearly two miles above the Strip and the highest point in southern Nevada–is a subject of mystique and myths.

As is so often the case about Las Vegas, both mystique and myths are interesting. Continue reading

In Las Vegas, more phone calls from a faux charity using different names

faux charityBack in October, I wrote about United Women’s Health Alliance PAC. It’s a political action committee based in Washington, D.C., that emotionally solicits money on the phone for causes like females in uniform and health care sounding like it’s a charity–which it isn’t–and spends very little of what it receives on the stated missions. I predicted this PAC, which I call a faux charity, would simply ignore a new Nevada law known as Senate Bill 62 requiring it to first register and file financial statements before approaching would-be donors like me. UWHA-PAC is “betting on the sad track record of Nevada’s two charitable regulators,” I declared at the time.

I’m here to take a bow.

Last week, I received cold-call robocalls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters from two d/b/a fronts that UHWA-PAC uses nationally, “Emma” speaking for Americans for Female Officers PAC (she’s the one who called in October) and “Simon” from Americans for Female Veterans PAC, a newbie. I use quotes because both were computer-generated voices using the obnoxious practice known as soundboard technology. I’ll get back to those calls in a bit.

More to my immediate point: I went on the listings website of the Nevada Secretary of State to see if UHWA-PAC, Americans for Female Officers PAC or Americans for Female Veterans PAC had registered with the state as the new law requires. Nope.

Then I called the main office in Carson City of the Nevada Secretary of State–one of those two regulators in Nevada–to see if maybe there was a lag in posting online new PAC registrations. Again, no. I was assured that all PAC registrations are immediately put up on the Internet. But the person I spoke with didn’t seem familiar with the new Nevada law requiring prior registration and financial filings for any organization soliciting within the state for causes benefiting, among other categories, law enforcement (female officers), public health (women’s health) and patriotism (female veterans).

I am shocked–NOT! Continue reading

In Las Vegas, trolling faux cop charity promised not to call again–but quickly did

faux cop charity

Fake badge image from website

Just before noon on a recent morning, “Andrew Redlow” cold-called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters pleading for a cash contribution to what he said was United Police Officers Coalition PAC. Of course, I started asking simple questions, like where are you located? He answered that one: Washington, D.C. But another query really stumped him: How old is your organization?

“Andrew” responded with irrelevant answers, essentially continuing his pitch about how the money would help elect people to Congress sympathetic to law enforcement types who are being abused. I repeated my question. “I’m sorry,” “Andrew” said finally. “I can’t answer that kind of question. I’ll add you to our do-not-call list.” He abruptly hung up.

Then, not four hours later, in the afternoon, the phone rang. It was “Andrew Redlow” again, making the identical pitch again for the United Police Officers Coalition PAC. Simply shameless!

I use quotes because “Andrew Redlow” (I’m guessing at the spelling; that’s how it sounded) is not a real person, but a voice generated by a computer using what is known as soundboard technology. Which is not surprising because, as I discovered from a little research between the two calls, United Police Officers Coalition PAC isn’t a real organization, either. It’s simply a sympathetic fundraising name used by another outfit, Constitutional Leadership PAC.

Moreover, I learned Constitutional Leadership PAC is barely a PAC, or political action committee, which is supposed to make contributions to political candidates or causes it approves of. According to its own public filings, since its founding in 2019 (the question “Andrew” couldn’t answer), CLPAC has spent next to nothing on political contributions while spending almost everything raised on other stuff. I call PACs with such glib telephone patters and terrible financial efficiencies faux charities.

I also learned neither CLPAC nor United Police Officers Coalition PAC is approved to solicit in Nevada. A new state law requires fundraisers soliciting money in Nevada for, among other purposes, law enforcement causes to register and make publicly available financial filings.

Finally, I learned CLPAC is mentioned in a pending federal-court civil lawsuit in Pennsylvania alleging violations of federal law in connection with telemarketing for faux charities. Except that the lawsuit repeatedly uses the phrase “scam PACs.” And as it turns out, the lead defendant, who owns a number of companies involved in such fundraising, lives in Las Vegas.

Interested? Come join me for the ride. Continue reading

What’s buried here, stays here: the few famous graves of Las Vegas (Part 3)

famous Las Vegas graves

Moe Dalitz memorial, Palm Memorial Cemetery, Las Vegas

Welcome to Part 3 of my occasional series about the few famous graves of Las Vegas and why they are here. Part 1 dealt with athletes: boxer Sonny Liston, baseball pitcher Bo Belinsky and tennis star Pancho Gonzales. Part 2 concerned two prominent entertainers: movie star Tony Curtis and TV star Redd Foxx.

The conceit of this series is simple for someone like me who is New To Las Vegas. The populous Las Vegas area is the final resting spot of a very small number of individuals, probably no more than a score, whose fame could be described as enduring and widespread beyond the local area. This is possibly attributable to Las Vegas’s relative youth as a city–just 115 years old–not long enough for a lot of famous people to be buried here. But it’s also possible that for the longest time, lots of locally prominent individuals, or their next-of-kin, preferred that Las Vegas not be their forever home.

Perhaps surprisingly, this seems to be especially true of one notable sector of Las Vegas’s storied past: organized crime, those associated with organized crime, and other ne’er-do-wells. It is generally agreed Las Vegas would not be the gambling and entertainment powerhouse it has become without the help starting 75 years ago of a coterie of wrong-side-of-the-law folks, generally from East Coast and Midwest-based organized crime families, and their hangers-on, plus free-lancers. With the assistance of a little muscle, the mobsters saw a chance to rake off substantial tax-free profits from casino gambling–the now-legendary “skim.” The ploy lasted for a half-century.

In researching this post, I assembled a list of about 50 individuals historically connected with Las Vegas identified as being prominent in organized crime; associated a bit too closely with mobsters, often as fronts or even girlfriends; or infamous for their reputations. Maybe 40 ended up putting down their, uh, permanent roots elsewhere. No more than 10 of the 50 are buried in Las Vegas, and of this group, perhaps four have achieved a certain amount of continuing fame.

So this article, part of a continuing series, is as much about who’s not buried here. Continue reading