Sketchy police nonprofit pitches in Las Vegas

sketchy police nonprofitThe telephone call came into the New to Las Vegas world headquarters. A fellow with the first name of Jackson said he was with the fundraising company Charity Appeal. He said he was soliciting money for the National Police and Troopers Association to fund “death benefits” for families of fallen officers. Jackson was hopeful I could be counted upon for a donation.

Gee, I said, that sounds interesting. How much of the money given by donors in the past couple years went for death benefits?

“That’s a great question,” Jackson said in his slight Southern twang. “But I’m relatively new here. I’ll transfer this over to my supervisor.”

The phone line promptly went dead.

Here are possible reasons the call was disconnected so abruptly: Almost none of the money raised goes to death benefits–in some years not even a dime. More than 90% of the funds raised went to outside fundraisers. Virtually all of what was left went to a labor union that owns the NPTA name to help negotiate collective bargaining agreements for its members and lower their dues.

The NPTA is not a charity at all–contributions are not tax-deductible–but falsely portrays itself as a charity. That makes its use of a fundraiser with the name Charity Appeal–based, as it turns out, in the Nevada state capital of Carson City–even more misleading and deceptive.

It’s bad enough the NPTA is part of a police union–International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO–whose members allegedly are sworn to uphold the law and do the right thing. But to me, what’s even worse is that this flim-flam has been going on for years and charity regulators haven’t done anything about it. Maybe they’re afraid of police retaliation. Continue reading

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Las Vegas heat nears end of its yearly run

Las Vegas heat

Average monthly temps (via allvegas.us)

One of the main reasons I put a current weather box at the top of this blog is that, since becoming New To Las Vegas this summer, I get asked all the time by friends, colleagues and relatives around the country how hot it is here at that particular moment. I suppose people living in Phoenix get the same queries. But hey, I’m not New To Phoenix, so I don’t get asked that.

From what I can tell, Las Vegas’ grip on the public imagination of the world is based on four things: (1) gambling, (2) entertainment, (3) history of the mob and (4) God-awful heat. Now, over the decades I’ve lived in some pretty toasty places: Cairo, Houston, Albuquerque and an inland valley in the Los Angeles area two mountain ranges from the cooling marine layer of the Pacific Ocean. I almost never was asked by far-away folks about the local temperature (although living in coolish Seattle, I fielded constant inquiries about rain).

Las Vegas is just one of those towns that people like to make fun of, so I suspect asking me about the heat is a gentle way of needling. But now I have a response. Nearby is a table showing the historic average monthly temps in Las Vegas. The high–the only data series that seems to draw any notice–is 100 or more during June, July and August. But only those months.

The mercury starts to fall noticeably around Labor Day–today–and by the middle of September the daily high is usually out of the 90s. Indeed, the predicted high for today is down to 93 degrees. We might have one or two more 100 degree days, but that should be it.

What will follow is upwards of eight months of generally terrific weather. No excessive heat, lots of sun, low humidity (often 1%), no ice or snow, and little precipitation of any kind.

Remember that, residents of snowy Boston in January, rainy Houston in November, frigid New York in February, and hurricane-threatened Florida any time in the fall. Many parts of the country are lucky to get four months a year of good weather. Continue reading

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One sketchy veterans charity Las Vegas will avoid

sketchy vertans charityBefore becoming New To Las Vegas in July, I lived for five years in Seattle, where I also had a blog, NewToSeattle.com. I wrote about the culture and controversies of Seattle. But, having covered charities at Forbes for a long time, I also described the many dodgy nonprofits from around the country that called the New To Seattle World Headquarters asking for money. They generally were dodgy because their regulatory filings revealed that almost none of the money donated went to a legitimate charitable purpose.

Over time I managed to expose many such organizations. The ones that called again asking for money after they were profiled, I nominated for a list I created of America’s Stupidest Charities. I mean, what can be dumber than trying to get a gift from a known critic who has a public platform? You can see that list nearby in the left rail.

But with only a few exceptions, no matter how dodgy the nonprofit, charity regulators allowed it to stay in operation. It was a sad commentary on our government.

But now we have a rare event. One of the charities on my list that I first went after in early 2014 is shutting down on its own. It is the Alexandria, Va.-based National Vietnam Veterans Foundation, which in recent years solicited money under the trade name American Veterans Support Foundation.

According to CNN, which sometimes eats my dust in reporting on such matters, the operation just closed in the wake of an earlier CNN report in May that the long-time head of the dubious charity, J. Thomas Burch Jr., is actually a highly paid lawyer at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA is supposed to champion the rights of ex-soldiers but has been having more than a few problems of its own. Continue reading

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Popular Fremont Street in Las Vegas named for a war criminal

Before the Las Vegas Strip, there was Fremont Street. The east-west artery cutting through downtown Las Vegas was the heart of gambling after the State of Nevada legalized casinos in 1931. The state’s very first gaming license went to the Northern Club at 15 E. Fremont St. Even as the casino action eventually migrated southward to grander facilities along S. Las Vegas Blvd.–the Strip–Fremont Street held its own. It was on Fremont Street that Buddy Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in 1970 started the World Series of Poker, now the world’s largest such tournament.

war criminal

John C. Frémont

Today, there’s the Fremont Street Experience, a five-block-long pedestrian mall festooned with neon, much of it under a 90-foot-high canopy. After the Strip, Fremont Street is undoubtedly Las Vegas’s best-known street.

And, in my judgment, one with a most distasteful provenance. For Fremont is named for a war criminal, who despite that background became the very first presidential candidate of the Republican Party a long time ago. And you thought Donald J. Trump carried some baggage in the GOP.

The street is named for John C. Frémont (1813-1890), whose accent acute today is frequently omitted. In the middle of the 19th century Frémont carved out quite the national and even international reputation in a variety of realms–military, politics and business.

Plus a little race-based wartime murder. Not just once, either. Continue reading

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The other signs around the famous ‘Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign say a lot more

It’s easily one of the world’s most famous signs. “W E L C O M E  TO Fabulous LAS VEGAS NEVADA” proclaims the 25-foot-tall, diamond-shaped neon landmark that sits at 5200 S Las Vegas Blvd. in the median at the southern end of the Las Vegas Strip next to McCarran International Airport. (You can see the sign at the top of this blog.) It’s lit up at night.

Fabulous Las VegasEvery day, thousands of tourists traipse to the site to have their pictures taken in front of the sign while posing, hugging, jumping, pointing or otherwise just being themselves. At 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, I saw mugging for a camera a group of eight young women all wearing tank-tops reading “Vegas Before Vows.”

Nearby is my photo of the already substantial waiting line at that early hour, many folks sipping from beer containers. (To watch a surprisingly interesting around-the-clock live feed of the action around the sign, click here, wait for the ad, and zoom in.)

The garish sign, erected in 1959, is actually on the National Registry of Historic Places. The structure definitely says something about the Las Vegas culture, and not just because it sits four miles outside the city limits and thus really isn’t accurate in its placement. But for me, New To Las Vegas, the greater truth is found in two signs festooning the adjoining parking lot. Here’s one:

Fabulous Las VegasAnd here’s the other:

Fabulous Las Vegas Continue reading

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Is everyone a scamster in Las Vegas?

scamster in Las VegasOne thing that has struck me during my first few weeks as a Las Vegas resident is the great suspicion that a large number of clerks and cashiers have about the bona fides of $20 bills. Perceiving a trend, as an experiment I started paying for every purchase I could using twenties and observing a la Margaret Mead.

Time and time again I watched as someone at a cash register looked at the Andrew Jackson I tendered, held it up to a light, ran a finger over its presidential image, folded the bill once or twice and otherwise scrutinized it.

In the past 45 years I’ve moved 16 times into the four continental time zones, and abroad. I’ve been in all 50 states. Excluding gold bugs like Ron Paul, I’ve never seen such widespread paranoia about paper money as what I’m witnessing in Vegas.

What’s going on, I asked one Wal-Mart clerk after she gave my $20 bill yet another third degree. She actually had an answer.

“In Vegas,” she said, “everyone’s working a scam.” Continue reading

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Las Vegas ‘What Happens Here’ slogan is a recent PR invention

What Happens HereWho hasn’t heard the saying about Las Vegas, “What Happens Here, Stays Here”? It conjures up all kinds of local illicit and unfaithful pursuits, a bug light for those so inclined. In the process of relocating from Seattle to Las Vegas for family reasons (honest!), I thought the slogan was of historically long standing. You know, along the lines of “The City That Never Sleeps” for New York City or “First in War, First In Peace, Last in the American League” for Washington, D.C.

How wrong I was. It turns out the slogan was flat-out made up 13 years by a Las Vegas ad agency hired to devise a new marketing campaign for the city. I guess the presence of world-class entertainment, 40,000-plus slot machines and nearby legal prostitution wasn’t enough. Continue reading

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