Shadowy outfit rating medical pros operates in Las Vegas

Shadowy outfit raring medical pros

Material from Consumers’ Research Council of America hanging in the waiting room of a Las Vegas dental practice

As someone New To Las Vegas, I’ve had to get a new set of medical professionals to help keep me alive and functioning: doctors, specialists, dentists and the like. So it pains me to report this. On the walls of offices and waiting rooms I keep seeing laudatory plaques and literature issued by a shadowy ratings group with a misleading name and banal standards set up by a California trophy maker for, it seems, the purpose of selling overpriced plaques.

The group calls itself Consumers’ Research Council of America. Now, if you get that confused with Consumers Union, the publisher of the highly respected magazine Consumer Reports, it’s probably no surprise. And if you think the address Consumers’ Research Council of America lists on its website of Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington just four blocks from the White House is a prestige location, think again: It’s simply a mail drop at a UPS store. And don’t bother calling the phone number on the home page either. It is answered by a tape that won’t take a message.

The image elsewhere on this page is that of a hanging on the waiting room wall of a Las Vegas dentist I mercifully will not name. It’s far from the first Consumers’ Research Council of America “endorsement” I have seen around Sin City.

Don’t believe me? Just Google “Las Vegas” and “Consumers’ Research Council of America” (make sure to include the apostrophe), or click on this link. You will get scores of hits of medical and other professionals touting this big honor. Hanging out in the suburbs? Google “Henderson” and “Consumers’ Research Council of America” and you’ll get dozens. Hell, even Googling “Summerlin” (a well-to-do section of the Las Vegas area) and “Consumers’ Research Council of America” pulls up a bunch.

Consumers’ Research Council of America operates nationally. For proof, try my little Google search trick inserting any city in the country you want.

The reason I know something about this is that I wrote up Consumers’ Research Council of America and its m.o. in 2009 for Forbes.com. You can read that story by clicking here. From my further research, it doesn’t seem that things have changed too much.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Las Vegas meeting leads to New York convictions

It Didn't Stay Here

William T. “Billy” Walters (via cardplayer.com)

Even before becoming New To Las Vegas, I had heard of Billy Walters. He was a big-time Vegas-based gambler–profiled in 2011 on 60 Minutes as “the most dangerous sports bettor in Nevada.”

Turns out Walters, whose full name is William T. Walters, also was a big-time stock investor. A little too big time, I might suggest. Last month, he was convicted in federal court in New York City on all 10 criminal counts he faced involving insider trading in publicly traded dairy company Dean Foods.

According to the indictment and rather abundant trial testimony, Walters used confidential information over six years to profit to the tune of $43 million, either by buying shares ahead of the release of good news or selling them just before bad stuff became known publicly. Walters used tips fed him by Thomas C. Davis, Dean Foods board member and sometimes chairman who was heavily indebted to Walters and who went state’s evidence as part of his own guilty plea to a dozen charges.

Walters, 70, who professed innocence, will appeal after he’s sentenced in July. (UPDATE: He was sentenced on July 27 to five years in prison and a $10 million fine.) He also earns a nomination to my new list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of people who got into trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. The still-embryonic list–a riff on the celebrated Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here“–can be found elsewhere on this page.

How much of what Walters was convicted of actually took place in Las Vegas isn’t completely clear to me. I didn’t attend the four-week trial in Manhattan, and daily news accounts of the proceedings were intermittent. But according to the indictment–remember, Walters was convicted on all counts, so the jury found the totality of the charges convincing–Sin City was definitely a venue for some of his purported dirty dealings.

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It Didn’t Stay Here: Illinois politician sentenced to jail for Las Vegas junkets

jail for Las Vegas junkets

Oliver Hamilton (courtesy East St. Louis Township, Ill.)

For years, I have been writing up dodgy charities I have encountered, often after getting a telephone cold call asking for money and then doing a little research. Las Vegas and other parts of Nevada are home to paid telemarketers operating nationally who often receive as much as 90% of the money donated in the name of the charity. (This scurrilous fact is rarely volunteered to the person being called.)

This blog and my previous one, NewToSeattle.com, get a fair amount of traffic from other persons solicited who Google the name of the charity and come upon my musings. Believe it or not, some of these charities have kept calling me asking for money even after I have roasted them online. This is why I have nominated them for a list I started called America’s Stupidest Charities. This is only opinion, of course, but what can be dumber than that? You can see the list of nominations elsewhere on this site.

But New To Las Vegas, I see the need for a second list. The title: “It Didn’t Stay Here,” inspired by the famously cheeky marketing slogan of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, “What Happens Here, Stays Here.” This list will consist of folks and firms getting into trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas.

My first nominee: Oliver Hamilton of East St. Louis, Ill.

A now ex-elected township supervisor, Hamilton. 63, was sentenced earlier this month in his local federal court to five years in prison for spending taxpayer money on, among other things, trips to Las Vegas. The guilty plea to federal wire fraud for embezzling public money covered improper spending of at least $40,000. But the Belleville News-Democrat, the Illinois newspaper that uncovered the scandal by diligently making public-record requests, said Hamilton charged at least $230,000 in personal purchases over a four-year period. Continue reading

One topic Las Vegas image-makers ignore: Las Vegas scorpions

Las Vegas scorpions

Arizona bark scorpion (via Progressive Pest Control)

The image-makers of Las Vegas, especially the folks who coined the now-famous “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan, are terrific at selling this town. That’s one reason the local airport serves nearly 1 million passengers every single week in an area that has only two million residents.

But here’s one thing the Las Vegas publicists don’t talk about: Las Vegas scorpions. Search the official websites of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which owns the aforementioned slogan, for the word “scorpion” in a pest context, and you’ll come up with zip.

For me, this really hit home in home a couple weeks ago when a scorpion crawling across the ceiling actually fell into my own bed! Fortunately, I’m a light sleeper and was able to make short work of it with a pillow case organized-crime-style (hey, this is Vegas, baby, where the Mob Museum is a popular tourist attraction). I was careful to avoid the tail, tipped with a stinger that can swoop over and deliver a hefty load of potent venom. Continue reading

On Las Vegas ethical standards

Las Vegas ethical standards

Rossi Ralenkotter (via LinkedIn)

There’s an interesting story in today’s Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Rossi Ralenkotter, the CEO and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, is upset an RJ reporter knocked on the front door of the gated-community home of one of Ralenkotter’s executives. I’m sure his outrage has nothing to do with some recent investigative reporting about his governmental agency by the paper, which happens to be owned by the family of a rival convention center operator.

But here’s the passage in today’s story that really caught my eye. The reporter “violated ethical standards that we in the business community of Las Vegas respect and uphold,” Ralenkotter is quoted as saying.

I have three observations here:

1/ Although I am still New To Las Vegas, it is far from clear to me that the city’s business community has much in the way of ethical standards (i.e. see the Las Vegas connection to the recent Panama Papers scandal). After all, a fair amount of the economy is grounded on vice and bribery.

2/ I immediately thought of the book-turned-movie “All the President’s Men,” which recounted considerable efforts by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward knocking on residential doors and meeting people after business hours. Their activities helped lead to the resignation of a U.S. president.

3/ What Ralenkotter really ought to be most upset about is the possibility that RJ reporters approached at their homes other LVCVA employees, who did not report those visits to him.

The LVCVA is the proud owner of the famous slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” which cheekily encourages behavior in Vegas that many might find offensive or unethical. Ralenkotter is already discovering that what’s reported here, doesn’t stay here.

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

Far from Las Vegas, Donald Trump taxes and me

Donald Trump taxes

Donald J. Trump (via Wikipedia)

You might have heard about the big reveal on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show last night that Donald J. Trump paid $38 million in federal income taxes in 2005. It certainly was interesting.

But it was not exactly a scoop.

For here is what I wrote for the Informer gossip column of Forbes, which I also edited, published on February 9, 2007:


Just a Bunch of Zeros

A snappy moment enlivened a Camden, N.J. hearing on Donald J. Trump’s libel suit over author Timothy L. O’Brien’s TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald. The book says Trump is worth less than $250 million. “I think I’m going to hire his accountant,” Superior Court Judge Irvin J. Snyder exclaimed on the bench after eyeing Trump’s still-secret-to-the-public tax returns. “He only paid $38,000 in tax.” Huge evidence for the defense? “Actually,” O’Brien lawyer Andrew J. Ceresney stammered, “it’s 38–well, 38 million, Your Honor.” Snyder replied, “Oh, thanks. I missed that.” Trump lawyer William M. Tambussi didn’t skip a beat: “So did Mr. O’Brien, Judge.” Trump says he’s worth $6 billion; FORBES figures $2.9 billion. –William P. Barrett Continue reading

The caring folks of Las Vegas

caring folks of Las VegasTwo elderly men were in a Las Vegas supermarket shopping together. One was helping the other, taking items off the shelves and later taking those items from the shopping cart onto the belt at the check-out.

It was clear from their dialog–I was right behind them several times–that they didn’t live together or were in a romantic or even paid caretaker relationship. It was simply a stronger friend helping a frailer friend on what I gathered was a more-or-less regular basis.

This scenario–friends helping weaker friends in everyday shopping situations–is one I’ve encountered over and over in the half-year since becoming New To Las Vegas. Besides assorted supermarkets, I’ve seen it at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes’s and Costco.

I know this flies in the face of Las Vegas’s reputation as a “tough” town. And it might even be hard to square with a crime rate that is several times the national average. But it’s happening here, and it warms the heart. Continue reading

If Trump wants more coverage of crime, come to Las Vegas

coverage of crime

Donald J. Trump (via Wikipedia)

Donald J. Trump is breaking the mold as President of the United States in so many ways. Among the latest: He thinks there isn’t enough reporting of crime, specifically terror attacks. That makes him the first elected official I can remember who says the news media is downplaying–deliberately, he suggests conspiratorially–violence in society.

The usual claim–and one I heard for years as a newspaper police and court reporter–is that the press gives far too much attention to such unpleasantries, especially since criminal acts, including those classified as terror, statistically remain the exception rather than the norm. The traditional complaint has been that the media are undermining civilization by playing up such bad stuff to get eyeballs.

Trump’s stated notion that terror news is under-reported has been widely debunked. I personally think his position is silly. But if Trump really wants more coverage of bad acts, he ought to spend more time around Las Vegas, where the tallest non-casino hotel, befitting his half-ownership, bears his name.

The local media here can’t serve up enough crime news. Continue reading

A copy desk decline in Las Vegas

As an old newsie–four and a half decades as a journalist, much of that in newspapers–I especially have found the decline of the traditional print media to be a sad thing to watch. The outlets generally have fewer staffers, especially on things like copy desks, so quality is one of the first noticeable things to fade.

New To Las Vegas, I read the Las Vegas Review-Journal–Nevada’s largest newspaper–very closely. But I didn’t have to read the paper very closely this morning to see this in a staff-written story on the front page (the highlighting is mine):

copy desk decline

At this posting the same error appears online on the RJ website and hasn’t been fixed.

As the RJ might put it, we are all a lot more pour for this.

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

Las Vegas nonprofit for injured cops is legit but has high overhead

After on-duty police officer Chad Parque in North Las Vegas was killed earlier this month by a wrong-way driver, officials said tax-deductible contributions for the grieving family could go to the Injured Police Officers Fund. The 35-year-old home-grown Clark County nonprofit was even profiled on local TV, albeit with absolutely no detail about the organization’s finances.

Those who have followed my writings over the years know I have found much to criticize about nonprofits that purport to raise money to help injured or deceased folks in uniform such as soldiers and cops. In the nonprofits I have examined, almost all the funds raised have gone for fundraising, overhead and unrelated purposes–everything but for the stated good-works purpose. I regard some of these outfits–and yes, I mean you, National Police and Troopers Association, an arm of the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO–as skanks.

So, still New To Las Vegas, I obtained the latest tax filing of the IPOF. I am happy to report–for a change, really–that the organization is legitimate, its charitable purpose worthy and its means appropriate. But I do have a serious concern about one element of its financial efficiency, along with its transparency. Continue reading

Clark County, home of Las Vegas, is named for a corrupt tycoon

corrupt tycoon

William A. Clark (via Wikipedia)

Origins of geographic names are so revealing. Seattle, where I lived before becoming New To Las Vegas, is named for an Indian chief even though gringo settlers later made it illegal for his tribe to live there. King County, in which Seattle sits, originally was named in 1852 for William Rufus Devane King, a newly elected vice president of the United States who died of tuberculosis just 47 days after taking office. But in 1986, lawmakers switched the basis to the persona of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. after shockingly discovering–only 114 years later–Bill King had been a slaveholder who founded Selma, Ala. (The never-married King also was likely gay and in a relationship with likely gay and future never-married U.S. president James Buchanan, but that wasn’t a factor in the switch.)

Las Vegas is Spanish for “The Meadows.” The place already had that name when the future war criminal, U.S. military man John C. Frémont, first explored the largely unpopulated Mojave Desert area, then part of Mexico, on May 3, 1844. Writing that the spring water was too warm for drinking but wonderful for bathing, he later put Las Vegas on a government-issued map that eventually helped guide thousands of–yes, gringo settlers–to the West.

Fremont Street today is a major thoroughfare in Las Vegas. But the person who really put Las Vegas on the map is William A. Clark, for whom the county Las Vegas lies in is named. He has a fascinating background for someone whose name adorns a governmental subdivision. A tycoon who made his big fortune in copper mines, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in another state through big-money bribery, which, when exposed, cost him the seat. “I never bought a man who wasn’t for sale,” he is reported to have protested. Continue reading

The Las Vegas mobster next door

Las Vegas mobster

Charles Stango (via AboutTheMob.com)

Part of the mystique surrounding Las Vegas stems from the role starting in the 1940s of organized crime figures from other places. They developed the casino scene along the Strip with hidden interests to further their skimming of gambling proceeds.The conventional wisdom is that over time legitimate corporate interests, most notably Howard Hughes, bought out the mobsters and with the help of law enforcement drove them all away from the Silver State. (The 1995 Martin Scorsese film Casino captures in fiction some of this history.)

I think that perception is the reason a nervous buzz went through the Las Vegas Valley earlier this month. There was news that a reputed capo of the mob family which helped inspire the TV show “The Sopranos” lived in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson and had pleaded guilty for ordering someone be whacked and also for violating terms of a supervised release. You’re not supposed to order that someone be whacked while on supervised release.

According to court documents, the murder was never carried out because (1) the fellows the capo now admits he dealt with to order the deed were undercover FBI agents, and (2) the feds wiretapped the hell out of the caper. Continue reading

Lying police union makes a lying pitch for money in Las Vegas

Lying police unionI’ve had it up to here with the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO. Using the trade name National Police and Troopers Association, its telemarketers raise money by calling folks, falsely implying it is a charity and flat-out lying that the money is to fund death benefits for families of fallen officers.

In fact, only 1/10 of 1% of the funds given over the past four years, and nothing in some years, has gone for death benefits. Far more–maybe 80 times more–has gone to defray costs of negotiating higher pay and benefits for IUPA’s law-enforcement members.

That money is spent this way is not especially surprising, since the IUPA/NPTA, is simply a police union, albeit one masquerading as a charity. Still, it isn’t a charity, which is why contributions to IUPA/NPTA are not tax-deductible. Of course, callers are not advised of that fact, nor that NPTA is raising money for collective bargaining, before they are asked to make a legally enforceable pledge of money.

But even the 8% or so of donations going to some kind of police-related purpose is dwarfed by the 90-plus percent going to the paid fundraiser, an outfit with the wonderfully deceptive name (at least when working for this union) of Charity Appeal, based in Carson City, Nev.

Why am I so steamed up about this? At the New To Las Vegas world headquarters I recently got yet another call from these flim-flam artists. They and others retained by IUPA/NPTA have been calling me for years even though I’ve written up the deplorable m.o. here and on an earlier blog, NewToSeattle.com. That I keep getting called asking for money despite my public criticisms is why the organization is a candidate for my list, posted in the left column, of America’s Stupidest Charities.

But this time I was told directly by an actual human being–to whom I was referred when the computer-operated artificial intelligence voice using the name Jackson Kimbrell couldn’t answer one of my questions–that 10% of the money raised–100 times the true cut–goes to the families of fallen officers.

“Ten percent goes for death benefits?” I repeated incredulously but to the point. “Correct,” she replied in a pleasant Southern accent.

Even Burger King double whoppers aren’t this big. Don’t think so, I replied. She hung up. Continue reading

In Las Vegas sirens are constant background sound

Las Vegas sirensA dozen or so times most days around Las Vegas, I hear a siren. Or rather, sirens, since there often are multiple vehicles simultaneously emitting the grating sound. When I have no line of sight, like when I’m at home, I can’t tell if the faint-louder-faint pattern comes from police cars or firetrucks or ambulances or some combination thereof.

Even in the middle of the night, when there is far less traffic to warn and flashing lights presumably could do the trick, I hear (from bed) sirens demanding the right-of-way.  Often every couple hours.

Still New to Las Vegas, I have never lived in a place with more frequent emergency response activity. That includes Albuquerque, my home for 12 years, where I lived within a mile of four hospitals with emergency rooms and local police led the nation in SWAT team incidents ending in a fatal shooting. And New York City and Seattle, where I resided within a few hundred yards of busy fire houses.

In Las Vegas the wailing tones are an ever-present–and unsettling–background theme to local life. Something bad is going down. Seemingly, nearly all the time. Continue reading

‘None of These Candidates’ is official option on Las Vegas ballot

None of These Candidates

Official Nevada ballot 2016

With one exception, everywhere I’ve lived–and that’s 16 places across the country in the past 46 years–I’ve had the option on Election Day to write in the name of a candidate if I didn’t like the printed choices. Even for president of the United States.

I discovered the exception after becoming New To Las Vegas this summer. As I learned recently when voting early, Nevada ballots by law do not provide a space in which to enter a name of my choosing on a statewide race should I be so inclined. But in their infinite wisdom, Nevada lawmakers decades ago provided a bit of an out. On all such races, there is an option to vote “None of These Candidates.” Continue reading

Cash gifts to veterans charity trolling Las Vegas do little good

veterans charity trolling Las VegasThe caller to the New To Las Vegas World Headquarters said he was from the Foundation for American Veterans. He was hopeful I would make even a small pledge to help former soldiers.

OK, I said, where are you located?

“West Bloomfield, Michigan,” he cheerily replied.

How long have you been around, I asked.

Click.

That’s right. The caller hung up on me without uttering another word. Or rather, the paid outside fundraiser controlling the computer doing its best to imitate a person decided I already was asking too many questions and wanted to move onto someone who might not be quite as inquisitive.

After doing some research, I can see why the call came to such an abrupt end. A better name for this charity would be Foundation for American Fundraising.

By my reading of FAV’s latest financial available statements, no more than 9% of the cash raised from solicitations like the one I received likely went toward the stated mission, listed on its website, “to step in and assist veterans.” Most of the cash went to a fundraiser with a checkered past currently in bankruptcy.

Reputable charities put their latest financial statements on their websites for easy review. Not surprisingly, it did not appear that FAV, which has been around since 1994 (the answer to my unanswered question on the phone), so posted its own data. And the Nevada state government, I sadly have come to learn, is largely useless when it comes to helping donors.

Fortunately, FAV’s stuff can be downloaded from this page on the website of the New York State Attorney General in far-away Albany, N.Y. I invite you to do so and read along. It won’t be boring. Continue reading

Las Vegas is apt place for Trump election-rigging talk

Trump election-riging talk

Abraham Lincoln in 1863

The 2016 presidential debate circus has now departed Las Vegas, but not before Republican nominee Donald J. Trump repeated his claim during the debate at UNLV that the election would be “rigged” in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. At various times he and various surrogates have suggested that rigging would come in the form of massive numbers of ineligible voters–non-citizens and dead persons–casting votes for her. At the debate he even said he might not accept the outcome.

Now, I think evidence-free Trump is full of B.S. on rigging this time around. But as someone New To Las Vegas, I have been carefully studying the history of Las Vegas and Nevada. And I find it utterly fascinating that in the Silver State he continued his jihad against election rigging.

Why? Because Nevada actually became a state to rig an election for Abraham Lincoln.

Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

Continue reading

Nine richest people in Las Vegas collectively worth $50 billion

forbes-logoThe 35th edition of the legendary Forbes 400 list is out today, and the estimated net worth of the nine entrants from the Las Vegas area adds up to a cool $50 billion.

The Vegas Nine, for want of a better label, saw their collective stash rise $6 billion, or 13%, in a year. That’s more than double the 6% rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average during that same period. But hey, there’s some reason why they’re on the list and we’re not. Continue reading

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

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