Firefighter faux charity illegally soliciting in Las Vegas still spends nothing on stated mission

firefighter faux charityOne thing you have to say for National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters PAC: It’s consistent.

When a robocall computer using a voice powered by soundboard technology called the New To Las Vegas world headquarters in mid-2020 asking for a donation to the political action committee, I did a little research. It turned out the PAC, ostensibly based in Boston, had raised $240,000 in donations across the country. But its own public records showed it hadn’t given even a single penny to any political campaign in further of its main stated mission, which is to support the causes of, well, volunteer firefighters.

Clearly, NCVF PAC was what I call a faux charity. That’s a PAC that presents as a charity but isn’t and spends almost all the money raised on fundraising and overhead and undisclosed compensation to its organizers. Others call such outfits scam charities.

Fast forward to now. NCVF PAC is still around. Its robocall computer using a voice powered by soundboard technology recently called me again with the same charity-sounding pitch. The call from “Tom Evans” was short, and you can listen to substantially the same pitch with the same fake name as recorded by an anti-robocall web site by clicking here. I did a little more research. In the three-and-a-half-year period since its inception through June 30, 2023, NCVF PAC has receive nearly $5 million in donations around the country, mostly from small Mom and Pop donors. I’ll let you guess how much of that NCVF PAC’s own filings say went to identified political candidates during that entire period, which included two national election seasons.

If you guessed anything greater that zero dollars, you guessed high.

But one thing has changed between the two calls. In 2021, Nevada, where I live, passed a sweeping law prohibiting any organization from fundraising in the Silver State for, among other causes, “the benefit of … firefighting,” without first registering and making filings with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. The prohibition, codified as Nevada Revised Statutes 82A.010 et seq., embraces all entities, including PACs. I checked with the Secretary of State’s Office, and there’s no registration or filings on behalf of NCVF PAC.

So the call I just received was illegal, punishable by civil sanctions including financial penalties. But Nevada regulators have been MIA on this issue of illegal solicitation. Were they to act, though, it wouldn’t be the first time NCVF’s founder has been in the crosshairs of government authorities. Continue reading

Has Las Vegas become the fraud capital of America?

Las Vegas fraud capitalThere was the lawyer who collected a whopping $500 million after promising hundreds of investors around the world a 50% annual return in what prosecutors call a classic Ponzi fraud scheme. The telemarketer who raised huge amounts of money nationwide for faux charities. The promoter who swindled small business owners everywhere out of nearly $12 million by collecting fees for promising grants that never materialized. The seven-person ring that collected $10 million million in fees after sending out thousands of phony prize notifications redeemable upon payment of small fees that can add up. The man who swindled more than $3 million in security deposits across the country. The tax preparer caught collecting nearly $10 million in phony refunds. A plethora of other cases too numerous to mention, especially COVID-19 loan refund fraud and identity theft cases.

Besides their fraudulent audacity, these perps had two other big things in common. They all lived and/or worked in the Las Vegas area. And criminal litigation involving their alleged deeds transpired within the past year.

Now, as epidemiologists might say, that’s quite a cluster of societal illness cases in a single geographic region. It’s more than enough to ask this basic question: Has Vegas become the fraud capital of America? Continue reading

Smaller Reno area matches Las Vegas in Forbes 400 members

Forbes 400The 42nd edition of the annual Forbes 400 list was published yesterday, and there was some shuffling in the Las Vegas area ranks. Two heavies climbed on, and one fell off. Net result: The number of local swells rose from three to four. But that simply matches the count in much-smaller cross-state rival Reno, which saw an even bigger increase.

The largest local loser, if that’s the correct categorization for someone still worth $2.7 billion, is Phil Ruffin, the 90-year-old owner of Circus Circus, Treasure Island and 50% of the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas, shared with Donald J. Trump. According to Forbes, Ruffin’s net worth fell $300 million from $3 billion last year. As it turns out, $2.9 billion is this year’s cut-off.

Returning to the venerable list of the richest Americans are Andrew Cherng, 76, and Peggy Cherng, 75, founder, owners and co-CEOs of the Panda Express restaurant chain. Each ranked No. 366 with net worths of $3.1 billion, or $6.2 billion for the household. Both had been on previous Forbes 400 lists, but not last year’s.

Miriam Adelson, 77, widow of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, remains the richest woman in all of Las Vegas and all of Nevada. With her family she’s ranked No. 24, worth $32.8 billion, up a nifty $4.9 billion from 2022 when she was No. 26.

Rounding out the Las Vegas area contingent, Nancy Walton Laurie, 72, of the Walmart Waltons, ranked No. 88 with a stash of $9.3 billion. That’s five clicks and $1.6 billion better than last year. Continue reading

Las Vegas Review-Journal paid print circulation drops another 12% in year

Las Vegas Review-JournalIn December 2022, I posted here my “Las Vegas predictions for 2023.” Many of them were satirical tongue-in-cheek, like “Elon Musk bans references on Twitter to Las Vegas, but doesn’t give a reason.” But here’s one prediction that was dead serious: “The average paid print circulation of the Las Vegas Review-Journal falls below 40,000, down from 232,000 in 2015 despite a sharp increase in local population.”

In yesterday’s Sunday paper, the RJ published its yearly legally-required-under-oath circulation statement for a period ending in August. The average paid print circulation for the preceding 12 months fell from 45,383 to 39,833.

Whatdayaknow? The 5,550-copy drop amounted to a sharp one-year decline of 12%.

Paid digital subscriptions did not take up the slack, rising only 1,740 from 17,517 in the prior period to to 19,257. So the combined paid print and digital subscription fell 6%, from 62,900 to 59,090. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: Flooding, casino hacks give Las Vegas a far-flung P.R. bashing

Las VegasThat catchy Las Vegas marketing mantra of recent invention, “What happens here, stays here,” was never true, of course. Readers of this blog are well aware of my view from all the examples I have cited since becoming New To Las Vegas of folks in trouble elsewhere for something that happened locally. (My running list, It Didn’t Stay Here, can be found nearby.)

But this applies institutionally as well as individually. Thanks to some recent happenings, Summer 2023, which ends tonight at 11:50 p.m. PT, likely can’t go away fast enough for Vegas image-makers. Their success over time at stirring worldwide interest in this remote desert spot full of scorpions leaves them, tracking Shakespeare’s immortal words from Hamlet referencing the results of incompetent bomb-makers: hoist by their own petards.

I just did some Google searches. The two recent instances of Las Vegas-area flooding–the first in mid-August from Hurricane Hilary and the second over Labor Day weekend from the annual monsoon–generated 5.74 million hits. This is an astounding number given that by major world flood disaster standards, the loss of life and damage here, while real in places, rounded to zero, largely thanks to decades of serious flood-control work. The rains materially damaged maybe 0.04% of the metropolitan area, most notably the tiny town of Mount Charleston, 40 miles west of and 5,000 feet above Las Vegas. The recent flooding in Libya killed thousands and wiped out whole villages–most of them little known outside the country, since they don’t have the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority working for them. A Google search produced 13.5 million hits–barely double the Vegas return despite a level of tragedy maybe a million-fold greater.

The computer hacks that hit the Caesars Entertainment and the MGM Resorts International chains, resulting at the latter in long check-in lines and winnings paid out by hand, returned 6.32 million Google hits. This, too, is an amazing number. It seems all those photos and accounts of frustrated pleasure-seekers unable to quickly gamble, drink or indulge in other vices proved irresistible for the editorial gatekeepers of the Internet determined to prove the continuing relevance of the Ten Commandments. Continue reading

With ‘Oppenheimer’ and radiation, Las Vegas stakes its claim to nuclear tourism

nuclear tourism

Movie poster for ‘Oppenheimer’

See update at end of story

I recently saw the movie “Oppenheimer,” about the rise, fall and rise again of J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 to end World War II. Despite its three-hour length (preceded by a half-hour of utterly mindless ads and trailers), it’s a terrific flick. The movie is sure to be up for a bunch of Oscars with a clever screenplay by director Christopher Nolan, and riveting performances by Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer and especially Robert Downey Jr. He steals every single scene he’s in as the villainous arch-nemesis Lewis Strauss.

Much of the action in the movie takes place in the classrooms (and bedrooms) of Berkeley, where Oppenheimer taught; in New Mexico where the bomb was finally developed and test-fired, and in Washington, D.C., where Oppenheimer and Strauss both experienced professional rhapsody and ruin.

Nothing in the film took place in Nevada, where I live. But in many ways, Las Vegas stands to be the biggest beneficiary of what could be called a renewed interest in nuclear tourism. In fact, Sin City has been been feasting on dangerously unleashed atoms in odd and strange ways for more than 70 years, and, unsurprisingly, not always to its advantage. Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: Prosecutors in New York–not Nevada–indict Las Vegas faux charity fundraiser

Richard Zeitlin indictment in New York

Richard Zeitlin is a Las Vegas resident who for years has been a telemarketing force behind what I call faux charities. These are political action committees soliciting nationally that sound like worthy causes but aren’t and spend almost nothing collected from clueless donors on the stated mission.

Zeitlin, 53, finally has been indicted criminally on fraud charges carrying a maximum 20-year prison sentence. But not by any prosecutor in Nevada, a state where consumer protection long has been an alien concept, regulators don’t enforcement fundraising disclosure laws and Zeitlin has operated questionable cold-call operations for decades.

Instead, Zeitlin was just charged by federal prosecutors in the far-away Southern District of New York, where these things are taken a little more seriously. The four counts include wire fraud and obstruction of justice charges, the latter for allegedly ordering cronies to delete electronic messages on the very day in May that federal authorities issued subpenas for them.

A separate federal indictment also in New York accuses one Richard Piaro, 73, of Fredonia, Wisc., with wire and mail fraud for serving as treasurer to four faux charity PACs that a different pending civil lawsuit suggests used Zeitlin’s operation for fundraising. They bear the names Americans for the Cure of Breast Cancer, Association for Emergency Responders & Firefighters, U.S. Veterans Assistance Foundation and Standing by Veterans. Piaro’s indictment says the four raised $28 million from donors over five years.

Because of his out-of-state legal difficulties, Zeitlin becomes the latest candidate for my long-running list, It Didn’t Stay Here. This is a roster of people who has been in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in Las Vegas. The list is my barbed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority used for many years to help draw mischief-makers to Sin City. Nearby is the list, which also includes Donald J. Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr.. Continue reading

New police-themed likely faux charity soliciting in Las Vegas is already being sued

police-themed faux charitySee same-day update at end of story.

It was a hot sweaty day at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters recently when the phone rang. Identifying himself as “Charles Anderson,” the cold-caller asked for a contribution to something called Police Officers Support Committee PAC. In response to my question, he said the political action committee was headquartered in Woodbridge, Va., a distant suburb of Washington, D.C.

I asked how old the organization was. “Anderson” replied, “That’s a really good question.” But instead of giving me a simple direct answer, I was provided with the URL of the organization’s website. Then without another word, “Anderson” hung up. Not even a good-bye. Totally non-suspicious, of course.

I’m using quotation marks around my caller’s stated name because “Anderson” is not a real person, but rather a computer operated by a human using what is known as soundboard technology. The website of Police Officers Support Committee PAC contained no information that I could see about when the group was formed. A Google Maps search suggests the stated headquarters is simply a mail drop at a Staples office supplies store just off Interstate 95.

Now, if you are a regular visitor to this blog, you probably already have a good sense of where I’m going here. But please read on. There’s actually a twist to this one. Continue reading

How extreme heat helped make Las Vegas

See important update at end of story.

Las Vegas extreme heat

Official National Weather Service alert today for Las Vegas

We’re all waiting today, Sunday, July 16, 2023, in Las Vegas to see if the temperature will hit or exceed the all-time any-day-of-the-year official local record high of 117 degrees Fahrenheit. That mark has been touched four times in recorded history, twice since I became New To Las Vegas in 2016. We should know by 7:00 p.m. PT. Yesterday’s high was 113.

Accompanying this vigil is lots of moaning and groaning and swearing by locals about how unbearable it is to be hereabouts during the day and even at night, when the lows still hover around 90. All this is absolutely true. But there are plenty of other places around the country–like Death Valley barely two hours away by car (if it doesn’t overheat on the ride) and even the Woodland Hills section of Los Angeles–and throughout the world that are frequently hotter.

However, for some reason Las Vegas during the summer seems to have become a national proxy for hot weather. Perhaps it’s the phenomenon I previously have described in which bad stuff that happens in Las Vegas gets insane publicity even though the same things happen elsewhere. In the case of hot weather maybe it has something to do with the satisfying notion to some of Sin City burning in hell. I even confess to playing that game a bit with a running box at the top of this blog listing the current temperature, automatically updated hourly. (My data comes from private and sometimes varies a bit from the National Weather Service, the official record-keeper.)

Now I don’t want to make light of genuine suffering and deaths caused by heat, which certainly happen around Las Vegas, a place that has been called the country’s fastest-warming city. But having lived in a few other toasty climates–Houston, Albuquerque, the hot Santa Clarita Valley near Los Angeles and even Cairo, Egypt–me thinks many of the locals here doth protest a little too much. As I see it, it is the extreme heat–getting all the more extreme thanks to global warming–that helped give Las Vegas a viable economy in the first place. Hear me out on this. Continue reading

RIP for Las Vegas brain surgeon/pol who lived in his own ‘hoarders’ museum

Lonnie Hammargren

Life-size long-ago campaign poster of Lonnie Hammargren in the street gutter at his home a few days after his death

Boy was the life of Lonnie Hammargren a terrific story. Like a terrific movie.

In a medically underserved state he had been one of Nevada’s first neurosurgeons–sometimes  controversial, eventually giving up his practice citing huge insurance premiums, perhaps due to publicly noted malpractice settlements/complaints. He was elected Nevada lieutenant governor–but subsequently came in third in a Republican primary bid for governor due to little party support.

Lonnie was also a nationally known hoarder, living in three adjoining Las Vegas houses he bought to store his thousands of collected items. In later years the “Hammargren Home of Nevada History,” as a sign called it, was opened to the public a single weekend a year, to the annoyance of some neighbors in the upper-class neighborhood–until after he lost one house to the bank amid mounting debts.

Slowly, Lonnie faded from view personally. But some of his collecting–a Batmobile in the front yard, military figurines on the roof, a towering green Tyrannosaurus Rex replica in a back yard easily seen by passing motorists on a busy street–remained visible to help let the world know this was a venue of something–and someone–really weird.

So perhaps it was fitting that a few days after Lonnie–as everyone called him–died last month at age 85, a life-sized poster of him in doctor’s garb from a long-ago political campaign lay in the gutter of the street in front of his compound, from where it had blown. The poster is in the nearby photo, which I took. For seven years I have walked past Lonnie’s spread nearly every day during the morning constitutional with the dog. Lonnie and his long-suffering second wife Sandy lived just a few blocks from the New To Las Vegas world headquarters.

The weathered, partly damaged poster on the ground, which was removed by day’s end, immediately triggered a thought. That was of the shattered snow globe as the troubled, financially distressed Charles Foster Kane–also an excessive collector–utters the mysterious word “Rosebud” while dying before flashbacks at the start of the celebrated 1941 Orson Wells movie “Citizen Kane.” Nearly two hours later, movie-goers learn (spoiler alert for the eight people out there who haven’t seen the film) that Rosebud was the brand name of Kane’s childhood snow sled and that he still had it at the time of his death at his jammed-with-junk estate called Xanadu.

That poster wasn’t Lonnie’s Rosebud. But as it turns out, I might have seen his Rosebud a few years ago. Stay with me on this. Continue reading

‘The Green Felt Jungle’–scandalous exposé that utterly defined Las Vegas–turns 60

The Green Felt JungleThere never has been anything else like it in the history of Las Vegas, and it turns 60 years old this year. I’m referring to The Green Felt Jungle. That’s the 1963 book by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris about mob control of America’s growing gambling mecca. TGFJ became a gigantic international best-seller for years, and the subject of public commentary even longer. Besides a title that quickly added a memorable phrase to the lexicon still used as a synonym for Las Vegas, TGFJ thoroughly colored America’s perception of the city as a dangerous place–but maybe an interesting one worth visiting. The book even managed to play an important role in a presidential election, as well as in civic debates around the country, while helping to change public policy in Nevada.

Although all the major characters–and since the 1980s the Mob–are now gone, the 231-page tell-all remains a rip-roaring good read, even if overwritten in places. TGFJ is the only one of a trio of book-length Las Vegas exposés published in the mid-1960s that has stood the test of time. The book even helps to explain Las Vegas’s continuing difficulty with true economic diversification away from gambling and entertainment.

Written by co-authors simultaneously similar and different, TGFJ was full of innuendo and utterly withering intimate descriptions about some of Las Vegas’s most powerful folks. The book was published at a time when defamation laws were far more favorable for plaintiffs than they are now. But TGFJ, its authors and the publisher, Trident Press of New York and later the Pocket Books unit of Simon and Schuster, never faced a single libel suit, for reasons I’ll explain below.

The book is long out of print. But so many millions of copies were published in its heyday, especially a revised paperback edition in 1964 that included 24 pages of photographs and a 27-page addendum detailing all the hell the book’s hard-cover first edition had caused, that it’s easily available today from used book sites for less than $10. Continue reading

Nevada regulator MIA on every single illegal faux charity pitch in Las Vegas

faux charity pitches in Las VegasNevada appears to be one of the very few states with a law on the books giving regulators an extremely easy way to crack down on what I call “faux charities.’ These are political action committees that sound like charities benefiting such causes as law enforcement or veterans when they cold-call you asking you for money but aren’t. Instead, they spend almost all the money raised in fundraising and hidden fees for their operators.  Donors usually don’t even know they’ve been rooked. These callers don’t go out of their way to point out that any donations are not tax-deductible, and sometimes falsely say they are charities. I’ve been writing about these outfits for years. (In the nearby search box, just enter “faux charity”–and watch the hits explode on your screen.) Others call them “scam charities.”

In 2021 the Nevada legislature passed, and then-Gov. Steve Sisolak signed, Senate Bill 62, which prohibits just about any non-religious outfit from soliciting donations within the state for a variety of causes, specifically identifying public safety, veterans, health care and anything sounding charitable, without first making filings with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office that include financial information. The previous law required state registration only from traditional non-religious 501(c)(3) charities. As codified at Nevada Revised Statutes NRS 82A.025 et seq., the law gave the SOSO broad power to issue cease-and-desist orders, issue fines and presumably draw public attention to the issue. The law took effect October 1, 2021. No filing followed by a call asking for money? Bang, it’s a violation, leading to discipline and, perhaps, a scorching press release.

Simple, you think? Well, just 12 days after the law took effect, I wrote, “Let’s all join the watch party … We’ll see if Nevada regulators invoke their brand new law requiring registration before soliciting.”

In the intervening 20 months, I’ve been solicited scores of times by faux charities, some repeatedly. I’ve checked after each contact with the SOSO: Not a single one–not one--has been registered in compliance with NRS 82A.025 et seq. They all have dreadful financial inefficiencies, too. It’s not unreasonable for me to assume there have been hundreds of thousands of illegal pitches in Nevada, and more than a few dollars handed over to shady characters who do not spend much of the funds on the stated mission of influencing politics.

So last week, I filed a formal Nevada Public Records Act request with the SOSO. I asked for “copies of paperwork from your agency memorializing all fines and cease-and-desist orders issued against soliciting fundraisers” in violation of NRS 82A.025 et seq.

A few days ago, I received in writing my reply: “The Secretary of State’s Office has not issued any fines or cease-and-desist orders pursuant to NRS 82A.025 and therefore does not have any public records responsive” to my request. The letter was signed “The Office of the Secretary of State,” with no name attached. Continue reading

Iffy police-themed PAC mocks regulators by soliciting illegally and lying in Las Vegas

Iffy police-themed PACOn October 1, 2021, a new law known as Senate Bill 62 took effect in Nevada. The measure, now codified as Nevada Revised Statutes NRS 82A.025 et seq, required most fundraising causes–specifically including those promoting law enforcement–to refrain from asking for money within the state until they first made filings with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office. That agency was given the initial duty to enforce the new law by issuing civil penalties and cease-and-desist letters, or by referring offenders to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office.

On October 12, 2021, 12 days after the law took effect, I was cold-called at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters by American Police Officers Alliance PAC, a law enforcement-themed outfit (based in Arlington, Va.) if I ever heard of one. The caller went by “Paul.” I am using quotes because “Paul” was not a real person, but a computer controlled by a human using what is known as soundboard technology. “Paul,” referred me to “Mary”–another soundboard voice. I asked if APOA was registered with Nevada to solicit in the state. “Yes,” Mary replied. I immediate checked with the Nevada Secretary of State’s website. APOA was not registered. So APOA’s representative was a fibber in the Great State of Nevada.

I also reviewed APOA’s filings with federal regulators. It was quickly apparent APOA was what I call a “faux charity.” That’s a political action committee that presents as a charity but isn’t, spending almost all of the money raised in raising it and very little on the stated mission, supporting candidates and causes favoring law enforcement priorities. Others call them “scam” charities.

I wrote up my interaction with APOA at the time, which you can read in the update at the end of the post. I concluded, “We’ll see if Nevada regulators invoke their brand new law requiring registration before solicitation.”

Nearly two years later, I am bringing up APOA again due to an interesting convergence of events that may help provide insight on my query. Continue reading

Why did old story about Hawaiians moving to Las Vegas make New York Times front page?

Hawaiians moving to Las Vegas

New York Times front page,      Sunday, May 21, 2023

There it was on the front page of at least some editions of the Sunday New York Times, perhaps the world’s most prominent journalism forum. “They’re ‘Priced Out of Paradise’ But Hawaiians Thrive in Desert,” read the print headline I saw yesterday above a breathless story about how natives of Hawaii for some time have been relocating to Las Vegas for economic reasons. The article jumped to a full inside page festooned with pictures of ex-Hawaiians rowing on Lake Mead or wearing native garb, and a supermarket shelf full of cans of Spam, part of a Hawaiian delicacy.

My question: Why is this such big news now? My first answer: Stuff about Las Vegas gets written simply because it’s about Las Vegas. That is both the joy and bane of America’s gambling capital.

My second answer: It was a Beauty and the Beast tale of folks leaving an idyllic paradise for what even the Times story called “an affordable faux version of the islands” rather than “the real thing.” At another point, the story by Eliza Fawcett cited the “migration from the impossibly lush natural landscape of the islands to the brash desert of Las Vegas.” In that context, the “beast” Vegas gets the short end of the stick–also a persistent theme of national media coverage.

Continue reading

It Didn’t Stay Here: Seattle non-profit official spent embezzled funds in Las Vegas

See update at end of story

In 2017 Susana Tantico, a nonprofit official from Seattle, spent $546.66 at the buffet in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for her family and herself. How do I even know this, and why do I care? Well, last week, Tantico admitted in Seattle federal court that she paid for the repas with funds she embezzled from a former employer.

The meals at the towering Mandalay Bay are only a tiny portion of the more than $3 million Tantico fessed up to stealing over 12 years from two Seattle nonprofits she served as finance director. That wasn’t anywhere near the total of all the ill-gotten gains Tantico acknowledged spending in Sin City, which apparently included unsuccessful gambling. But it was a specific amount of Las Vegas Strip excess that federal prosecutors in Seattle chose to include in the plea agreement she signed. There’s nothing like a specific amount of Las Vegas Strip excess to spice up any story.

Tantico, 62, becomes the newest candidate for my long-running list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The roster consists of folks who have been in trouble elsewhere for something that happened in that bug light of mischief called Las Vegas (in this instance, the spending of money stolen from someplace else). The list is a pointed refutation of “What Happens Here, Stays Here,” the famous marketing slogan the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority used for many years. Continue reading