Holiday at Alcatraz...
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
January 12, 2004
"Broadway" (Photo by Jerica Barrier)
ALCATRAZ, CALIF. - I had to see for myself. Over the years, I've become
very curious why several of Las Vegas' "pillars
of the community" immerse themselves in the sordid history of some
of our nation's most notorious criminals - in one instance to the extent
of erecting a glorious shrine to preserve the memory of Al Capone - a shrine
seen only by a select few.
"You are greeted by framed prints of famous
gangster movies (Casino, Goodfellows, etc.) Upon entry, the visitor is
treated to a virtual 'shrine' of organized crime memorabilia and mob photos.
A 'limited edition' Leroy Neiman painting of Al Capone sits directly behind
the 'original' barber's chair that Al Capone used in his office in the
south side Chicago hotel he used as his headquarters. To the side of his
desk, your host proudly displays (angled nicely for the visitor to see)
a framed 8 by 10 photograph of his 'rabbi' Joey Cusamano. Scattered
around the banquet size office are additional posters from some of his
favorite gangster movies (the Godfather, Little Caesar and others). If
the guest is fortunate enough to be invited to escort his host around the
topless club the first time of the night, when he enters the room, he can
witness every single floor man he comes in contact with, come up to the
Boss and respectfully kiss his cheek. If you wanted to be a soldier for
this leader, what would you do when some customer has the nerve to refuse
to pay tribute to your leader's sanctuary or one of his 'broads?' I'm only
surprised that they don't wear spats with their tuxedos and brass knuckles."
- Author's name withheld by request
The above is an eyewitness description of Rick
Rizzolo's Las Vegas office located within the Crazy Horse Too "Gentleman's
Club," a rough and tumble skin joint located not far from the Strip that
has been the recent scene of beatings, shootings, robberies, and a possible
murder. Rizzolo's bar is presently under investigation by the FBI and IRS
for being the suspected front of a new Las Vegas Mob.
Dario Herrera Cusumano
Attny. Rick Wright and Mike McDonald
Rizzolo has long been accused of influencing local politicians and law
enforcement officials to cover up what federal investigators suspect is
a front for organized crime. On Thursday morning, February 20, 2003, eighty
Federal Organized Crime Task Force agents busted
into Rizzolo's Industrial Road office. They seized computers, documents,
financial records, ATM machines and video tapes. There, they also saw for
themselves the extent of the skin merchant's collection of Mob memorabilia.
One Task Force agent who asked not to be identified described the nightclub
located a few steps from Rizzolo's plush office:
"When the bright lights
went on, it was filthy, a real pig sty."
Following the raid on Rizzolo's joint came another on the topless bars
Galardi. Galardi later pleaded guilty to bribing several Clark County
Commissioners including former Commission Chairman Dario Herrera, former
Commissioner and LV cop Lance Malone, and current Commissioner Mary Kincaid-Chauncey.
All pleaded innocent after being indicted by the Federal Grand Jury.
Another politician who is under investigation for his ties to Rizzolo
and Galardi is recently dumped LV Councilman Mike
McDonald. McDonald lived rent free in a half million dollar golf course
villa owned by the family of Nevada Black Book member Joey Cusumano, a
close associate of Rizzolo. Cusumano is suspected of having hidden ownership
in the Crazy Horse.
Councilman McDonald was often accused of doing Rizzolo favors -- that's
until photos of his free digs
appeared in my LV newspaper column causing to him to move out. Cusumano
is also a close friend and former law firm client of Sin City Mayor Oscar
Goodman who has been accused on these pages of doing Rizzolo favors,
and whose law partner is being considered for the job of defense
attorney for Mike Galardi.
"I'm ready, willing and able to help anyone who wants to fight the government,"
stated David Chesnoff, Goodman's law partner, in the January 8 Las
Vegas SUN. A fascinating comment from someone very close to the
Mayor of a city trying to tone down its "Sin City," "What happens here,
stays here" image.
On Wednesday, January 7, 2004, Mayor Goodman fined Rizzolo's main competitor
Cheetah's, a topless bar owned by Jack Galardi, one point one million dollars
for the illegal actions of Jack's estranged son Mike Galardi. However,
Goodman and his City Council continue to ignore more severe problems at
the Crazy Horse -- possibly because of Goodman's
ties to Rizzolo's "best
friend in the world," Joey Cusumano.
During the Show Cause Hearing on Cheetah's, Goodman neglected
to mention that the nearby Crazy Horse alone had been responsible
for 737 police calls in just three years including nine
assault and six robbery cases involving Crazy Horse employees. In comparison,
Cheetah's recorded minimal police calls in recent years though on Wednesday
they still came within a 2 - 2 vote of permanently losing
their liquor license - something that would have greatly benefited
Rizzolo's bar just across the tracks.
Because of his inequitable actions, Goodman is subject of increasing
rumors he may also be a target in the federal political corruption probe
dubbed "Operation G-Sting."
Then there was the case of recently demoted LV Metro Police Sergeant
Tom Keller who was punished
by Clark County Sheriff Bill Young for "consorting with persons of ill
repute," a remark directed toward Rick Rizzolo. Young went on to say,
find it improper when a (police) employee takes a loan from someone in
a highly regulated, controversial business with no intention of paying
But that's not all. On Wednesday, January 7, 2004, a member of the Nevada
Gaming Control Board had this to say in the Las
Vegas Review Journal about Rizzolo when his name came up during
a hearing on the suitability of the buyers of the Las Vegas Golden Nugget:
very familiar with Mr. Rick Rizzolo,' said (Bobby) Siller, a former FBI
special agent in charge of the bureau's Las Vegas operations, who lectured
Poster on the importance of steering clear of people with unsavory reputations.
'People such as you, very successful, very young, are considered marks.
People in organized crime try to set you up, to get some of your funds.
And I think that's what they were trying to do with you.'"
Shades of Al Capone? The Mob no longer runs Vegas? With all that was
happening in Sin City, it was fitting I chose Alcatraz to spend my holiday.
Monday night January 29, 2003 was one of the coldest and wettest in
the history of San Francisco. A perfect setting for my visit to Alcatraz
Federal Prison. I wanted to experience first hand what might lie ahead
for some of the above mentioned former and current Vegas public officials
and their corrupters.
Closed since 1963, but accessible for tours by reservation, the facility
now operated by the National Park Service is a short boat trip from Pier
39 at Fisherman's Wharf.
When word got out that I was going to "The Rock" over the holidays,
an unusual offer came from former pro wrestler Buffalo Jim Barrier, one
of the subjects often written of in Inside Vegas. He asked if we could
arrange a rendezvous at the prison?
Barrier's photographic skills have documented dozens of beatings and
otherwise unconscious victims of his neighboring business, the Crazy Horse
Too. His photos are regularly featured on
these pages and he is an ardent fan of true crime stories and movies, especially
those that feature Alcatraz. He offered his services as a photographer.
Accompanying Barrier was his eleven year old daughter Jerica who has ambitions
to be a lawyer and who is also a talented photographer. We
all wanted to see where Al Capone spent hard time, and I appreciate their
help in providing the accompanying photo record of my visit.
Miller receives visit from Barrier (Photo by Jerica Barrier)
Capone's stark cell was a shocking contrast to
the shrine kept by Rizzolo in his dubious honor. In May 1932, Capone was
sent to Atlanta to begin his eleven-year sentence. Capone created a network
of protection and privilege even in prison – he furnished his cell with
a mirror, typewriter, rugs, and a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Family
members kept in constant contact with him and even took up residence at
a nearby hotel. His connection to the outside world was so effective that
he was able to continue to run his crime organization from his prison cell.
His timing was bad, though, because it was right about that time that wardens
everywhere were being asked to recommend their most troublesome inmates
for transfer to Alcatraz. Capone was one of the first to go. While at Alcatraz,
he exhibited signs of syphilitic dementia. When he wasn't shivering in
his lonely cell, Capone was spending much of his felony sentence in the
Miller on Capone's bunk (Photo by
I entered Capone's depressing former abode and
reclined on his ice cold steel bunk. Jerica took photos of the event. Rick
Rizzolo's inner sanctum immediately came to mind - a warm space once reserved
for prominent sports figures, celebrities, and local politicians - some
whom may soon end up in a federal prison cell similar to the one in which
I lie. As my bare hand almost froze to the frigid metal, I wondered
if Mr. Rizzolo would like an autographed photo to hang in his shrine commemorating
my visit to the cell of his former hero?
A Park Ranger explained that Alcatraz was actually
much better in many ways than today's Federal prisons. It limited one man
to a cell and provided superior food. The downside was its cost of operation,
inconvenience to visitors, and that all supplies had to be shipped in by
boat. Also it had no waste treatment plant and spilled raw sewage into
San Francisco Bay. The decision was made to close it down.
Photo by Jerica Barrier
We continued our tour. The Ranger pointed to a set of barred windows
located near the top of the main cell block. He described how inmates who
resided on the second tier could look out across the bay and see the lights
of San Francisco, and how depressed they would become having such a privilege.
Capone's cell lacked such a view, in fact it only faced another bleak cell.
I almost felt sorry for him.
Frank Morris' cell (Photo by
Before leaving, I happened onto the cell of Frank
Morris, the subject of the Clint Eastwood movie Escape from Alcatraz.
I was amazed to see that the authorities saw fit to preserve his hollowed
out vent hole, the one he escaped through in 1962. He was never heard from
again, and the prison closed one year later.
After experiencing what its like at the end of
the glory road, it felt good to go home to sunny Las Vegas.
Copyright © Steve Miller
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com