There's a book in all of us
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
October 25, 2004
Often times I'm asked, "Why don't you write a book?" I usually answer
that I wouldn't know how to write the final chapter because my Las Vegas
experience is still unfolding. Nonetheless, I've written a few loosely
connected chapters for a book proposal or screen play and sent them
to dozens of East Coast publishers, with no takers -- so far.
The publishers usually ask, "Why don't you write about dead people?
They can't sue for libel!" But, too many stories have already been written
about dead Sin City wise guys who are long past seeking retribution --
a safe subject indeed. But I need a book publisher with the guts to put
out a contemporary piece of work, however, such book publishers are few
and far between based Vegas' litigious reputation.
Then there's Rick Porrello, publisher of AmericanMafia.com. Rick
has fearlessly allowed me to share with his loyal readers my Las Vegas
life including the names of current local players and corrupters, most
whom would rather not have their names found in a search of AmericanMafia.com
Through Rick's cooperation I have learned what interests readers most
about my fascinating town. Subjects such as our mobbed-up mayor, or embattled
topless bar owner Rick Rizzolo have inspired the most response. Also commentaries
about the death of Ted Binion gained INSIDE VEGAS new readers. Thanks
to AmericanMafia.com, I now know where to aim the subject matter
of the next chapters of my yet-to-be published book.
Its been suggested that a proper cut off point or last chapter of my
literary masterpiece will be the long-anticipated indictments
of Rizzolo and the crooked politicians, judges, and cops who keep his blood
soaked bar in business. But I'd rather wait until their trials to finish
The following is what I hope will be the first chapter of a book with
the working title, Greed, Power and Corruption: An Inside Look at Modern
Las Vegas. It gives a little insight into the hidden political world
that still keeps Sin City ticking, and the reasons I feel compelled to
keep the pot stirring.
It was spring 1987.
And here I was being welcomed into Las Vegas City Hall by staff members
four weeks before the general election and the day after the primary. I
had beat out my opponent in the primary election, a first in the city's
history. But winning in a primary election wasn't my only sin; I won against
a man -- incumbent Al Levy -- who, together with his father Harry, had
held the Ward One seat for 24 years! I had amazed myself. I had done it.
Before the election,
my new and soon-to-be best friend Bob Stupak told me, "You haven't got
a chance," as he handed me what is known in Vegas politics as "chump change."
I welcomed his $500 contribution with humility since my entire campaign
had raised just a paltry $16,000, and that had come in the form of a loan
from my mother. "Nobody can beat a Levy. You're wasting your time, but
here is a little to tide you over until you lose," said Stupak two weeks
before the May 7 election. I accepted my first political donation
and ran for the door of Vegas World, Stupak's popular bargain hotel and
casino located on the north end of the Strip.
Little did he know
then that less than four years later I would be the one to author the FAA
Aviation Safety Study that cleared the way for the building of the tallest
tower west of the Mississippi: Bob Stupak's Stratosphere Tower, all 1,150
feet of it. Today, it is a world-renowned landmark an the icon of Las Vegas.
From flight instructor
and Grand Canyon tour pilot to becoming the city councilman whose ward
oversaw downtown Las Vegas' "Gambling Capitol of the World" -- I had run
the gambit of occupations in a town I learned to love and hate simultaneously.
Four years later,
when my council stint was over, I came away with the greatest gift of all:
I absolutely knew who my friends truly were -- and who were not.
That first day at
City Hall, I was just a visitor -- an unwelcome one at that. But I soon
found myself the biggest curiosity that had ever dared to enter those hallowed
halls. Al Levy's replacement -- me -- was wandering the halls while Al
sat alone at his desk upstairs in the towering office I was to occupy in
four weeks. My presence was causing heart palpitations throughout the building.
Would we run into each other after our acrimonious, but short, political
campaign? How would he react to me invading his and his father's private
As I shook hands
and introduced myself to my soon-to-be staff and colleagues, I kept my
eyes open for the inevitable moment when Al and I would come together.
I knew how I would react because I take pride in being a gentleman, but
Al was seen crying on TV the night before when an errant newswoman caught
him in a candid moment on camera walking down a Las Vegas street. He had
outspent me by ten to one, and never in his wildest dreams could he imagine
his political fate at the hands of an unknown novice. Nor was I prepared
for what his friends and business partners had in store for me that first
year in office.
Within hours of my
visit to City Hall, Barry Perea, president of the local transit bus company,
called to offer an unsolicited, after-the-fact $10,000 donation to my campaign
fund to "help with any deficits." I turned it down. Several years later,
during a city audit, it was discovered that the financial records for the
bus company were loosely kept. Perea's company's franchise, as operator
of Las Vegas's only public transit system, was revoked after 43 years based
on an investigation I headed. A new system -- and operator -- later replaced
the old one. Perea sued me for my official efforts. The City Attorney refused
to provide me a defense, so I turned to my homeowner's insurance company
who settled out of court. I was infuriated, and felt set up. To my enemy's
dismay, I was also inspired.
That first week at
City Hall revealed several masters of the pay off, such as a prominent
lawyer who was the son of a powerful elected official. He came into my
office and announced behind closed doors that he was "the bag man." He
told me he collected $25,000 for each successful zoning application he
represented, then he distributed the money in $5,000 increments to four
council members and kept $5,000 for himself. He told me that I could make
a million dollars in my first term if I went along with his program.
But the most shocking
offer was made by the head of the local public housing authority, Art Sartini,
who would later resign from office under a cloud. He invited me to his
agency's warehouse to look around. He extended an invitation for me to
place purchase orders for "carpets, drapes, furniture, guns, tires, jewelry,
steaks, wine," or anything else I desired. He would write the procurement
orders for whatever I wanted at his agency's cost. He never clarified whether
I would be asked to reimburse the housing authority after receiving the
Three years later,
Sartini faced a Federal Grand Jury because of my efforts. The jury held
a series of confidential hearings after which Sartini, his son, daughter,
first cousin, brother-in-law (all of which were housing employees), and
his board of directors including Al Levy's father abruptly resigned. It
was never revealed whether Sartini cut a deal with the Feds. He just up
and left immediately following the hearings.
"Where do you like
to go on vacation?" asked a prominent developer. He simply walked in, unannounced,
to my 10th floor office. I was sitting behind Al's giant rosewood desk
for the first time when the casual developer came in and sat himself down
across from me.
Having just been
sworn in that morning, and with Al Levy vacating his plush office moments
prior to the ceremony, for the first time since winning I felt uncomfortable.
Now, one of his best friends had just plopped down, uninvited, in a leather
chair in Al's former office.
"I usually go to
Catalina when I have the time," was my answer to his question.
He said, "Well, let
me know when you want to go and I'll have you flown down to John Wayne
Airport in my company jet. There, we'll take you and your guests to my
yacht for the trip to the island. You can bring as many as five guests.
Stay as long as you want. We'll take real good care of you."
Just that morning
after I took my oath of office, an oath I took very seriously, City Manager
Ashley Hall had presented me with a shiny gold badge in a leather case.
It had the city seal on it next to a nameplate engraved with "Councilman
Steve Miller." When Ashley gave it to me, he did not include any instructions,
so I made up my own.
"I fly my own plane
when I take a vacation, but thanks anyway." This particular developer often
appeared before the council with special requests for approval of projects
that, unfortunately, were not always first class.
"Hey, look at this."
I flashed my shiny new badge. "You know, this thing makes me feel kinda
like a cop. In fact, I think I should arrest you for just now trying to
bribe a city official. That vacation you just offered me was worth in excess
of $10,000 and you don't even know me. I think you're showing disrespect
for this office, and on behalf of my constituents, I ask you to leave immediately."
He bolted out the
door and ran the 50 feet to his friend Mayor Ron Lurie's office. Several
moments later, Lurie, the just-elected mayor of Sin City, stormed in. "You've
always treated me like shit," he said.
Lurie was an experienced
council member. Before being elected mayor, he served 14 years on the council.
But he ended up being a one-term mayor, leaving office, with my help, because
of a scandal. Ron Lurie was driven from office after the Nevada Ethics
Commission found him guilty of violating ethics laws six times by not disclosing
who his partners were prior to zone changes that improved the value of
land he and the City Manager had an investment in. An investment group
put together by my predecessor on the council.
Ron's response shocked
me. I hardly knew him other than as kids when I ran the teen dances in
town and he stacked produce at nearby Market Town, a neighborhood grocery.
I asked him why he would say such a thing. He responded that the developer
I asked to leave was a good friend of his and didn't deserve to be treated
I told Ron, "If your
friends want to bribe a councilman, please tell them to stay away from
the Ward One office." Ron responded with, "You're nuts!" I answered, "No,
just honest. Keep your buddies away from me." He stormed out of my office
and down the hall to his.
That was the beginning
of the four most miserable but challenging years of my life. Welcome to
the underbelly of Las Vegas.
(To be continued)
My four years in Sin City Hall answered most of my questions, and since
then little has changed. I knew after leaving office that if Las Vegas
was ever to mature into a modern day city that's fit to live in, the underbelly
of our local government had to be exposed, an underbelly that has become
more savvy and covert over the years. I have devoted my life to exposing
that underbelly ever since.
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