I heard it again a couple of weeks ago on the evening news – “Fake News”? Maybe not. But “Las Vegas True Crime”? Nope.
“Like something straight out of Ocean’s 11!!!” blared the TV. What?
This time it was an “Armed Robbery”, of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino, with shots fired!
What made this brazen, violent crime even more chilling: the trigger-happy robbers wore horrific pig masks!
Then…the heinous crime was downgraded by the media to an “Armed Burglary” – but remained an “active shooter” situation.
Let’s just stick to the facts, ma’am.
For starters, there was no robbery at the Bellagio at all – what really occurred was a burglary – no force, no victim in the form of a person.
And no shots were fired. What witnesses heard was, as Nick Lowe once put it, “the sound of breaking glass”, specifically the display cases in a Rolex retailer within the Bellagio – not the casino – shopping mall, which was closed for the night.
And one burglar wore a pig mask.
Moreover, the fictitious Ocean’s 11 caper wasn’t a robbery at all. And the pig mask (one) brought “Point Break”, not Ocean’s 11, to mind (although the guises in that film were of former Presidents).
To be fair, we all know that news reports often evolve as facts become known. But reporters rarely fail to exaggerate, over-dramatize, and sometimes even fabricate things for ratings. It’s true!
Ocean’s 11 posited that nobody had ever successfully “robbed” a major Las Vegas casino.
As was obvious to me when I saw the 2001 version of “Ocean’s”, the wealthy casino owner (Andy Garcia) was based on Steve Wynn. And according to IMDb , his statement to master thief Brad Pitt “If you should be picked up buying a $100,000 sports car in Newport Beach, I’m going to be supremely disappointed” was a reference to the kidnapping of Steve Wynn’s daughter, Kevyn Wynn.
IMDb went on to explain that “The (Wynn) kidnappers were caught trying to spend some of the ransom money in Newport Beach as they attempted to buy a very expensive car in cash.”
In fact it was an almost $200,000 Ferrari. Only one of the three kidnappers had laundered some of the $1.45 million in ransom money and attempted to complete the purchase at Newport Imports, on PCH – Pacific Coast Highway. That’s where and when, after an extended surveillance, he was arrested.
That reference jumped out at me because I was assigned that case, first thing in the morning after it happened. I investigated it for a year, and tried it, along with another AUSA I brought on board. I’ve always felt that two heads are better than one. Especially when someone as good as AUSA Jay Angelo is added to the team.
I had a notably similar experience regarding not quite accurate reporting when a few years ago, “Storming Las Vegas” was published. The book was written by John Huddy. Mr. Huddy is the father of FoxNews reporter John Huddy, and former FoxNews reporter Juliet Huddy. The storyline revolved around one Jose Vigoa, the mastermind behind a string of Las Vegas robberies in 1998. It also recycled the premise that no casinos had ever been victimized, that is, before Vigoa and his crew.
In fact, a string of violent takeover robberies, which included Vegas casinos, banks, and jewelry stores had been perpetrated by Los Angeles Crips and Bloods between 1992 and 1994. I caught many of these cases, and tried the first (a Bank of America branch)….
……and the last (Harrah’s Hotel and Casino).
For the Harrah’s trial, I once again called upon a colleague to try the case with me, another AUSA who I knew would make me look good – Howard Zlotnick. Before it was all over, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the help of IRS Special Agent Shaun Healy, several police departments in California, Las Vegas Metro and the FBI, took the leader/organizers of the enterprise out of circulation.
(As it happens, the duo of Howard and Jay had convicted Jose Vigoa in a drug case years before the activities chronicled in “Storming”. Small world.)
When “Storming” came out, I made contact with the author. He was quite affable, considering my purpose was to disabuse him of his misapprehension concerning the “first” successful Las Vegas casino robberies. Chalk it up to literary license. Hey, the book sold. He told me he had optioned the rights to a major film company, but that he was dealing with serious health problems. I thanked him for his time and wished him the best.
The funny part is our robberies were a well kept secret – until the Flamingo and Harrah’s were hit, on consecutive nights in April, 1994 – just as I was rapping up the Wynn trial. The graphic Harrah’s video was played and replayed on several national TV networks. I guess nobody had been paying attention.
With one exception – Las Vegas Sun reporter Jeff German, who doggedly covered the Wynn case, was on to the scope of our robberies before anyone else in the media. He wrote a column summarizing the Blitz of the Strip after the Harrah’s OGs were convicted.
His column closed with “…the casino industry, it seems, owes a debt of gratitude to the lawmen who brought an end to a three year nightmare on the Strip.”
P.S. I’m still waiting to hear from “The Strip” regarding their “debt of gratitude”. Surprise!