Where is Cary Sayegh?
A gap toothed little boy’s smiling face, frozen in time, confronted the reader’s of the Las Vegas Review Journal several months ago. The subject of the photograph was 6 year old Cary Daniel Sayegh. Circa 1978.
The players in this tragedy were quite a cast. It included future U.S. Senator Harry Reid; future Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman; Hank Greenspun, the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun; and finally, a millionaire business man and his lost 6 year old son.
At the time, the millionaire, Sol Sayegh, was under federal indictment for attempting to bribe the head of the Nevada Gaming Commission, Harry Reid. A co-defendant in the case was Jack Gordon, later to become LaToya Jackson’s husband. The federal prosecutor on the case was Lawrence Leavitt, a highly regarded Organized Crime Strike Force attorney and future federal judge.
Following the disappearance of little Cary Sayegh on October 25, 1978, a trollish-looking oddball of a man would inject himself into the case in a most bizarre manner.
Jerald Burgess would approach Sol Sayegh about his indictment and offer to “take care of” Harry Reid for him. He was summarily dismissed from the Sayegh home. Thus was apparently borne a grudge in the twisted mind of Jerald Burgess, a grudge that would have dire consequences for Sol Sayegh and his family.
Rejected, Burgess would move to Plan B, assuming the role of “intermediary” in negotiations with the “kidnapers”.
His fantastic story strained any reasonable degree of scrutiny. His torture of the Sayeghs, feeding them obviously false information about their missing son, included a shake-down. The beleaguered parents were persuaded to pay Burgess $25,000 to pay their son’s “ransom”. Burgess spent it.
Cary was never found. Burgess was charged with his kidnapping. The state prosecutor was Mel Harmon, reputedly the best in Clark County.
Burgess saw to it that the trial devolved into a circus, a circus which resulted in one of the few acquittals of Harmon’s career. What was described as the most manpower-intensive FBI investigation in Las Vegas history ended in abject failure.
The ordeal was not, however, over. Now, as Paul Harvey would say, for “the rest of the story”, replete with mistakes, blown chances and embarrassments on the part of law enforcement, and journalism which would have made Hank Greenspun cringe.
Years after the Burgess Kidnapping trial, I came to Las Vegas to prosecute federal cases. Back then, in 1990, Mel Harmon was still around, prosecuting criminals over in state court.
By 1993, I was the Senior Litigation Counsel in the Vegas U.S. Attorney’s Office. On a memorable morning in July, 15 years after Cary’s disappearance, I was assigned another explosive Las Vegas case, one which would generate another wave of headlines.
This was the kidnapping of Steve and Elaine Wynn’s daughter, Kevyn. That case resulted in the safe return of Kevyn, and the recovery of a good chunk of the criminal proceeds – $1.45 million in ransom money. The trial resulted in convictions of the main three defendants. The ringleader, Ray Cuddy received a sentence of 24 1/2 years in federal prison.
Different time, much different result.
So it was with more than a passing interest that in 1999 I assumed prosecutorial duties in the federal cold case investigation of Jerald Burgess, reopened in the hopes of recovering Cary Sayegh’s remains, and possibly develop evidence that would support a murder conviction of Jerald Burgess.
Interestingly, by this time I had read John Walsh’s book “Tears of Rage”, and seen the movie “Adam”, about the kidnapping and murder of his 6 year old son Adam, three years after Cary’s disappearance and the year Burgess was tried – 1981. The plight of this innocent 6 year old in a baseball cap, frozen in time like Carey, had reduced me to tears. And the detailing of the bungling of the case by local police and the FBI had outraged me.
Painful parallels would soon become apparent.