Thursday, February 28, 2008

Former Las Vegas Strip Club Owner Compared to Tony "The Ant" Spilotro

Federal prosecutors never got a chance to prove a criminal case tying former Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo to the mob.

Before that could happen, Rizzolo pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 2006 and struck a deal to end a decadelong racketeering case against him. But that didn’t stop Stan Hunterton, a former prosecutor with the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force, from keeping allegations of Rizzolo’s underworld associations alive during a hearing in federal court Friday on the status of the government’s efforts to sell the topless club it had seized from the imprisoned Rizzolo.

“Not since the reign of Anthony Spilotro and his associates has there been a more infamous hoodlum than Rick Rizzolo,” Hunterton told U.S. District Judge Philip Pro as Rizzolo’s father, Bart Rizzolo, cringed in the first row of the courtroom gallery.

Spilotro, the basis for Joe Pesci’s character in the 1995 movie “Casino,” ran street rackets in Las Vegas for the Chicago mob from the early 1970s until his gangland slaying in a Chicago suburb in 1986. He was considered a coldblooded killer, and before his death he was the FBI’s most wanted man in Las Vegas.

Hunterton represents Amy Henry, the wife of Kirk Henry, a Kansas City-area man who suffered a broken neck and became paralyzed following a fight in 2001 at the Crazy Horse Too. As part of Rizzolo’s plea arrangement with the government, he agreed to pay the Henrys $10 million to settle a civil suit they had brought against the nightclub.

What Hunterton was doing in court was challenging an effort by Sierra Pacific Bank to foreclose on the land beneath the Crazy Horse Too. The bank wants the land as payment for a $5 million loan it extended to Rizzolo seven months before he struck his deal with the government. Hunterton wants to make sure the bank’s claim against the property won’t hurt the Henrys’ chances of getting paid once money comes in from the government’s sale of the Crazy Horse Too.

He raised the specter of mob connections while arguing that Sierra Pacific was negligent when it lent Rizzolo the $5 million when he was under the well-publicized racketeering investigation. Hunterton contends that bank officials either turned a blind eye to Rizzolo’s reputation or failed miserably in their due diligence obligations.

Hunterton told Pro he would drop his effort to push the bank’s claim aside if, as prosecutors reported in court, the government signs a contract this week to sell the Crazy Horse Too for $30 million to an undisclosed buyer. If that happens, there will be plenty of money for all of Rizzolo’s creditors.

After the hearing, however, Rizzolo’s lawyer, Mark Hafer, wasn’t very happy.

Hafer described Hunterton’s comments about his client as “somewhat slanderous” and “definitely a cheap shot.”

All Bart Rizzolo could do was shake his head in disgust.

Thanks to Jeff German

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