INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
February 10, 2003

    "Revised" Design Drawing issued Feb. 3, 2003 by the city Public Works Dept.
                    (Highlights, annotations, and outlines provided by author)

In late January, City of Las Vegas real estate appraiser Steven Anderson visited the site of the Crazy Horse Too topless bar. When asked his purpose for being there, he reportedly told garage owner "Buffalo" Jim Barrier that the city was reconsidering the alignment of a planned two-lane expansion of the roadway that runs in front of the bar and Barrier's next door Allstate Auto repair business. He also hinted that Barrier's auto shop might be removed by eminent domain to make way for the road to widen along with several additional features to purportedly enhance the flow of traffic.

The week following Anderson's visit, and in the absence of any submitted plans for a new Crazy Horse, the city Department of Public Works suddenly released new drawings including a custom designed driveway (A) and a dedicated left turn lane (C) into the entrance of the yet-to-be approved free standing "Gentleman's Club" - drawings that would exclusively benefit the Crazy Horse since it would be the only business remaining on the property if the road were widened to the extent shown on the highly creative, city-generated drawing.

After a contentious four-year battle to keep from being evicted to make way for the often rumored topless bar expansion, Barrier was shocked to see the city's newly created plan include a sidewalk through the front of his business. Also of concern to Barrier was a statement his landlord made one week before the plan was released saying the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), not the City of Las Vegas, would be the agency assigned to remove Barrier's business by use of eminent domain. If this is to occur, it will be for the exclusive benefit of a topless bar owned by a man who chums around with city and state politicians including the mayor and governor, along with a slew of underworld types.

NDOT is an agency that works at the pleasure of Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn who last year received a campaign donation of $20,000 from Rick Rizzolo, the owner of the bar that moved in next to Barrier in 1986.

This writer served four years as a Clark County (Las Vegas) Regional Transportation Commissioner. During my tenure, I never imagined seeing a taxpayer funded private driveway and exclusive turn lane into a topless bar! I also never imagined the government misusing its power of eminent domain to displace a long time business to make way for such a project. Now these prospects seem very possible.

The original plans for the widening of Industrial Road, a meandering lane through one of the seamier parts of Vegas, showed only the need of 25 additional feet to provide for two extra travel lanes. NDOT officials assured Barrier that since his garage is 53 feet behind the present curb, the original plan issued in 1998 would still have provided 28 feet of space in front of his business; an adequate area for parking alongside a five foot wide sidewalk. However, it would have destroyed the present Crazy Horse's valet parking area.

Feeling secure with the original plan, Barrier announced that he intended to remain in the location his business had occupied since 1978 until his lease expires in 2010. Following his proclamation, covert political actions began that were clearly intended to harass him into moving. At the same time, a mutual friend of Barrier and Rizzolo began talking about the possibility of a $1.5 million dollar buy out. Up until then, Rizzolo had never offered to buy out Barrier's remaining leasehold. It was later discovered that the purported offer had no merit since there was a spanking-new plan afoot - one that would put the financial burden on the taxpayers instead of Rizzolo, and ultimately expose them to unending legal fees defending an obvious political favor.

After Barrier said he was not going to move, the City of Las Vegas  immediately established an arbitrary fire lane that removed Barrier's allocated parking spaces. Then the city began patrols of the privately owned center by Parking Enforcement officers to ticket or tow Barrier's customers. This action took extraordinary clout from City Hall, something that Rizzolo had in bundles since he donates up to $100,000 per year to local political campaigns.

Barrier hired noted attorney Gus Flangas and sued Rizzolo for harassment. Rizzolo's attorneys immediately moved to have the suit dismissed, but the judge ruled for Barrier.

In the meantime, Rizzolo reportedly began bragging that he could get Barrier removed at no cost to himself. There were reports that Rizzolo dispatched his attorneys to Carson City to meet with the Governor to get the job done. To confirm the suspicion that the fix was in, the Las Vegas Mercury reported the following in the January 30 edition, more than a week before the "Revised" Design Drawings were made public:

Rizzolo says a street widening project that's slated to get rolling in the next few years will render the whole conflict moot, as Barrier will have to negotiate with the state Department of Transportation and Rizzolo will raze the whole shopping center--including Crazy Horse Too and Buffalo Jim's auto marine shop--and build a new 60,000-square-foot gentlemen's club.

Based on the January 30, Mercury story, Barrier made three attempts to obtain the new street widening plans from the city or NDOT. On February 6, after much prodding, it was the city that reluctantly released a copy of the plans that bore the date "February 3, 2003." For the first time, the new driveway, island, and turn features that benefit only Rizzolo were depicted along with the ominous sidewalk drawn through Barrier's business. Seeing the writing on the wall, Barrier began preparing for a lengthy court battle saying it was obvious Rizzolo possessed advance knowledge of the plans when he made his prediction in the Mercury more than a week before the plans were released to the public.

Who gave Rizzolo advance knowledge? Possibly Rizzolo's best friend Joey Cusamano, one of Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's former mob clients. Then there's Rizzolo's PR man, Tom Letizia, Goodman's campaign manager. To remain out of the fray, Goodman has repeatedly said he will do no favors for Cusamano and will not participate in the eminent domain taking of Barrier's business for the benefit of Rizzolo who is Cusamano's cousin. Another inside player at city hall is Councilman Mike McDonald. He lived rent-free for some time in a half million-dollar golf course villa owned by Cusamano's family. McDonald conveniently abstains on matters that affect Cusamano's cousin but is known to exercise his influence behind the scenes to help his friends including Rizzolo; an action that once got him sanctioned by the Ethics Commission.

Nonetheless, looking at the last-minute road-widening plan, a trained eye can see several more subtle indications that something special is being done to hasten the removal of Barrier's business at public expense. Shown are double left turn lanes and an extra wide island (B) adjacent to the new driveway. The two turn lanes merge into a single lane on-ramp to West Sahara Ave. Just south of the double left turn lanes is a single left turn lane (D) to access another single lane on-ramp to East Sahara Ave. Traffic volume is the same in both directions on Sahara Ave. This causes speculation that the double turn lanes and twelve foot wide island in front of the Crazy Horse are purposefully designed to swell the road into Barrier's front wall thereby making an eminent domain taking of his business look legitimate!

Then there is the question of why the only driveway depicted on the entire three mile long plan is in front of a yet-to-be approved topless bar? Less than a quarter mile north of the Crazy Horse is the Bell Transportation Company, operator of thousands of taxicabs, limos, and shuttle busses. No new driveway is depicted there!

It will not surprise observers if Rizzolo donates the right of way at no charge. Nor will it be a surprise if Goodman, et al., gives the bar owner the "Citizen of the Month" award for doing so.

Is the state about to do the dirty work in a plot to keep the Mayor's hands clean? Many observers believe that Goodman and McDonald's fingerprints are all over this sordid affair. Based on a similar scheme in the early 1990s that parted a pioneer family from their downtown property to turn it over to the Fremont Street casinos, the city spent close to a million dollars defending their unconstitutional eminent domain action in court, and lost. Barrier's attorneys are eager to get their teeth into this battle.

Only in Vegas would government participate in a scheme to take a long-time private business - at taxpayer's expense to benefit a mobbed-up topless bar. No wonder they call this Sin City!

Copyright © Steve Miller

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