COMMENTARY: Steve Miller

Las Vegas Tribune

November 31, 2001

Beyond a shadow of a doubt?

Now, when the Nevada Supreme Court is being asked to review the "trial" of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish for the purported murder of Ted Binion, I find myself reminiscing about my past contacts with some of the players involved.

I guess I'm just a little biased for the following reasons: I have personally had dinner with Ted Binion and Sandy Murphy and thought they were a bad mix; Jack Binion once handed me $20,000 in cash to help me in a political campaign; I share with Bob Stupak the dubious honor of being permanently 86'ed from the Horseshoe Casino by the Behnen family; and I resent that City Councilman Mike McDonald is one of Prosecutor David Roger's campaign for DA fund raisers.

My first contact with Nick and Becky Behnen, the present owners of the Horseshoe and the sister and brother in law of Jack and Ted Binion, was in October 1998 just following the death of Ted.

Nick Behnen and his son Benny had just bodily thrown Bob Stupak out of the casino after he tried to cash in his chips and redeem his safety deposit boxes. Stupak filed an assault and battery charge saying that 23-year-old Benny took a swing at him, but Metro refused to make an arrest. I thought that Bob needed a friend so I offered my help.

Not being one to turn down a favor, Bob ask if I would go back to the Horseshoe and try to cash one of his $5,000 chips. I said "Sure!" I also asked him why he was treated so poorly? Stupak told me that he was Jack and Ted's best friend and the Behnens were Jack and Ted's most bitter enemies! Therefore it was clear that any friend of Jack or Ted was no longer welcome at the Horseshoe.

Accompanying me that day to the Horseshoe was none other than the Reverend Tom Grey, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

To spice up the contest of wills, Stupak gave the $5,000 chip to the nationally known Reverend's Methodist Church in Illinois. Rev. Grey's church desperately needed the money that he referred to as "The coin of the realm." I also knew that the good Reverend would not be an easy man to say "No" to based on his notoriety as the chief opponent of gambling expansion outside Nevada.

I thought that the Reverend might also enjoy the adrenaline rush of being thrown out of a Las Vegas casino because, in his former career, he was an Army Special Forces Officer. Rev. Grey and I drove downtown to the Horseshoe for a short visit to the cage. Our visit was short indeed!

"That was quick," exclaimed Reverend Grey as we walked back to my car. "Let's try it again tomorrow," said he.

On our second visit to the Horseshoe, the Reverend and I were treated less cordially. Security was summoned but opted to not to bodily throw us out - something about the guards being my classmates back in the sixties at Las Vegas High, and Rev. Grey being a man of the cloth - it just wouldn't be right.

The good Reverend had to leave town and entrusted his chip to me. My next visit to the Horseshoe happened several hours later.

To make our visit more memorable, Stupak decided to personally accompany me to witness my third encounter with the Behnens. He wisely hired the UNLV football team as bodyguards.

Also joining us was two Gaming Control Board agents along with local and national news media.

Stupak was in his prime as we made our entrance surrounded by thousands of pounds of UNLV muscle and the glare of light from the TV cameras.

I approached the casino cage chip-in-hand and asked that it be cashed. Becky Behnen refused again. The Gaming Control agents flashed their badges. Becky still refused. Bob demanded his safe deposit boxes. Becky reluctantly complied.

The safe deposit boxes contained over $300,000 in cash which Bob counted while we watched. He stuffed his cash into a "Fabulous Las Vegas" plastic shopping bag and we left the Horseshoe in his 1964 Cadillac.

Needless to say, after that last encounter, Bob Stupak and I were asked to never darken the Horseshoe's doorstep again.

One year later, Stupak eventually cashed his chips worth a quarter of a million dollars only a day before the Behnens were to face the Nevada Gaming Commission to explain their behavior.

Another year passed. On a hot Friday evening in August 2000, Bob and his 22-year-old daughter Summer had a chance encounter with the Behnens and their friends at Piero's.

Police and witness reports indicate that the Stupaks were dining when Benny Behnen and two friends excused themselves from Nick and Becky's table to allegedly beat the crap out of both Stupaks.

Benny is an executive at the Horseshoe so this was rather unbecoming behavior by a key employee of a gaming establishment - for gosh sakes!

The Stupaks filed battery charges -- for the second time in two years -- against Benny Behnen. Then just like the first time in 1998, Metro opted to not arrest the politically connected Binion family member.

Nevada Gaming Control authorities were also made aware of the altercation but took no action against the Behnens.

Summer Stupak became furious. The young woman penned Letters to the Editor to all local newspapers, but only the Tribune would publish her letter. (Political ad man Sig Rogich represents the Horseshoe, and Tom Letisia represents Piero's - enough said!)

After the letter's publication in the Tribune, Summer Stupak received a call from a Metro detective. He inquired why she had written a letter in the Tribune and told her that the police were doing their job. She told him that she feared for her father's life and wanted the three "thugs" behind bars. (One person was later arrested and pleaded no contest - Benny was not charged.)

By coincidence, Ted Binion once identified Benny as possibly being involved in a 1997 drive-by shooting at his Palomino Lane estate. (Benny was not charged then either.)

This story has not ended with the convictions of Sandy Murphy and Rick Tabish, or with the braggadocio of their prosecutor David Roger who has recently become a politician.

It seems to me that the "killers" who supposedly took Ted Binion's drugged-up life would have had to wait in a long line of Ted's bitter enemies to get to him.

One thing has now become clear in my mind: the Ted Binion "murder" mystery has not been solved "Beyond a shadow of a doubt."

PS: Does anyone know where can I get a copy of "Murder in Sin City" that was personally autographed by Judge Bonaventure at the Horseshoe book signing?

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner.