INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
January 13, 2003
Mobbed-up Vegas Bar Hits Barrier
Expansion Plans Stymied by Long-Standing Garage Lease

                Buffalo Jim Barrier in front of artist rendering of postponed topless club

After years of speculation, the Crazy Horse Too topless bar in Las Vegas recently announced plans to build a new building, but hit a legal barrier with a coincidental name.

Facing overwhelming competition from two newly constructed mega-gentleman's clubs that just opened less than a half mile away - the $40 million dollar Sapphire, and the $25 million dollar Jaguars, along with the soon to open $15 million dollar Board Room that's within walking distance - the aging Crazy Horse recently failed to evict its long-time next door neighbor, Buffalo Jim Barrier, to make room for a new free standing building. The present topless bar is located in a converted 1960's era warehouse.

For years prior to the Crazy Horse Too's 1984 opening, Barrier's Allstate Auto Repair prospered peacefully in the industrial complex. Barrier opened his garage in 1976, and still has nine years remaining on his lease.

Until May 2002, Frederick "Rick" Rizzolo, the Crazy Horse Too's purported owner, rented space next to Barrier in the dilapidated building on Industrial Road a half mile west of the Vegas Strip. Then, Rizzolo shocked real estate experts by paying an amazing $5.5 million for the 2.63-acre property. Experts believe he paid considerably more than market value since the property is located in a high crime area, has inadequate parking, and is adjacent to the railroad tracks, but Rizzolo didn't seem to care, there were bigger plans afoot.

In his purchase agreement, Rizzolo initialed a page that clearly stated he would honor existing leases including Barrier's. However, by his actions it appears Rizzolo was ill-advised and thought he could evict the garage owner immediately upon taking possession.

Before the ink dried on the purchase agreement, Rizzolo's attorney Dean Patti was busy trying to evict Barrier. To his dismay, Barrier's attorney Gus Flangas easily convinced a judge that his client's lease was in good standing. This was not the first failed attempt to evict Barrier to try to make way for the bar to expand. In May 2000, Barrier's former landlady, Renata Schiff, failed in court when she attempted to cancel Barrier's lease to provide more space for Rizzolo. Renata's late husband, Jim Schiff, was Barrier's sponsor and gave him a sweetheart deal on his rent that continues to this day.

Thanks to Schiff, Barrier pays only forty-three cents per foot monthly for his ten thousand square foot garage, an amount considerably less than rent for comparable street front locations. The twist? Barrier claims Rizzolo never offered to buy him out, but engaged in a pattern of harassment with help from friends at City Hall to try to coerce him out of the building for free.

"Why should I move now when I pay the cheapest rent in town? This way I can charge lower prices for my mechanical work," said Barrier, 49, a former professional wrestler who brags that his mostly low income customers love him and that business has never been better. "All the publicity I get for holding my ground against my politically connected landlord has attracted new customers who support my stand. Remember Custer?  I'd be a fool to be scared away from my successful business when I can stay here until I retire in 2010."

Barrier is a single parent of four daughters and plans to pay for their college education with proceeds from his business. "I ain't going anywhere for free while I still have a valid lease," bristles Barrier.

Rizzolo claims he once offered Barrier $100,000 to move, but said he was refused. Barrier says he has never received an offer and that the nine years remaining on his lease is worth in excess of $2 million. He said he would have to pay as much as $2.50 per foot for equal space nearby. Experts estimate the difference between Barrier's present rent and what he would pay for similar Industrial Road frontage over the next nine years to be approximately $1.3 million not including his mounting legal fees, down time, moving, and advertising costs. Therefore, Barrier's asking price to relocate is considered fair market value.

"I don't understand why Rick didn't approach me years ago like any legitimate businessman would do. If he did, his palace would be open today to compete with the newer clubs, but instead the Horse looks like an old nag in comparison," said Barrier.

The artist rendering currently depicted on the Crazy Horse web site does not show Allstate Auto. Meanwhile, Rizzolo reportedly said he intends to break ground in spring 2003, but makes no mention of his neighbor's future. Barrier suggests that "If he can't afford to buy me out, Rizzolo should build the new club around my garage." He also calls his new landlord "The cheapest guy in town."

But some believe it would be wiser for Barrier to move out as quickly as possible for whatever amount he is offered. They fear for his, and his family's, safety if he persists in wanting to sell his lease for fair market value.

"I'm half Greek and half American Indian," said Barrier. "I come from the toughest people in the world. I'll stay put no matter how much they try to pester me to move. My lease is cast in stone and so are my rights. Anyway, there's too many of those places in this town."

Rizzolo is an associate of numerous Las Vegas and Chicago mob figures including casino Black Book denizens Fred Pascente and Joseph Cusumano. In addition, Rizzolo employs Vinnie Faraci, son of Bonanno crime family capo "Johnny Green" Faraci, and Rocco Lombardo, brother of former Chicago Outfit boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo. The Las Vegas Crazy Horse is also becoming nationally known for violent altercations between patrons and club employees.

In his gruff wrestler's voice, Barrier snarled, "I'm not scared of him, the mob, or his politician friends, and I don't back down. If Rick wants to act like a gentleman, I'm willing to do business with him as a gentleman and move down the street so he can build his palace with my blessings. But if he wants to act like a thug, then he's barking up the wrong tree. It'll be a cold day in Hell before Buffalo Jim gives up his rights. I'll sell my lease, but I won't sell my soul!"

Mayor Oscar Goodman who once defended Rizzolo's cousin Joseph Cusumano, has been accused of entering the mayoral office with baggage from his days as a mob attorney. Since being elected in 1999, Goodman has been accused of doing political favors for his former clients.

For example, Goodman recently sponsored a custom made ordinance to allow Cusumano's cousin to expand the Crazy Horse to within 1,000 feet of another adult business, something that benefited only one person - Rick Rizzolo. Goodman granted a liquor license to a Crazy Horse shift manager after the Nevada Gaming Control Board Chief of Investigations stated, "It's no secret that we have concerns with some of the associations that he has." Goodman also relaxed the city's lap dance and minimum age laws for exotic dancers, a move that gives Rizzolo's club an advantage over others including Sapphire and Jaguars that are outside the city limits and prohibited from employing teenage dancers.

These favors caused speculation that Goodman might try to condemn Barrier's garage as an additional favor to Rizzolo, However, in his original campaign for mayor, Goodman ran on a platform that criticized the city for taking private property and turning it over to the downtown casinos. When asked by a reporter if he would consider using the city's power of eminent domain to remove Barrier to make way for Rizzolo's project, Goodman in 2002, told a TV audience he would never do so.

After his guarenteed reelection this spring, Goodman is expected to go back to practicing law part time to mentor his two sons who just graduated law school. One of his first clients is expected to be Rick Rizzolo who is facing possible criminal indictments that may put his expansion plan on hold. He, his associates, and his business are currently the subject of criminal investigations by Las Vegas police, the FBI, and a federal grand jury. Rizzolo also faces two civil lawsuits, one for wrongful death, the other for attempted murder. By the look of things, Buffalo Jim's "barrier" may turn out to be the least of his problems.

Copyright © Steve Miller