Saturday, December 6, 2008

Andre Agassi Saga Turns Very Ugly

A very, very weird Vegas feud nobody quite saw coming has exploded into court proceedings this weekend. Native son Andre Agassi has had his childhood pal Perry Rogers managing his affairs for many years. As recently as this spring when I did my big piece for The New York Times on the young moguls of Vegas, I was required to have Perry in on the roundtable along with the Fertitta brothers and Tim Poster and Tom Breightling of Golden Nugget fame. It was made clear to me by all involved that Perry was the brains behind Agassi's business endeavors.

The two had what was termed as an amicable split in October. But this weekend, Rogers filed this rather odd lawsuit against Agassi's wife, tennis great Steffi Graf, for a whopping sum of, uh, $50,000. In the very brief legal filing, Rogers says that's the sum he's owed by Graf in commissions from investments she has in an account he manages for her through Bear Stearns. She hasn't paid him since ... October.

A few things here:

* $50,000 seems like peanuts for these people. Certainly, it's a small sum to sue over if one is trying to salvage a lifelong personal friendship that made Rogers very rich.

* The lawsuit says that Graf hasn't paid Rogers his commissions since October 2008 which is only five weeks ago. It says she paid up like clockwork prior to that. Suing over chump change after such a short dereliction? Tough customer.

* I have no idea whether this is relevant, but Bear Stearns was one of the first major U.S. investment houses to collapse in the subprime mortgage disaster. It was bought for peanuts by JP Morgan Chase in March. The lawsuit said Graf had an account in excess of $20m there, thanks to Rogers. Could it be that the value of her investments fell precipitously amid this downturn and, thus, created the friction between Rogers and Agassi/Graf? If Rogers put Graf's money into bad investments that are now coming home to roost, odds are fairly good he did the same for Agassi, right?

Bottom line: Something tells me the root cause of this could very well be the horrible economy and all those risky investments. They weren't just made by CEOs like Sheldon Adelson and Gary Loveman with corporate money and they weren't just made by overly ambitious low-income people who ignored or never saw the fine print.

Could the Agassi-Graf-Rogers problem show that the risky investments that went into the toilet were also made by rich people with their own money, too?

This will be interesting to watch. Why would Graf just stop paying her fees ... unless she can't? Or unless the account balance fell below the threshold indicated in the lawsuit for Rogers to get a cut? There were already rumors that Graf didn't care for Rogers personally, but that would be easy to overlook when times were good, yeah?

My theory could be meritless. But the Bear Stearns angle here seems like a red flag.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Day in OJ

First and foremost, I must at long last congratulate our 335-square-foot Faux-J Palace Station Hotel Room contest winner. We opened this up for you all to guess way back in late September when I was the first journalist to photograph it. You can see that post here. The DA built it to show the jury but Judge Glass nixed that, taking them to the actual crime scene instead. I did a NYT piece on the fake room, which can be found here, and in it I had the guys at Home Depot work up an estimate based on labor and parts. They figured about $2,000.

Well, if the private sector can do it for $2K, then I guess it stands to reason that government workers would cost double. Dan Kulin, the Clark County spokesman, wrote late yesterday to give their price: $4,000.

And the winner is...Amy Rabinovitz. She came closest with a $4,215.00 guess! She gets to pick something off the prize list at TheStripPodcast.Com. I don't know much more about Amy than that she wrote in her October email: "Of course I have not a clue as to what it might cost, but the contest was so fetching I had to place an entry." See that, folks? You gotta be in it to win it!

I was a bit of a winner, too, on Friday. Here's the glory shot, my story on the sentencing as the top story on Google News yesterday:

Many of you wrote in asking if you heard my voice on CNN badgering Simpson attorney Yale Galanter. Indeed you did. There were some cool moments there, so we may play them on the next podcast. Especially fun was when DA David Roger, explaining his media blockout during the trial, said, "We can't just go giving an interview to Steve Friess and nobody else." To which I said, "Well, sure you can!"

Beyond the revelation by OJ attorney Gabe Grasso that OJ has been buying candy and soup for all his inmate friends because he's such a great guy -- or perhaps a terrific boyfriend? -- the OJ sentencing was also an interesting exercise in viral news gone bad.

The initial reports were very confusing about his minimum sentence. The AP put out incorrect figures immediately, and that just went viral. Everywhere you look, even though AP eventually got it right -- he got 9-33 years -- the incorrect first versions were printed in newspapers around the globe and remain available online.

More egregious, though, is that a full day after it has been cleared up, Marketwatch, a Dow Jones website, still had a piece by Sue Chang out of San Francisco that claims The Juice is canned for at least 15 years. Not so, but here it is anyway:

Not life or death, but another good reason why news is more reliable when rendered by those actually present for it. I know I covered the Monte Carlo fire from the Bronx, but still.

Anyhow, I've landed safely in NY after an overnight flight and I'm ready to crash for a while at my aunt's. It was so neat, though, to pick up The New York Times in New York and see my own story and a big front-page photo promoting it. Here it is for all of you who care. Life is good. Well, for me, anyway. And for OJ's, uh, candy-bar-loving cellmates, I suppose.

Guess The Price - NOW!

You have until about 11 a.m. PT to email me at TheStripPodcast[at] your estimate on the fake O.J. Palace Station hotel room constructed by the county in its basement but never used to show the jury the intimacy of the space where the OJ crimes occurred. The DA promised me on Wednesday he'd provide an answer to its cost, possibly today. See the pix and that post HERE.

No comments allowed on this post. If you want a go, email me asap.

Guess Who's Coming For Dessert

Actually, one measure of how far O.J. Simpson has fallen is that, even as he faces his first-ever criminal sentencing this morning at the hands of Judge Jackie Glass, few of the major figures from the Trial of the Century are expected. As of Wednesday, the court spokesman said he had not heard from several of the folks whose media careers were birthed in the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman's pools of blood.

No Greta Van Susteren. No Marcia Clark. No Jeffrey Toobin. No Star Jones. Even Dominick Dunne, my new pal, can't make it, although that's because he continues to ail in New York. But otherwise, this thing is still a bust. A nice payday for me, though. So thanks, Juice. Goldman's father and sister are expected, however.

As we roll into this, though, I'm puzzled by the R-J's willingness to play up dramatic comments by fame-seeking Vegas attorney James "Bucky" Buchanan that O.J. will probably die in prison over this. In the same breath, Buchanan predicted Simpson will get 11 years.

O.J. is 61. The man is an ox, albeit an ox with some shaky knees. Bad knees don't usually kill a guy, though. He can't live to be 72?

Of course, that assumes his sentence isn't reduced on appeal anyway. The parole board has recommended an 18-year sentence, but everyone involved seems to think that's excessive for a first-time offender whose victims aren't even aggrieved in a low-rent crime in which nobody was physically harmed. Likewise, the defense is asking for six years which they'll never get because, well, this is O.J. So, sure, 11-15 years is what my own legal experts told me for my Agence France Presse piece this week. And from there, who knows what happens.

But even at 15 years, is it likely he's going to jail for life, actuary tables being what they are these days? And, if not, does ol' Bucky's prediction belong in a headline?!?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Show is UP: Cheech & Wilson

We're finally offering up the elusive, strange conversations with the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Cheech Marin. Hooray! Also, we mull a lot of news and much more. To your left, here's the results of my own personal application of this week's Top Secret Tourist Tip. Just a reminder that all the old tips are archived on the site here. Anyhow, hear the show by clicking on the date or right-click to download it and listen whenever you want. Or subscribe via iTunes here or via Zune here.

Dec. 4: Brian Wilson, Cheech Marin

We never know quite what to do when Steve emerges from his office after an interview and says, ‘Well, that sucked.’ Usually, he’s wrong. And tonight, we’re going to find out. This fall, Steve chatted with Cheech Marin and Brian Wilson and, each time, he was initially dissatisfied with the outcome. But in reviewing them later, decided the conversations were Strip-worthy after all, perhaps because of their weirdness. So, this week , we let ‘em rip.

In Banter: Viva McDonalds is a McDonalds, Copperfield's still great, the gingerbread house display is pretty cool, R is for what?!?! and Wynn's doing it Sinatra's way.

Show links:

See Brian Wilson’s website here
See Cheech Marin’s website here
See pictures of Steve and Miles’ dogs, originally named Cheech and Chong, here
Read about the first new smokefree casino in Nevada here
See the website of the Blue Moon Resort here
See Steve’s column about David Copperfield here
Get tickets to the David Copperfield show here
The MGM’s Mastercard promotion can be found here
The Encore website is here
Norm’s reportage about the Sinatra restaurant is here
Norm’s scoop on Wynn’s effort to buy the Guardian Angel Cathedral is here
Doug Elfman’s report on how hard it was to interview Brian Wilson is here

This Week's LVW col: A real magic trick

Poof! Here's this week's Las Vegas Weekly column.

A real magic trick
David Copperfield and the amazing disappearing allegations

There is a moment during David Copperfield’s performance at the MGM Grand when the magician picks a pretty young woman out of the audience and asks for her help. He borrows her ring, does a few other misdirecting things and then makes the ring reappear tied to something in his back pocket.

To set up the trick, though, the pretty young female audience member must verify early on in the sequence that Copperfield’s back pocket is empty. That means she has to slide her hand into it, cupping his butt ever so briefly.

It is telling that as I gasped, the rest of the adults in the crowd merely tittered at the obvious sexual innuendo and went along for the ride.

Telling, that is, because about a year on from some potentially career-ending allegations of sexual misconduct with pretty young female audience members, Copperfield remains a shockingly popular draw and not by any means a sleazy presence that parents with children or even pretty young female audience members try to avoid.

And there’s a reason for that: He puts on a good show. A very, very good show. A show that, after having slogged though the dregs of Steve Wyrick, Hans Klok and now Criss Angel in recent years, restored my faith in the existence of good magic shows. But more on that later.

First, we need to re-examine the curious case that brought Copperfield so low that he canceled shows last year and has reformed himself from a media yapper into a media recluse.

Copperfield was accused in October 2007 of raping a 21-year-old Seattle woman whom he allegedly picked out of his audience and lured to his Bahamian getaway for a sexual liaison. The Seattle FBI was as leaky as a Circus Circus faucet about the case at the time, tipping off journalists to a raid on the magician’s warehouse near the Strip to seize a computer hard drive, a digital camera system and nearly $2 million in cash. A grand jury was investigating.

That was all so deliberately incriminating; our minds boggle at what could have been on a suspicious computer! The Seattle Times worked its sources at the local FBI office to produce a litany of tidbits. The accuser was an aspiring model who saw Copperfield’s show in the Seattle area and who then began to engage in an e-mail friendship of sorts with the illusionist 30 years her senior. He made good on his promise to whisk her off to his private retreat in Musha Cay, Bahamas, in July 2007, where she claims he struck her, raped her and threatened her to keep quiet.

After the story broke, various other women and former Copperfield stagehands emerged to allege that this was the magician’s modus operandi, that he scouts his audience for hotties to score with.

The thing that happened next is the most important, but completely unnoticed by The Seattle Times or anybody else: nothing.

Read the rest HERE

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical

Now, if only someone would figure out how to closed-caption stuff like this, then deafies like me could catch all the jokes...

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Punk'd Again?

Sometime last year, I asked Steve Wynn if he was planning to go atop of Encore for a TV commercial similar to how he did it for the opening of Wynn Las Vegas. He clearly told me he would not. We played it on the show.

Except that he did.

Sigh. I'm too busy this morning to wade through the shows to find which episode that was, but I know he said it. And I don't know what to make of this. It's the second time this year this has happened.

Here's the commercial and a testimonial, by the way. The shrug at the very end is kinda cute.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Strip is LIVE tonight w/Cheech! (Really!)

The time has come for Cheech Marin and Brian Wilson. The two more challenging interviews of recent months finally make their way into the show, so come on down to LVRocks.Com tonight at 6:45 p.m. PT to hear that plus witty banter about the news, a new poll, listener feedback and, as always, the Top Secret Tourist Tip of the Week.

Or, if it's just too much of a bother for you to show up with your fellow listeners and hear all the outtakes, cursing and bickering, wait a day or two and the podcast will be available. Your call!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hello, Gov. Gibbons

I am sitting here on my laptop waiting for my flight at the Reno airport when I look up and there is the controversial governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons. He's been yapping nonstop on that controversial BlackBerry of his, perhaps the very one from which he texted a woman not his wife 860ish times in a few weeks.

It appears the guv is en route to Vegas in the same commercial flight as I am. Good call, austere times and all. I guess then if the plane goes down, the headline is "Gov. Gibbons killed in air crash" and is the second line, "Nosy blogger who wrote about possible crash also perishes." Or something.

Vegas Kids Do Good!

...or is it "Vegas Kids Do Well!"? Ahh, well, thank goodness nobody pays me to know the language. Oh wait...

Regardless, I have a piece in today's New York Times about a group of students at the exclusive private Meadows School who have drummed up $25,000 to invest in microfinance loans to poor people in third-world countries. It's a story my Petcast co-host Emily Richmond broke in the Las Vegas Sun in October, and I found the novelty of it -- not just the idea of kids doing something good and charitable but also that it appears to be a first-of-its-kind effort -- worth a broader audience.

What was also fun was visiting the Meadows School. I had only heard of this mythical place with the English translation of our city's name, where Mayor Oscar Goodman's wife, Carolyn, had built a powerhouse educational center that produces Ivy Leaguers and perfect SAT scores. Carolyn, by the by, is rumored to be considering a run for mayor when her gin-swilling hubby is term-limited out in 2011.

Anyhow, while I was there, I had to shoot some photos. Here's the entry sign...

...and the central campus vista...

Of course, with any private school of this type, it relies on both the $20K-a-year in tuition as well as the good will and vanity of generous parents. See if you recognize any of these surnames...

Virtually every tree, every bench, every building and even every garbage can was marked for its donation or dedication. But this one was my favorite...

We now know him, of course, as the newly crowned CEO of MGM Mirage.