G-sting scandal shines spotlight on Sin City bribes

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LAS VEGAS (AP) – Even in a town used to baring it all – where gangster Bugsy Siegel is considered a founding father, showgirls are a way of life and old-timers fondly recall when the mob ran the casinos – the revelations in a political corruption trial have been shocking.

Tough-talking strip club owner-turned-government star witness Michael Galardi says he tossed bags of cash to put politicians and others in his pocket. And when blue velvet Crown Royal bags stuffed with cash weren’t enough, say Galardi and prosecutors, he traded sex – using strippers, dancers and other club employees to keep elected leaders happy and voting his way.

For six weeks, jurors in the so-called G-sting trial have listened to FBI wiretaps, watched videotapes and heard testimony about politicians allegedly taking bribes.

“It’s got everything,” said Eric Herzik, a University of Nevada, Reno, political science professor who has followed the case. “High-level political figures in one of the most high-profile cities in America, basically admitting they’re taking bribes.”

Closing arguments were scheduled to begin Monday.

Two former Clark County commissioners, Dario Herrera and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey, are standing trial on federal charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion under color of official right. They could get 45 years in prison if convicted. A third former commissioner, Lance Malone, who also was Galardi’s lobbyist, is due to stand trial in August. All three pleaded not guilty.

A fourth former commissioner, Erin Kenny, pleaded guilty and has testified for the prosecution.

County officials rarely face such scandalous accusations or draw so much attention from federal investigators and prosecutors, but the Clark County Commission is one of the most powerful elected bodies in the state. Out of Nevada’s 2.2 million people, 1.7 million of them live in Clark County, where Las Vegas thrives on hotels, casinos and fancy clubs.

“The county commission, around here, is the government entity to watch,” said Michael Green, a Community College of Southern Nevada history professor and political commentator.

Herrera, a one-time rising political star who addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2000, has admitted he interrupted a golf outing with Galardi to have sex behind the bushes with one of Galardi’s workers. As his wife dabbed her eyes in the courtroom’s first row, Herrera admitted getting lap dances from a stripper at one of Galardi’s clubs and said he’d had an affair with another Galardi employee during a trip to a California resort.

Galardi said he got sex at least six times from Kenny, which she denies.

Galardi claimed he paid $200,000 to Herrera from 1999 to 2003, and $85,000 to Kincaid-Chauncey.

Herrera denied ever receiving cash from Galardi or Malone, but said he took a $10,000 check as a campaign contribution.

Kincaid-Chauncey testified she never traded votes for Galardi’s cash, but she acknowledged accepting money from Galardi through Malone. One envelope with $4,000 in cash went to help pay a grandson’s ski school scholarship. An additional $5,000 was a campaign contribution for her son’s failed bid for North Las Vegas City Council.

The case hinges on whether jurors believe Galardi, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in Las Vegas and in a related corruption case in San Diego, where two councilmen were convicted. He has been promised no more than five years in federal prison on both the San Diego and Las Vegas charges, and could get probation.

However, the federal judge who heard the San Diego case last year expressed doubts about Galardi’s credibility and granted a new trial to one of the convicted councilmen. The Las Vegas jury hasn’t been told about that.

Galardi, 44, said his goal was to make a strip club he was opening in 2002 – the $15 million, 20,000-square-foot Jaguars – the biggest and best in a town with more than two dozen competitors.

But he needed the county commission’s help.

“What I was paying them was, basically, chump change with what I would get back,” Galardi said of officials he claimed to have bribed. “If they pass tough enough laws, they could put me out of business.”

Defense lawyers call Galardi a liar who tailored his testimony to suit prosecutors.

They asked Galardi to name names, and he obliged: fingering the mayor, judges, lawyers, the district attorney and county manager, a business license official. He even named Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Johnson, who later testified that he was “absolutely, completely certain” he was not one of the 15 to 40 attorneys who got free drinks and lap dances at Friday afternoon “lawyer days” at Galardi’s clubs.

“It just got out of control,” Galardi said. “I had everyone in town hitting me up for money.”

None of the other officials has been charged.

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