An alleged casino con man who authorities say hid out in rural Utah to avoid being sent to prison made his first Las Vegas court appearance Monday since he skipped his sentencing.
Mark Georgantas, 56, was wheeled into court, clutching papers and wearing black-framed reading glasses with his shoulder-length hair slicked back.
When District Judge Linda Bell called his case, Georgantas struggled to stand, hinted that he wanted to withdraw his October plea to one count of theft, and said he has not been able to reach his lawyer, Michael Pandullo, for more than five months.
Georgantas, who uses several nicknames, including “Mr. Smooth,” complained, as he has in the past, of pain in his hip. But he did not indicate why he missed an August court hearing, when he was expected to receive an order to serve two to five years behind bars.
“I can’t even walk now,” he told the judge, alluding to neglected “injections” and physical therapy. “Mr. Pandullo was retained to see me through hip therapy and withdraw my plea.”
Georgantas’ court absence last year meant that the Nevada attorney general’s office could strike the deal he cut, exposing him to five times as many years in prison.
The self-described “creative gaming enthusiast” was accused of swindling nearly half a million dollars from unsuspecting tourists in connection with a “pure cash” promise of beating Las Vegas casino pit games.
“I’ve had attorneys, bondsman, family members, myself, over 50 times, trying to reach Mr. Pandullo,” Georgantas told Bell. “Even last night I called him. I heard him answer the phone, and he hung up. … It’s a serious conflict.”
Pandullo was not present Monday and did not return voice and text messages from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Another attorney, Gary Modafferi, appeared in Pandullo’s stead and said he planned to take over the case.
Georgantas persuaded at least two men to give him more than $350,000 in a promise to beat casino pit games, court papers indicate. Georgantas told them that he could win regularly at baccarat, blackjack, craps and roulette in Las Vegas, and he promised he would always walk out of a casino with a profit.
While on the lam from sentencing, Georgantas showed up at a Denny’s in central Utah, about 4½ hours northeast of Las Vegas, and told residents his name was Todd Wolf.
He stayed in a camper outside the Redmond, Utah, home of Jess Fugal and his daughter, Ashton Fugal, whom he did not know, for about a month, before authorities showed up at their door in late November, the Fugals told a Review-Journal reporter at the time.
Georgantas has a documented history of running from the law and people who lent him cash. He has felony convictions in California, where he once abandoned a trial and later escaped from a minimum-security facility through a storm drain.
Prosecutors are expected to ask a judge to sentence Georgantas, who is being held at the Clark County Detention Center without bail, to up to 25 years in prison at a sentencing now set for early next month.