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Bellagio robbery suspect was a talker

Anthony Carleo’s gambling losses were almost as big as his mouth.

Both drew the attention of authorities and eventually cost him his freedom 50 days after the Bellagio casino was robbed of $1.5 million in gambling chips in one of the largest heists in recent Southern Nevada history.

Las Vegas police arrested the 29-year-old son of a city judge Wednesday night in the Bellagio’s casino — literally the scene of the crime. In recent weeks he stayed there, a comped high roller who lost more than $100,000 gambling away chips the police say were stolen in the gutsy Dec. 14 robbery.

All the while, Las Vegas police and Bellagio security were watching him. In fact, police had his name and were on his trail about eight days after the brazen robbery that made headlines worldwide.

They knew he was a suspect because Carleo — aka Anthony Assad, aka a "made man" from Denver, aka the son of Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge George Assad — told lots of people he was the robber, according to a police report released Thursday.

Carleo even detailed his plan to a Bellagio poker dealer three days before the robbery, police said.

"All you need is a black mask and a motorcycle, and I have a motorcycle," Carleo reportedly told the dealer, who later recounted it to police.

The dealer told Carleo that a real-life heist wouldn’t be as easy as it was in the movie "Ocean’s Eleven."

But the real-life Bellagio robbery played out exactly as Carleo said it could be done.

At 3:50 a.m. on a sleepy Tuesday, Dec. 14, a man parked a late-model black motorcycle at the casino’s north valet entrance. Leaving it running, he walked into the casino wearing a white, full-face motorcycle helmet and a leather jacket. Walking past slot machines, he stopped at the table games closest to the door. He pulled a pistol and demanded money from the craps dealer, and ran out with an estimated $1.5 million in Bellagio chips in denominations from $100 to $25,000.

No one was hurt, and no shots were fired, police said. Security officers did not try to stop the man out of concern that a shootout might injure casino patrons. In and out of the casino in a matter of minutes, the robber was last seen riding the motorcycle west on Flamingo Road, police said.

Because of the large denominations of the chips, police and gaming industry insiders speculated the robber would never be able to cash them without giving himself away.

Eight days later, the Bellagio dealer went to police. Others would do the same as Carleo threw caution to the wind.

Before it was scrubbed early Thursday, Carleo’s Facebook page indicated that he was enjoying life on the Strip.

His favorite quote: "Money isn’t everything, but it’s right up there next to oxygen."

On the Web page, he wrote about moving to Las Vegas from Colorado last summer, his dream of being a high-stakes poker player and his fondness for the charms of the Bellagio.

"Never have I seen as many beautiful women in one place on a Sunday evening as I am humbly observing at Bellagio in Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada," he posted on Nov. 28. "My neck is getting a great stretch and my zippers elasticity is being challenged! Viva Vegas!!"

Carleo had dreamed of medical school after college, according to his page.

"I am a Junior at UNLV and cannot wait to get to Med School to start a profession that I can be proud of," he wrote.

He was officially a student, but most of his Facebook posts dealt with his gambling exploits rather than his classes.

On Nov. 22, Carleo detailed his play in a poker tournament with a cash prize of $127,000.

"Today will be a life changing day if all goes well and God answers my prayers," he wrote before losing big.

Carleo’s last Facebook entry was on Dec. 3.

On Dec. 8, a motorcyclist wearing a helmet entered the poker cage at the Suncoast casino on the northwest side of Las Vegas, pulled a gun and walked away with $20,000 in cash. Carleo has not been charged in connection with that holdup, and police have declined comment when asked whether he might be.

On Dec. 14, the Bellagio was hit.

Soon, Carleo was making casino transactions of tens of thousands of dollars at a time. One of the largest was on Dec. 19, when he cashed out nearly $26,000 in Bellagio chips.

The next day, another poker player told Bellagio Vice President of Security Raymond Brown that he had played with an Italian buddy who knew a "Tony" who was looking to sell "cranberry chips,” slang for the $25,000 denominations. Brown alerted the police.

Soon others told police Carleo was getting desperate because he was running out of small-denomination chips that could be cashed in without attracting attention. Several players also said the man with the chips bragged of ties to organized crime.

"Tony was trying to unload some $25,000 chips,” the report reads. "He said the guy is supposed to be a made guy in Denver and connected to the mob."

Carleo kept playing. He also kept losing. On New Year’s Eve alone, he dropped $72,000 at his favorite casino. By Jan. 22, Carleo’s losses at the Bellagio topped $107,000, as documented by the Nevada Gaming Control Commission.

All the while he, like any high roller, was a pampered guest of the world-class hotel and resort.

"He is receiving full complementary rooms, meals and beverages," the report said. He was at the casino every day from Jan. 19 through Jan. 26, and left it only eight to 10 times for short periods.

On Jan. 25, an undercover officer and an informant went to the Bellagio to identify associates of Carleo. They found one man who had bought a $25,000 chip from Carleo, paying $10,000.

On Jan. 30, Carleo sold an undercover detective a cranberry. Two days later, four more cranberries changed hands.

The undercover cop told Carleo he wanted to partner up and start a robbery crew that could even take the Bellagio.

Carleo’s response: "He already robbed this place."

While watching Carleo, detectives looked into his background. Although he is the son of a longtime Las Vegas lawyer and judge, he went to high school and lived much of his life in Pueblo, Colo., with his mother and stepfather, Gino Carleo. The elder Carleo owns a tavern, and with his brother, Louie, develops real estate.

Colorado DMV confirmed he owned a 2007 Suzuki GSX-R motorcycle, the same make and model ridden by the Bellagio Bandit.

Carleo had no criminal record or a gun registered in his name, though he had access to five pistols in Las Vegas.

Police also determined he was addicted to and was selling oxycontin. He was prescribed the pills from August to December, they found, but the number and frequency of the pills are described in the report as "an excess."

The report doesn’t elaborate on rumored mob ties. It notes that in Pueblo, he was a real estate broker and owned two businesses —- a mobile disc jockey service and a limousine service co-owned with his stepfather. It also noted that Carleo filed bankruptcy in Colorado in September 2009.

Bankruptcy papers in Denver list a .40-caliber pistol among Carleo’s possessions. The records also show that he lost four properties, including his $330,000 home in the 800 block of Kalispell Avenue in Pueblo.

Contractor Bob Steinmetz told The Denver Post he bought the attractive, 3,000-square-foot home from a bank and never met Carleo. The house, he said, was battered with a hatchet and a hammer, and the appliances were long gone.

It’s unclear when Carleo moved to Las Vegas or exactly where he lived, but his Nevada driver’s license bears the address of his biological father’s home in Summerlin.

At 9:20 p.m. on Wednesday, officers arrested Carleo without incident in the Bellagio casino. Sources said he thought he was there to pass more cranberries. According to the police report, he admitted his involvement in the Bellagio robbery. He was booked at the Clark County Detention Center on Thursday morning on robbery and burglary charges and remains there without bail.

Detectives searched Carleo’s room at the Bellagio, his father’s home, the home of a woman found to have seven cranberries and that of his girlfriend, Layla Loeung, where another 16 cranberries were found in a bedroom closet.

Loeung told police that the chips were Carleo’s and that he had given her $5,000 in cash. Police left with all of it.

The report doesn’t mention anything seized at the home of the judge.

Assad wasn’t at work Thursday. In a statement distributed Thursday by consulting group Rogich Communications, he said he was "devastated and heartbroken to see my son arrested under these circumstances, as is the rest of his family."

He said he cannot discuss the matter because of judicial ethics.

"I can say that as a prosecutor and a judge, I have always felt people who break the law need to be held accountable," Assad said.

At a news conference Thursday, Robbery Lt. Ray Steiber said a total of $1.2 million in chips and cash had been recovered. Carleo also might face drug trafficking charges, but Steiber would say little about the investigation.

But Steiber said anyone thinking they can take down a Las Vegas casino is "sadly mistaken."

"You will be caught,” he said.

Reporter Francis McCabe contributed to this report. Contact reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@review journal.com or 702-383-4638 and reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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