Steven Gao was concerned for his friend Edward Land.
So Gao, who left Las Vegas a couple of years ago to return to his native China, called Land to see how his robbery case was going.
Land, 43, and Hiroyuki Yamaguchi, 63, earlier this month struck deals with prosecutors that they hope will net them probation for their minor roles in a brazen armed robbery of a Pai Gow table at the Rio in 2011.
Land drove the gunman to the casino, while Yamaguchi drove the gunman away in a cab.
Las Vegas police have not caught the gunman, but they know he is in China.
That is where he called Land from.
Investigators quickly identified Gao as the gunman after the Rio robbery in February 2011.
Gao had a gambling problem and was trying to get money to pay a $15,000 debt to Land.
On the day of the robbery, Land drove Gao to the casino believing Gao was going to get his money, Land lawyer Louis Schneider said.
But Land didn’t know it was going to be a robbery, Schneider said.
When they arrived, Gao took out a revolver and a mask. Land freaked and fled, Schneider said.
“My client should have called the police right then. He put himself in a stupid position, and he’s going to pay a very big price for it,” he said.
Land didn’t make the same mistake twice.
When Gao recently called him, Land and his lawyer quickly notified authorities.
Knowing where Gao is won’t help police bring him to justice any time soon. China has no extradition agreement for its citizens with the United States.
Gao wasn’t trying to rub it in that he had escaped the United States, Schneider said. He was apparently genuinely concerned for Land and apologized for putting him in the cross hairs of the law.
Last week, Land pleaded guilty to robbery and conspiracy. Yamaguchi pleaded guilty via an Alford plea to the same charges. An Alford plea means that Yamaguchi did not admit guilt but agreed that prosecutors could prove their case.
Both charges could lead to probation. Or they could face two to 15 years in prison.
A sentencing hearing was set for May 23 before Judge Jerry Tao.
As part of a deal, prosecutors dropped a burglary charge against the men but retained the right to argue at the time of sentencing.
Yamaguchi’s lawyer, Robert Draskovich, and Schneider are both hoping for leniency from the court.
Neither man has a criminal record, they said.
And Yamaguchi has spent a year in jail, Draskovich said, adding, “He’s a 63-year-old man who’s limited participation in this robbery was a grave mistake.”
Gao is believed to have robbed the Rio of $33,200 in gaming chips.
Yamaguchi was accused of being the getaway driver, using his cab to take Gao from the Rio to Terrible’s Casino, where he met Land.
Police found an unloaded revolver and $1,000 in chips in Yamaguchi’s cab after the robbery.
Police said Land was aware that Gao got the chips illegally. According to his arrest report, Land knew he was wrong to be involved but wanted the money.
At Land’s home, near Spring Mountain Road and Durango Drive, investigators recovered $17,000 in Rio chips, a wig and a shoulder bag possibly used by Gao in the robbery.
Yamaguchi remains jailed at the Clark County Detention Center. Land is free on $125,000 bail.
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039.