There was a time Lance Malone was rolling in dough.
As a former Metro cop and county commissioner, Malone lived large as the political bagman for his pal, topless bar operator Michael Galardi. The money came easy, and Malone distributed scads of Galardi’s cash to rapacious local politicians, including former commission colleagues Erin Kenny, Dario Herrera and Mary Kincaid-Chauncey.
When the FBI got wise and started listening in on Malone’s world, the result was the biggest political corruption case in Las Vegas history. Everyone did time, and Malone was whacked with a six-year sentence for playing an integral role in what U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks called “the rankest corruption of local government” on record in Nevada. (Malone was also convicted in a bribery scheme involving members of the San Diego City Council.)
Although he admitted wrongdoing and apologized as part of his eventual plea agreement, Malone declined to cooperate with the FBI’s investigation of political corruption and suspected dirty developers. Instead, he quietly began serving his sentence in May 2007 at the federal correctional facility at Lompoc, Calif., which is about a million miles from the world of topless bars and piles of cash. After spending a few months in a local halfway house last year, Malone was released from custody in July.
Today, Malone keeps a low profile as he develops a small, by-the-slice pizza parlor in a bustling strip mall on Las Vegas Boulevard across from Mandalay Bay.
The shop is called Pop’s Pizza, and his partner and bankroll is longtime criminal defense attorney Dominic Gentile, Malone’s lawyer in the corruption investigation.
Late Friday morning, I interrupted Malone’s workday long enough to ask him for an interview. He politely declined, then volunteered a few details.
He named the place in honor of his late father, John Malone, and cherishes the times he’s baked homemade pizza with his kids. The fact Pop’s Pizza is wedged into a great location doesn’t hurt, either.
As for how he’s getting by after taking a long fall from grace, Malone is obviously a survivor. He doesn’t pout or dwell on the past, and from outward appearances he emerged from prison in better physical shape than when he entered.
With a dismissive hand, Malone says, “That part of it, it’s all over. For me, it’s done. I’m moving forward.”
Then he returned to work supervising the completion of the little pizza shop that promises to do a strong business in a row of fast-food operations anchored by a McDonald’s.
Gentile is not only Malone’s partner and backer, but he’s also protective of his client and friend. When asked if he’s simply being charitable to a client, the lawyer tersely replies, “No, he’s helping me.”
For Gentile, Malone’s story is about a standup guy who made some mistakes and paid a heavy price.
Courthouse wags that bet Malone would never hold up under the government’s pressure badly underestimated the man, Gentile says.
“A lot of people thought that he might cooperate, and he certainly had his opportunities to throw people under the bus,” he says. “But he stood his ground. Here’s a man that has integrity, which to me means that you have a set of values and stick to them come hell or high water.”
Gentile won’t comment, but you can also bet a number of powerful people in this community breathed much easier when Malone kept silent despite the government’s entreaties.
“He impressed me more so than anybody I’ve ever represented in a criminal case,” the lawyer says. “He’s paid his dues.”
And now he gets to move forward with his life. That’s the way the game works.
His business has changed from topless trouble to pizza toppings, but Lance Malone is once again rolling in dough.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295.
He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.