After gaming legend Claudine Williams died May 13, her son arranged for some of her personal effects to be auctioned off to benefit four worthy charities she supported: Opportunity Village, St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, the Nature Conservancy and UNLV’s School of Hotel Administration.
Three months after the Oct. 16 auction, none of the charities has received a dime.
Actually, in December, Opportunity Village got a check for $9,706 from auctioneer Guy Deiro, owner of Deiro Auctioneers. But the check bounced. The other three haven’t received anything from Deiro.
Opportunity Village’s Linda Smith said after the check bounced, Deiro offered to provide some items of clothing belonging to Claudine Williams to Opportunity Village. But Smith said, “I didn’t feel comfortable doing that because there were other charities involved.”
He told Opportunity Village officials a check for a chandelier bounced, and that’s why his business check bounced, Smith said.
But that wasn’t what he told me Thursday.
In our interview, he said he’s a victim of embezzlement by an employee and that’s why he doesn’t have $40,000 to pay the charities. On Friday, his attorney Luis Rojas said he would be asking Las Vegas police to prosecute the employee.
No matter why the four charities have not been paid, Claudine Williams’ friends are furious. They say this dishonors the memory of the first woman to operate a major hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, the Holiday Casino.
Smith called the situation “a tragedy for Claudine. It’s actually quite heartbreaking.”
Guy Deiro’s father, Robert Deiro, who started the auction business in 1976 and sold it to his now estranged son in 1991, also is furious with his son. Robert Deiro started his business while still a shift boss at the Holiday Casino, working for Claudine and Shelby Williams.
“To dishonor me, that’s one thing. But to dishonor the very people who made it possible for me to start my business, that’s unconscionable and unforgivable,” the elder Deiro said.
Claudine’s son Michael Williams declined to comment. But Patricia Sanchez, the accountant for Claudine Williams’ trust, wrote in an e-mail Friday, “We had been told that the auction proceeds had been delivered as specified several weeks ago. We have only just discovered ourselves that they all have not. We are looking into the matter.”
The auctioneer told me Claudine Williams’ things — expensive furs and jewelry, Judith Leiber purses, guns, furniture sold to Phyllis McGuire, crystal, and many other personal effects — netted less than $40,000.
That didn’t sound right. I have been shown an e-mail to Guy Deiro from an employee saying there was $86,468 in credit card sales from the Williams auction. That figure doesn’t include cash sales.
Deiro financial woes aren’t new. He filed a Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy under the name Robert Deiro & Associates in July 2008. The Venetian sued him for breach of contract and fraud over the sale of hotel furniture in 2007 so Guy Deiro turned to bankruptcy court for protection. Eventually the Venetian dropped the case and became a creditor with a $1 million claim against Deiro.
Lionel Sawyer & Collins attorneys representing The Venetian wrote in court documents that two former Deiro employees said “Guy Deiro routinely misrepresents sales of items through liquidations or consignments and takes valuable items for his personal use or friends and family (without payment or misrepresenting the items as sold for very low values in a fair market sale). Deiro and his employees create false sales, false reports and false accounting statements to hide the fraud.”
Claudine Williams’ friends fear this may have happened with her things.
No matter how this is sorted out in the long run, no matter whether Guy Deiro is responsible or an embezzlement victim, this sordid mess over her personal things would disgust Claudine Williams.
She was a classy lady, loyal to her friends, a mentor to many. Her memory deserves better than this.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.