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One man’s garbage is forensic expert’s bread and butter

Leave it to Dr. Henry Lee, the renowned forensics expert, to turn grisly tales of murder and mayhem into intriguing drama and, at times, even almost tasteful entertainment.

Lee did just that on Tuesday at the Rio during his address before the eighth annual International Conference on Asian Organized Crime and Terrorism. The private conference brought together many of the world’s top law enforcement experts on the multifaceted subject of the Asian criminal underworld. I was fortunate to gain access to the gathering.

With themes that included talks on counterterrorism and narco-terrorism by FBI and DEA agents, and updates on the movements of the Yakuza, Chinese organized crime, and Vietnamese, Hmong, and Wah Ching gangs in the United States, Lee managed to make his forensic backgrounder seem almost like comic relief by comparison. Admittedly, the comedy was sometimes black.

To many news consumers, Lee is the unflappable fellow who rendered his humble but insightful opinions during infamous cases such as the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial and the Monica Lewinsky “blue dress” investigation. But his career has spanned more than 8,000 cases, and he has helped solve mass murders and bring serial killers to justice.

At one point in his crime-scene investigation talk he said, “A garbage can is like a history book.”

He was referring to the potential evidence contained in seemingly common rubbish. Lee once helped solve the murder of seven people by carefully examining garbage containing a half-eaten chicken wing.

Lee has managed to keep his fame and fortune in perspective, telling his audience his mother has more than once shamed him into coming out of retirement and volunteering his assistance to solve murder cases. In his latest retirement, Lee admitted, he still works 16-hour days. Lee failed to mention that he is the author or co-author of 30 books and is no doubt the inspiration for endless episodes of police forensic drama on television.

He wryly noted that when he arrived at the scene of an unsolved triple murder, the local press heralded his presence and called him an “international forensics expert.” After four weeks, his media ranking was reduced to “state police forensic expert.”

If another four weeks passed, Lee expected to be called “that Chinese guy” who hadn’t yet solved the crime.

While the influence of elements of Asian organized crime in Southern Nevada businesses might sound unlikely, even far-fetched, what I learned indicates the opposite is true. Perhaps worst of all, law-biding members of the local Asian-American community sometimes are victimized and intimidated by the criminals law enforcement works to subdue.

GOODMAN’S CALL: You don’t often see Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman walk away from an opportunity to stick up for himself and his favorite city, but he did so this week after being vilified by Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. In a speech before a Howard University audience, Farrakhan sneered at Goodman’s dusty criticism of President Barack Obama and called the Las Vegan “the little Jewish mayor.” The speech also included the anti-Semitic Farrakhan’s repeated references to the “Zionists” who run Congress.

Instead of blasting the minister’s tired, anti-Semitic rant, Goodman, I think, did the right thing by not giving Farrakhan a platform.

ON THE BOULEVARD: Former Las Vegas Sun scribe Sam Skolnik’s new book, “High Stakes: The Rising Cost of America’s Gambling Addiction,” is set for publication this summer. I’m guessing it will be left off most Strip casino mogul birthday wish lists. … Longtime Las Vegan John Chambers recently was inducted into the Wheelchair Basketball Hall of Fame. In addition to becoming one of America’s great wheelchair hoops hustlers and coaches, Chambers helped develop the city’s successful adaptive sports recreation programs for disabled athletes.

Have an item for the Bard of the Boulevard? E-mail comments and contributions to Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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