Rizzolo soon may have to show crime does pay ­– its victims

Give Rick Rizzolo credit. He sure can drag out a punch line.

For years I’ve followed Rizzolo’s comedy/criminal career with a sense of bemused wonderment. The wiseguy topless mogul, who for so long had so many politically connected Las Vegans eating out of his manicured hands, appeared to have this town wired.

From local judges and politicians to real estate barons and casino bosses, Rizzolo had many friends. He also was on intimate terms with an array of organized-crime types, but that only seemed to enhance his appeal and make him a more colorful character.

Even after a Kansas tourist named Kirk Henry was made a quadriplegic after his neck was broken in the parking lot of Rizzolo’s Crazy Horse Too in September 2001, local justice system handicappers made slick Rick the favorite to prevail in any legal matter — even those involving the FBI and IRS. But they were wrong.

When Rizzolo finally cried uncle, he cut a great deal, pleading guilty to a tax charge and agreeing to pay Henry and his wife, Amy, $10 million to settle their civil case from the proceeds of the sale of the Crazy Horse Too. His time on top in Las Vegas was over, but Rizzolo appeared to have survived with his roguish reputation intact. After a year in prison, he was released in 2008.

All he had to do was make good on his debt to the Henrys, and he was a truly free man.

Alas, fate and falling real estate prices intervened. When the Industrial Road club’s value tanked, Rizzolo did what you would expect a wiseguy to do: He used it as an excuse to try to get out of paying the Henrys a nickel. Since then, he has applied the classic criminal’s logic: Spend a bundle in legal fees to avoid paying the disabled man and his family.

After all, as the old joke goes, Rizzolo is crime. And crime doesn’t pay.

It’s a one-liner he has consistently told the federal court system even after U.S. District Judge Philip Pro revoked Rizzolo’s parole after the discovery of a list of violations and deceptions. The violations were so obvious that Rizzolo’s attorneys didn’t even attempt to defend them. Pro sentenced Rizzolo to nine months in prison.

Rizzolo did what he always does: He tried to slither away, this time by taking his cause to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Not surprisingly, the appeals court recently declined to overturn the sentence. Although it determined Pro hadn’t abused his judicial discretion, the 9th Circuit observed, “Even if the district court did abuse its discretion, Rizzolo suffered no prejudice from this error.”

Which is the courtly way of saying of the appeal, “Are you flipping kidding us?”

Rizzolo, 53, is set to finish his term at the Federal Correctional Institution in Taft, Calif., and possibly a local halfway house. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, his release date is set for June 12.

And, yes, he’s still shown no interest in paying his debt to the Henrys. Not even after attorneys and private investigators found millions in offshore bank accounts in ex-wife Lisa Rizzolo’s name. In a deposition, the former Mrs. Rizzolo basically admitted she had helped hide the money and hadn’t paid taxes on it. Pro ordered the return of the money to the United States.

In March, Rizzolo attorney Dominic Gentile requested to be removed as counsel after mounting what turned out to be an unsuccessful appeal. No one can blame Gentile. There is no realistic defense to be made.

But, then, this isn’t really about defending a client. This is about a criminal refusing to pay his debts. Crime doesn’t pay, right? Maybe.

But perhaps in the coming months Rizzolo will be forced to memorize a version of the Henny Youngman one-liner: “Take my wife’s money, please.”

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.

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