The man without a country came to Las Vegas the other day and checked into one of the Strip’s better resorts.
He gambled with two fists, as is his habit, and ate a nice steak. As usual, he stayed up late. On the late morning I saw him, he looked none the worse for wear.
But he’s 60 now, not a kid anymore, and he’s running out of playing time.
Although he now lives elsewhere, he long ago grew used to the privileged life of the well-rated player, the Vegas high roller. He’s been known to gamble like a fiend, a compulsion that necessitates a steady flow of income, but he never seems short of what most would consider considerable funds.
On this day Stephen P. Corso, the man in question, had a problem. He was in a jam again. Not as serious as the time before, he assured a skeptic, but all trouble with the U.S. government qualifies as a problem. It’s the same government with which he’s maintained a love-hate relationship for the past decade.
Corso is a trained accountant, and a creative one. That’s part of his problem. In New York, his outgoing personality and gift of grift put him in contact with wealthy clients, including sports talk show star Dan Patrick. Corso fed a growing gambling habit at Las Vegas casinos in part by swindling his clients out of more than $5 million. He pleaded guilty in 2009 but became a federal informant in order to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.
Corso set up an accounting storefront in Las Vegas and sidled up to members of the local wise guy element, including retired New York police officers Lou Eppolito and Steven Caracappa. He handled taxes, hung out with the boys, built their trust and even cooked for them at a little Italian restaurant on Tropicana Avenue.
In time, Corso helped develop useful information linking the ex-cops to unsolved mob hits in New York in what became known as the “Mafia Cops” investigation. He eventually testified at the trials of Eppolito and Caracappa and helped the government convict the men of taking part in eight murders.
He had betrayed his professional ethics and hustled his accounting clients, then worked the other side of the street as an informant. Although most of what he recorded in Las Vegas hasn’t been used to make cases, he won his freedom in 2009 by agreeing to never again work as a licensed accountant.
But, you know, following the rules isn’t Corso’s best skill. Talking his way out of trouble is, and these days he’s got more talking to do.
The Securities and Exchange Commission caught up with Corso earlier this year, filing a complaint against him in August for using an alias. Oddly enough, it wasn’t much of a misdirection for a guy whom authorities claim runs the risk of a mob rubout. He changed his name to Steven John Corso. He “merely changed the spelling of his first name and changed his middle name,” the SEC complaint states.
It was a petty deception but enough for the government to order Corso to, once again, stop playing accountant and cough up the profits he’s generated since 2009. He still owes a bundle in restitution, and it’s possible they’re trying to collect.
Fat chance of that happening. Did I mention Corso likes to gamble?
With the SEC on his tail, and the FBI apparently not returning the phone calls of its former pet informant, Corso now finds himself in the middle of a federal penny stock probe.
The fact he was still gambling in Las Vegas with the status of a highly rated player tells you how seriously he’s planning to make good on that restitution. But then maybe the man without a country figured there wasn’t much left to lose.
Listen to him a while, then try to chronicle all the people he’s befriended and betrayed, all the lives he’s used up, and you come away thinking the life of the Las Vegas high roller isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. He can be reached at 702-383-0295 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.