I-Team: Ch. 8, LV, Nv.
Posted: May 25, 2010 5:09 PM EDT Updated: May 25, 2010 5:29 PM EDT
LAS VEGAS -- Imagine you get into a drunken fight at a casino and find yourself getting tossed into a backroom. Any other place you'd get thrown out. Here, you watch a video and are given a choice.
Las Vegas Metro Police Officer Jose Montoya tells you United States Justice Associates could save your career. Just admit you're guilty, waive rights to an attorney and pay $500 immediately, and all your problems go away.
Robert Draskovich is the attorney representing USJA and its owner. He says using the private counseling service kept Metro from dealing with petty crimes and that the program and video just streamlined a normally slow process.
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"It was easier, not only for the casinos personnel, it was easier on Metro. It was easier on all those involved in the justice system," he said.
"Basically saying, 'Hey, we've got you now and we'll call the police unless you give us money.' There is a word for that: it is called extortion," said Allen Lichtenstein with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Lichtenstein was disgusted with the video and USJA's tactics. His opinion echoes that of Metro's investigation: twice over the last seven months, police raided USJA looking for evidence of extortion and the "very threatening" nature of the program.
"The casinos do not have the right to pretend that they are the police," said Lichtenstein.
He says the legal threats are exaggerated and the theatrics and official tone are misleading. The county, the courts or Metro have not given any true approval and Lichtenstein says it scares people into complying.
One account they didn't snag was MGM Mirage. Corporate security chief Tom Lozich questioned the legality, and the intent, of the program. For every $500 fee, the casinos got $100 in return. Lozich says that's incentive to haul people in.
"When you look at it from an integrity standpoint, that kind of brings that into kind of a questionable area," he said.
Station Casinos security chief Bill Young did like the program. He says security officers can decide guilt or innocence best in most cases.
"It reduces the need for a prosecutor being involved -- a public defender," he said.
But Young not only runs security for Station, he's the former sheriff of Clark County and says he used USJA at the urging of Chief Judge Doug Smith. In a letter supporting the counseling program, Smith said he has "never used one that is better" and that he "wholeheartedly, without reservation" recommends using it.
Smith declined to comment, but USJA was in court Tuesday trying to find out more about the raids.
Despite the investigation and court activity, Young stands his ground. He thinks the program does not look like extortion and their tactics shouldn't be criticized.
"I don't know who's pushing this. I don't know if it's the ACLU, but it's a crock of s*** as far as I'm concerned. Excuse my language," he said.
Casinos in charge of the law. No oversight, no accountability but finally some scrutiny making its way into the backrooms.
Shortly after Sheriff Doug Gillespie came on board, the officer in the video was taken out and replaced by an actor. Metro never approved this program or signed off.
Bill Young and Stations ended their contract after learning USJA was not actually forwarding cases to prosecution if the person failed to follow through on counseling.
The owner of USJA, Steven Brox, has not been charged on this case. Because of the Metro raids, the program has temporarily been shut down.