Thursday, November 3, 2005Carona donor under probe
The Orange County Register
As political donors go, few are as colorful as Rick Rizzolo - a Las Vegas nightclub owner who contributed $1,500 in May to Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona's re-election campaign.
Rizzolo, 47, owns the Crazy Horse Too topless club, which was raided in January by federal agents who arrested a shift manager on racketeering charges. A federal indictment in Nevada declared the club a "racketeering enterprise."
Crazy Horse Too has been under investigation since August 2001 for suspected fraud, illegal sexual activity and drug violations.
Court documents also allege that Rizzolo repeatedly dined with mob underboss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo in Chicago - who disappeared after being indicted on murder charges. Court records, quoting the Chicago Tribune, add that Rizzolo also rubbed shoulders with high-ranking mobsters John "No-Nose" DiFronzo and his consigliere, Joe "The Builder" Andriacchi.
Besides his reported mob connections, Rizzolo has a criminal record: he pleaded guilty in 1985 to battery for a baseball bat attack on a Crazy Horse patron, who suffered brain damage, records show.
Carona, who may be facing his toughest election in 2006 because of sex scandals and corruption charges surrounding his administration, declined to comment Wednesday.
His political adviser Michael Schroeder said the campaign will look into the Rizzolo contribution and may return the money. Rizzolo owns a $1.2 million home in Newport Beach.
"Obviously, Sheriff Carona had no idea about these alleged connections," said Schroeder. "No campaign has the resources, from the governor, the president, on down, to investigate every one of their donors."
However, Robert Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies and former general counsel to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, said Carona cannot claim ignorance.
"Absolutely, they should be screening all the contributions to make sure they are not embarrassed," Stern said. "Candidates who say, 'I don't look (at) who contributes to me,' they are being foolish."
Phone messages left at Rizzolo's office at the Crazy Horse as well as with his Las Vegas attorney, Anthony Sgro, were not returned.
First elected in 1998, Carona has been slammed in recent years by criminal investigations into his command staff; sex allegations revealing a frat-boy atmosphere at sheriff's administrative offices; and a loss of credibility among his rank and file.
Recently, Carona was accused in two county liability claims of pressuring female relatives of former chief of staff George Jaramillo to have sex with him or accompany him to San Francisco. Jaramillo himself was indicted on state charges of using department resources to benefit a Newport Beach company that gave him money. The owner of that company, Charles Gabbard, admitted last year that he also funneled as much as $29,000 in illegal donations to Carona's 2002 campaign. Meanwhile, a sheriff's captain is facing criminal charges for soliciting donations from sheriff's employees for Carona's war chest, a violation of state campaign laws.
In each case, the sheriff denied wrongdoing or blamed others who he said acted behind his back.
Carona, through Schroeder, said he met Rizzolo two or three times but knew him only as someone from Newport Beach. Campaign documents initially listed Rizzolo as "owner, nightclub." Orange County political watchdog Shirley Grindle in late August contacted the Registrar of Voters Office and noted the nightclub should be identified in the financial disclosure. The documents were amended by the campaign last week to read "president/CEO Rizzolo Corporation." No such corporation could be found in California or Nevada.
Rizzolo's past is well-documented on the Internet, in Las Vegas newspapers and federal court records. He is a heavy contributor to Las Vegas City Council members, the district attorney and Nevada judges. His nightclub is legendary in the adult-entertainment world - and well-known to police and paramedics.
"For years, the management and 'security staff' of the Crazy Horse has been infested by a rogues' gallery of thugs, thieves, drug pushers and corrupt ex-cops. Most, if not all, have well documented ties to organized crime figures," said court papers filed by attorneys in a lawsuit against the nightclub. "All of this has nurtured a culture of violence marked by robberies, beatings and even death."
The lawsuit, as well as the federal indictment, were spurred by allegations of the beating of tourist Kirk Henry, who was left paralyzed from the neck down after he disputed a nightclub tab in September 2001. Crazy Horse lawyers have found a cab driver, also a chauffeur for the club, who said he saw Henry fall by himself and hit his head on the curb.
According to the indictment of shift manager Robert D'Apice, patrons who disputed fees demanded by dancers were threatened or physically assaulted by male staff members, amounting to extortion or robbery. The dancers paid a percentage of their tips to managers and staff members at the end of their shifts.
The indictment indicates that federal agents are
trying to determine whether D'Apice and club employees overcharged
patrons for service, food and beverages; were involved in bringing
women from outside Nevada to engage in prostitution and aided the
distribution of illegal narcotics within the club.