Column: Steve Miller

Las Vegas Tribune

July 18, 2001

The "Horse's Ass"

Hard working auto mechanic and wrestling promoter Buffalo Jim Barrier is in a courtroom fight for his life against restaurant owner Renata Schiff and topless club owner Frederick Rizzolo.

If Barrier's humble business stays in its present location, Schiff and Rizzolo reportedly stand to lose millions of dollars. If Schiff and Rizzolo reportedly get their way in court, Barrier may be out of business and broke.

Rizzolo's storefront topless bar, the Crazy Horse Too, is located in a dilapidated warehouse complex in a seedy part of town. The building is owned by former dancer Renata Schiff. Flanking the North and South sides of Rizzolo's 26,000 feet of leased space are the businesses of Buffalo Jim Barrier. Barrier has eight years remaining on his leases for which he pays less than 50 cents per square foot for 13,000 feet of space. Rizzolo pays much higher rent and Schiff is expected to profit greatly if Buffalo moves out and Rizzolo takes over his space.

The problem is that the Crazy Horse is about to lose its main entrance to make way for the long-planned Industrial Road widening project. Rizzolo apparently needs to get rid of Barrier to create a freestanding building and make room for a new entrance and desperately needed parking.

The Crazy Horse recently expanded 6,000 square feet without obtaining permits and additional on-site parking. City Fire Chief Mario Trevino refused to confirm that the bar received an increased maximum occupancy permit, which would have resulted in additional parking requirements. After the expansion, nearby neighbors complained to deaf ears at City Hall that their neighborhood was adversely impacted by overflow parking and accused former Mayor Jan Jones and current Councilman Michael McDonald of doing special favors.

Two new upscale gentleman's clubs are about to open near the Crazy Horse. It is anticipated that if Schiff and Rizzolo can't improve the appearance of - and accessibility to - their aging bar, the new clubs could send the "Horse" to the topless bar "glue factory."

On the South side of the bar is Barrier's Allstate Auto Repair and on the North side is Buffalo Jim's Wrestling School. Barrier has no intention of moving his lackluster but successful businesses for the benefit of Rizzolo's new entrance and parking lot without being bought out at market value.

Therein is the basis for endless litigation; Rizzolo apparently does not want to pay Barrier market value to move! (If this all sounds too familiar, remember how the city misused the eminent domain laws during the Jones administration.)

If Barrier's businesses remain after the road is widened, bar patrons will be forced to enter and exit from the Crazy Horse's rear end. The running joke is that the bar will become known as the "Horse's Ass" when the only entrance is in a rear alley behind Buffalo Jim's funky garage and wrestling school!

But even more bizarre is that the wacky bar owner and his landlady falsely claim that I am masterminding a conspiracy to help Barrier by "embarrassing" Rizzolo's cronies: peroxide blonde Councilman Mike McDonald, and Indian casino promoter Jan Jones.

These two have no problem embarrassing themselves without my help! (Have you seen Mike's newly frosted coiffure, or heard Jan refer to gambling as mere "entertainment?") "Councilman Clairol" even went so far as to describe Rizzolo as a "Pillar of the community" during the SportsParkGate, and Pop Up Church investigations. He made the remark while secretly living in a half-million dollar country club villa that was owned by one of Rizzolo's associates. I disclosed his new digs and he promptly moved out! What is our little town coming to?

It was widely reported in 1999 that then-Mayor Jones and Councilman McDonald were suspected of helping Rizzolo by ordering city workers to harass Barrier in order to make him want to move. Complaints of ongoing harassment by city fire inspectors continue to this day.

I have been covering this fascinating story for the past three years and look forward to reporting future developments unencumbered, though in a fit of obvious paranoia over my truthful reporting, Rizzolo recently filed a spurious racketeering suit against this writer. His perceived basis for a conspiracy theory about me is that my family owns the ground under an upscale gentleman's club and he thinks I want to damage his business. Nonsense!

I believe his real motivation is to try to stop my accurate reporting about his political activities and associates, but most important, to learn who my sources are.

Though his lawyer obviously hasn't read NRS 49.275: the Nevada Shield Law, he will soon learn that reporters have an absolute privilege to keep their sources confidential. As a courtesy, the Tribune's attorneys are prepared to educate him on the subject.

Schiff and Rizzolo's lawsuits were originally assigned to Judge Valerie Vega, but they immediately filed a Peremptory Challenge to remove her. The cases were then assigned to Judge Alan Earl, but Schiff and Rizzolo had the cases reassigned to Judge Nancy M. Saitta.

For good cause, I felt compelled to file a Peremptory Challenge of Judge Saitta to force her removal and replacement. To Schiff and Rizzolo's dismay, the cases have now been randomly assigned to Judge Ron Parraguirre.

I attended a hearing last April to cover a story about Barrier's motion for a Temporary Restraining Order against Rizzolo. He filed the motion alleging witness tampering after two of his key witnesses drastically changed their stories. Judge Saitta dismissed the motion after saying that Rizzolo has a "good name." Then she sanctioned Barrier $4,500 for bringing the action.

Accompanying Rizzolo to that hearing was his close friend Fred Doumani. Mr. Doumani volunteered without being subpoenaed to testify as a friendly witness for Rizzolo against Barrier.

Doumani and Rizzolo are known business associates and share the same attorney. A CBS 60 Minutes segment in 1997 put Doumani and Rizzolo together in a deal to buy the Bicycle Club casino in Southern California. The $39 million deal, which became the subject of a Senate investigation, fell through.

The Las Vegas Tribune has been informed of a possible undisclosed business connection between Fred Doumani and Judge Saitta - a connection that if disclosed would have been grounds for her immediate disqualification before she dismissed Barrier's motion and sanctioned him $4,500.

In February 1991, a lien was filed by Acme Electric Company against a corporation known as Ninety Three Firestone, Inc. The lien names Fred J. Doumani, Jr., and Nancy M. Saitta as parties. The record is on file with the Clark County Recorder.

Based on this public record and additional confidential information, I came to the logical conclusion that Judge Saitta had a blatant conflict of interest and should immediately be disqualified from the cases. Therefore I filed a Peremptory Challenge with the Nevada Supreme Court on July 6, and had her removed and replaced.

What makes this amazing is that any judge with such an obvious appearance of impropriety should have voluntarily recused at the outset without being compelled by one of the parties!

Several days after my Peremptory Challenge was filed and Judge Saitta was removed and replaced, both Schiff and Rizzolo filed motions to Strike my Peremptory Challenge and reinstate Nancy Saitta as (their) judge.

A Motion to Strike a Peremptory Challenge is unprecedented and is creating questions around the courthouse. If Judge Saitta is somehow reinstated, I will have no other choice than to file an emergency writ with the Nevada Supreme Court.

Regarding my columns, news articles, and E-briefings on this subject; calls to Schiff and Rizzolo for comment have all gone unanswered and no demands for retraction have ever been made. Therefore, based on the credibility of my sources I firmly stand behind the veracity of my past and present reports and opinions.

I believe that Schiff and Rizzolo need to take personal responsibility for their actions (and stop blaming others and me) before Industrial Road is widened and their business interests' are narrowed. Barrier would probably have been happy to move by now if he had been treated in a fair and businesslike manner.

Renata Schiff is a successful restaurateur and proprietor of the upscale Renata's Restaurant in Green Valley. She also has a Nevada gaming license. Based on her success in a tough business, she has proven to be a prudent businesswoman. I'm amazed that she has not yet distanced herself from this senseless affair.

Editor's note: The Las Vegas Tribune supports the First Amendment of the Constitution and will not be intimidated. Plan to read much more about the above subject in future editions.

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman and Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner.

He was the author and sponsor of the Las Vegas Ethics in Government Law and was voted the Most Effective Public Official in Southern Nevada.

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