Not every Las Vegas implosion is bad. On Dec. 18, the Crazy Horse Too – a notoriously shady strip club with established ties to old-school gangsters – was imploded by the city after three recent fires, and recently discovered asbestos, rendered it a hazard.
On Feb. 20, 2003, the Crazy Horse Too made its first national headlines when it was raided by 80 agents of the FBI, DEA, IRS and Las Vegas police. It was part of a federal investigation into hidden ownership by organized crime and racketeering, as well as other illegal activity, at the club. Actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and George Clooney – a longtime friend of Crazy Horse Too owner Frederick “Rick” Rizzolo – were interviewed as part of the investigation.
As part of a plea bargain, Rizzolo pleaded guilty to tax evasion and served 10 months of a one-year prison sentence. (In July 2011, a federal judge ordered Rizzolo to spend nine more months behind bars for deceiving his probation officers. And, in October 2017, he was sentenced to two more years in prison for tax evasion.)
Rizzolo was also required to pay $17 million in fines as part of the plea bargain – including $4.2 million to the federal government, $1.7 million to the IRS, and $10 million to Kirk Henry. Henry, a tourist from Kansas City, Kans., alleged that his neck was broken by bouncers in the club’s parking lot over an unpaid $80 bar tab. (Representatives of the club countered that Henry was drunk and fell.)
Rizzolo also agreed to sell the Crazy Horse Too within a year. But his attempts to sell it failed, so it was seized by the US Marshals Service in August 2007. When a public auction held by the federal government failed to produce any bids, the owner of the property’s first deed of trust, Canico Capital Group, was allowed to purchase it for $3 million.
In March 2013, California strip club owner Mike Galam bought the Crazy Horse Too as part of a $5 million, 59 percent take he purchased in Canico. He opened it in May but closed it a year later due to poor attendance and liquor license violations. The club continued to open once a month for eight hours to retain its erotic dance establishment license and land use rights. However, that license was revoked in August 2019, when the building fell into disrepair due to vagrant break-ins.
A History of Bad News
Opened as part of a strip mall constructed in 1972, the Crazy Horse Too is first known to have operated as a discotheque, which featured strippers, called Billy Jo’s. In 1981, the club was purchased by reputed mob figure Tony Albanese, when its owner died of health complications. Albanese renamed the club as the sequel to the Crazy Horse Saloon, another Las Vegas strip club he owned.
Three years later, Albanese disappeared, and his severed head turned up in the desert outside of Needles, Calif.
Rizzolo took over the club in 1984, when it was purchased by his father, Bart Rizzolo. A year later, Rizzolo was charged in the beating of a customer with a baseball bat outside the club. Rick Sandlin suffered permanent brain damage from the incident. Yet Rizzolo, represented by criminal defense attorney and future Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, pleaded no contest and avoided jail time.
In August 1995, a truck driver named Scott Fau died after fighting with four bouncers outside the club. He was found three hours later, near railroad tracks behind the club, and died shortly thereafter. Fau’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the four employees, two of whom died before the case went to trial in 2003. After two days of deliberations, jurors found the bouncers not liable in Fau’s death.
Organized Crime Links
Rizzolo had been linked over the years by the authorities to organized crime figures including Joseph Cusumano, once a reputed lieutenant of slain mob kingpin Anthony Spilotro, the violent Chicago mob’s overseer in Las Vegas whose life informed the Joe Pesci character in the 1995 film Casino.
Among Rizzolo’s employees at the club was Rocco Lombardo, the brother of 85-year-old former Chicago mob boss Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, who worked as a doorman. Another Spilotro associate, disgraced former Las Vegas police officer Joseph Blasko, bartended there for years before his 2002 death. And, in 1999, Rizzolo accompanied another reputed Chicago crime figure, Fred Pascente, when he was arrested at the Las Vegas airport on charges of failing to register as an ex-felon in Nevada.
Also demolished along with the strip club was the former home of Allstate Auto Marine, the car repair shop owned by James “Buffalo Jim” Barrier, a colorful Las Vegas character who once promoted wrestling on his own cable TV show.
From 1984 until 2006, Barrier was embroiled in a feud with Rizzolo, who was his commercial landlord. Rizzolo tried to evict barrier in the late ’90s, so he could expand his business next door. But Barrier refused to leave, and a court ruled that Rizzolo didn’t have grounds for eviction. In 2002, Barrier filed a harassment lawsuit against Rizzolo, claiming the cars at his shop had been vandalized when Barrier parked them outside.
For 10 years, Barrier vengefully served as an informant in the FBI’s case against Rizzolo. As such, regular threats were made on his life. The Las Vegas Weekly reported that, on April 5, 2008, he received a call from an unknown person identifying himself as a hitman, threatening to kill him.
One day later, Barrier, 55, was found dead in a Boulder Highway Motel 6. It was only also only one day after Rizzolo was released following his initial prison sentence. A police investigation determined that Barrier’s death was not a homicide. But few of Barrier’s friends and family members agree to this day. The case inspired an episode of Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries, called “Death in a Vegas Motel,” that premiered in October.
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