Monday, March 25, 1996 | 11:59 a.m.
SENATE investigators and a "60 Minutes" news crew are giving Joey Cusumano the kind of national publicity a wise guy hates.
The reputed Las Vegas mob figure's presence in a failed 1994 bid to buy the government's troubled Bicycle Club casino in Southern California is making a scene in the nation's capital.
Last week, during a hearing before the Senate Government Affairs subcommittee on permanent investigations, Cusumano's name surfaced as someone who tried to put together the $39 million deal involving two well-known Las Vegans, ex-Tropicana landlord Fred Doumani and topless nightclub owner Rick Rizzolo.
"I don't think Joey was a principal in the deal," says Las Vegas lawyer James Lisowski Sr., one of the whistleblowers on the government's miscues at the Bicycle Club. "I think Joey was trying to be the facilitator for Doumani and Rizzolo."
Cusumano -- listed in Nevada's Black Book of "undesirables" banned from casinos and once considered a top lieutenant of the late Chicago mobster Anthony Spilotro -- is a longtime friend of both Doumani and Rizzolo, the politically connected owner of the Crazy Horse Too.
Testimony at the Senate hearing indicated Cusumano even attended meetings in Las Vegas in which the Doumani-Rizzolo bid was discussed.
At the time, Doumani, prominent in business and social circles here, was under investigation by the criminal arm of the Justice Department in a case linked to organized crime interests. He was later indicted but has since denied any wrongdoing.
Tonight, "60 Minutes" plans to tell the nation more about Cusumano's role as "facilitator" of the aborted 1994 sale in a broadcast unflattering to the government's handling of the crime-infested Bicycle Club. Ed Bradley and his crew have been on the story for weeks.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which took over the Southern California casino six years ago after it was seized in a drug probe, is being criticized for allowing crime to go unchallenged and not carefully watching its business partners.
Lisowski, who was helping the government sell the Bicycle Club in 1994, describes the Marshals Service as the "most inexperienced and naive" group of business people he has ever dealt with.
"They didn't even know basic gaming laws or how to finance a deal," he says.
Also taking heat in Washington is Harry Richard, a handsomely paid former Las Vegas casino executive appointed by a federal judge to look out for the government's interests in the Bicycle Club.
Both Richard and Lisowski, once colleagues at the Bicycle Club, were subpoenaed to testify last week before the Senate subcommittee, chaired by Sen. William Roth, R-Del.
Lisowski blew the story wide open, saying he was amazed at how little the government knew about the Las Vegas bidders.
Investigators now believe that Richard, once general manager of Main Street Station, may have been looking out for more than the government's interests at the Bicycle Club.
He may have been looking out for his own and, at the very least, those of his friends, Doumani, Rizzolo and Cusumano.
Lisowski recalls how Richard, who still lives in Las Vegas, bragged about palling around with Cusumano.
He says Richard told him how the two men often had dinner together, played tennis and hung out at Rizzolo's nightclub.
Cusumano isn't talking.
But his longtime lawyer, Oscar Goodman, says the fuss over Cusumano's role in the would-be Bicycle Club sale is ridiculous.
"A legitimate deal came up and he introduced Richard to people who had the wherewithal to follow through with a legitimate deal," Goodman says. "And because his last name ends in a vowel, they start a federal investigation.
"The problem isn't Joey. The problem is the government doesn't know how to run a business."
Though a finder's fee was being offered by the government, Goodman says Cusumano never intended to get any money out of his efforts behind the scenes.
And Doumani and Rizzolo are on record indicating Cusumano played a miniscule role in the negotiations.
Lisowski, however, recalls a June 1994 meeting in his Las Vegas office in which Richard, Doumani and Cusumano talked about putting in the bid for the casino. He says a mysterious fourth man he didn't recognize sat silently during the discussion.
Cusumano also showed up at his office a couple of other times carrying papers back and forth for Rizzolo, he adds.
And last week, Richard, who managed to escape the scrutiny of Nevada gaming regulators during his tenure in the casino industry here, admitted under oath at the Senate hearing that he once discussed the deal with Rizzolo and Cusumano at the Crazy Horse Too.
If it ever needed it, the friendship between Cusumano and Rizzolo was cemented in October 1990, when Rizzolo took Cusumano into his home after the alleged underworld associate survived an assassination attempt.
As it turns out, Cusumano, is not new to being a facilitator.
Though never charged, he was embroiled in the investigation that led to Doumani's indictment last year.
Doumani and his brother, Ed Doumani, were among those accused of diverting millions from a $34 million court judgment their bankrupt company had won over the 1979 sale of the Tropicana into their own pockets.
Cusumano caught the eye of lawmen in the probe when he tried to muscle the Doumanis' lawyer, Harold Gewerter, into giving him a share of his $5.1 million legal fee for winning the case.
Claiming Gewerter owed him a third of the fee for putting him with the Doumanis, Cusumano even sued the lawyer in court. But a judge tossed the suit.
This time, Cusumano and his friends seem to have lost out again.
Lisowski says the Marshals Service came close to naming Doumani and Rizzolo as the Bicycle Club's buyers, even after it became aware of their backgrounds.
It was prepared to issue a news release until Lisowski suggested they look deeper into the deal.
The strange happenings led Lisowski to conclude the Marshals Service might have been using the Doumani bid, knowing it would never fly, as part of a secret plan to keep the Bicycle Club, which despite its faults, has earned the government $30 million the past six years.
"I think (Doumani) was duped," Lisowski says. "They were using this as a smokescreen so they could hang onto (the club)."
Ultimately, the deal was killed.
Lisowski says federal agents quietly informed a competitor to raise his bid so that it could be selected over the Las Vegas one.
But that offer fell by the wayside.
Today, as it remains at the helm of the Bicycle Club, the Marshals Service is finding out that the price of running a casino is high indeed.
When you're dealing with the likes of Joey Cusumano, that's not very surprising.