Monday, Feb. 26, 2001 | 11:08 a.m.
Flamboyant gambling entrepreneur Bob Stupak's plan to sell a collection of small motels and a wedding chapel on Las Vegas Boulevard has led to a flurry of litigation over allegedly defaulted payments and even the ownership of reputed "moon rocks."
Stupak quietly sold the former 297-room Thunderbird property in October 1999 for $5.35 million to Douglas DaSilva, a Las Vegas businessman. Stupak's property included the 93-room Thunderbird Hotel, the 156-room Thunder Inn motel, the 48-room Viva Las Vegas Villas motel and the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel -- formerly known as the Mission of the Bells Wedding Chapel.
DaSilva, who sold the chapel and the 48-room property in July, is now the subject of two lawsuits filed since January by Stupak and his company, Thunderbird Hotel Corp., to recover a $2.1 million payment that Stupak's attorney, James Jimmerson, said is the balance owed for the Thunder Inn.
But DaSilva disputed Stupak's claims, saying: "Stupak didn't sell us the title to the property (Thunder Inn) free and clear of liens, so we're not paying him the $2.1 million."
Stupak's attempt to foreclose on the Thunder Inn -- which he said is collateral for the $2.1 million payment -- was temporarily blocked by a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in October of by Thunder Inn's owner, Thunderbird Hotel Management Corp, a DaSilva company.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Jones dismissed the bankruptcy filing on Jan. 19, after a DaSilva company complied with bankruptcy trustee Linda Ekstrom Stanley's demands on Dec. 6 to file monthly operating reports for October through December 2000 and to pay a $2,000 trustees' fee.
In bankruptcy papers, DaSilva said he also had a dispute with Stupak over a liquor license for the Thunder Hotel.
"DaSilva bought the rights to use the liquor license during the sale but Stupak pulled it and put it on an inactive status so that DaSilva could not use it because of (Stupak's) claim on the $2 million," said David Winterton, DaSilva's attorney.
"This liquor license dispute hasn't been resolved but we are no longer seeking protection under the Bankruptcy code but seeking remedies through the state District Court," he said.
But Jimmerson disagreed. "DaSilva failed to protect the liquor license by failing to provide the needed financial records to Stupak."
Stupak renewed his efforts to foreclose on the Thunder Inn by suing on Feb. 7 to appoint a receiver to "secure the rents, issues and profits generated by the Thunder Inn."
A hearing is scheduled for today on that suit.
Meanwhile, John McMillan, another Stupak attorney, said in a Feb. 14 affidavit that Stupak's pursuit for payment has created a "substantial amount of hostility between (him) and DaSilva," which is reflected in their dispute over a safe and its contents.
Stupak won an order on Feb. 15 to recover the safe and its contents after suing DaSilva for allegedly refusing to allow him "peaceful entry" into the Thunderbird Hotel to retrieve his property.
Court documents say the safe's contents include "$3 million face value in gaming tokens with a market value of $100, three sets of floppy discs, a trophy and several plaques."
DaSilva said in court papers the tokens were from Stupak's old Vegas World hotel-casino, which he replaced with what is now the Stratosphere hotel-casino.
DaSilva said the trophy had a "plexiglass face containing four peppercorn-sized moon rocks and covering a miniature flag of the Republic of Nicaragua."
Plaques on the trophy indicated it had been presented to Nicaragua by President Richard Nixon and that Nicauragua's flag had been flown to the moon and back in 1969 by the crew of Apollo 11, which also brought the "moon rocks" back to earth -- some of which were presented to Nicaragua after the first manned lunar landing.
DaSilva, who claims the safe's contents are "worth millions," may still try to recover the contents, Winterton said.
DaSilva claims the safe and its contents belonged to him because Stupak failed to remove his personal items "prior to the close of escrow" in July and even after he was allegedly given a 30-day extension to Sep. 23.
"If the personal items have not been removed (by July 2000,) it will be deemed the property of the buyer," DaSilva said, citing a purchase agreement.
But Jimmerson disputed DaSilva's claims. "DaSilva precluded us entry to the safe because he's unhappy about being pressed for payment of the $2.1 million. The safe's contents are unremarkable, but they are important to Stupak."
Stupak couldn't be reached for comment on why he sold the Thunderbird properties and how he came in possession of the alleged Nicaraguan plaques and moon rocks -- and Jimmerson said he didn't know.
Meanwhile, DaSilva said he spent more than $500,000 stripping his Thunderbird Hotel of all its Southwestern trappings except for its name, which he says has "value worldwide," and contemporizing its decor. He said he began renovating the hotel about six months ago and expects to complete the $1 million project by mid-2001.
"The Southwestern look is somewhat passe. We've completely changed to a more contemporary look to improve the quality of the hotel," he said. "When we first got the property, the clientele were of a somewhat unsavory nature, but we've cleaned up the place."
The Thunderbird Hotel, which used to lease space to Las Vegas slot route operator Southwest Gaming when it was owned by Stupak, currently doesn't have any gaming operations because its lounge isn't opened yet. DaSilva said he plans to renew the lease once the lounge is opened.
A 200-seat showroom featuring dinner theater reviews is scheduled to be completed by April. Once renovations are completed, the Thunderbird's room rates will jump to $200 a night from the current average of $69-$99 a night, he said.
DaSilva is also in a legal fight with the new owner of the 48-room Viva Las Vegas Villas and the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel. He said he sold the properties to DeCar Enterprises Inc. for $2.5 million.
But Viva Las Vegas Themed Weddings Inc., which is owned by DeCar Enterprises, sued DaSilva and Thunderbird Hotel Management in September, alleging they reneged on an agreement to pay $400,000 for repairs.
DaSilva disputed DeCar's claims. "Viva Las Vegas had until June 1, 2000 to close (escrow) but it failed to close in a timely manner. There is no extension of time and no further terms to sell under the contract in Viva Las Vegas' complaint," his company said in a court filing.
Ron DeCar also known as Ron Pokrywka, the owner of DeCar Enterprises, disputed Da Silva's claims. "The closing had nothing to do with me. I turned in everything on time. DaSilva told me the escrow closing was being held up by Bob Stupak and that's because of the many liens against the chapel and the 48-room property."
"I'm still paying part of the utility bills for the Thunder Inn. Our utilities are tied together because of the way the buildings were constructed. $250,000 was set aside supposedly to separate utilities when I bought the chapel," he said.
A hearing on Thunderbird's request to dismiss Viva Las Vegas' suit is scheduled for March 12.