Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2014

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Feds want to muzzle claim of agent behaving badly

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Sam Morris

Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ran an undercover drug and weapons investigation from Hustler Tattoo shop on Highland Drive.

Federal prosecutors are mounting an 11th-hour attempt to stop a hearing about alleged government misconduct.

The hearing, which could undermine a criminal weapons case tied to an undercover sting at a local tattoo parlor, is slated for this morning.

Prosecutors filed court papers Tuesday arguing that the hearing will turn into a “three-ring circus” if defense attorneys are allowed to hash out “irrelevant, immaterial and scandalous allegations.”

Defense attorneys say that the government’s own videotapes show its lead undercover agent smoking marijuana while alone in the storefront at the now-closed Hustler Tattoo shop. The lawyers also have accused the agent of using racial slurs during the investigation, a charge the government denies.

Prosecutors contend the marijuana and any other substances ingested by Agent Peter McCarthy, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were fake.

Charlie Fuller, executive director of the Georgia-based International Association of Undercover Officers, has provided a letter for the court record stating that he supplied the ATF with a quarter-ounce of the phony marijuana, “Wizard Weed,” which he says he had purchased from an established online smoke shop.

The substance smells like marijuana when it is smoked, but does not have its main chemical ingredient, THC, Fuller says in the letter.

“This product is used by many undercover officers from all over the United States as a legitimate and very effective undercover prop,” he explains.

Fuller also provided the results of lab tests done by the Honolulu Police Department that show the “vegetable matter” is not marijuana and does not contain THC.

Defense attorneys hope to get a chance to question Fuller and one of the undercover ATF agents who worked with McCarthy in federal court this morning.

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Former City Councilman Michael McDonald can’t escape his past ties to the topless club business.

McDonald, who has been out of office since 2003, recently asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination at a deposition in a civil lawsuit involving former Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo.

Attorney Don Campbell confirmed Wednesday that McDonald ducked questions several weeks ago when Campbell pressed him about his dealings with Rizzolo, a felon the government forced out of the strip club business in 2007. Campbell represents Kirk Henry, a Kansas City area man trying to collect a $9 million judgment from Rizzolo as a result of a fight outside the Crazy Horse Too that left Henry paralyzed.

McDonald could not be reached for comment, but perhaps he didn’t want to answer questions under oath from Campbell, a former federal prosecutor, because of the scrutiny he has received from the government over the years.

His name surfaced in a federal corruption investigation that ended up sending four county commissioners and his good friend, former topless club owner Michael Galardi, to prison. And in July 2007, a federal grand jury heard evidence in a criminal tax probe of McDonald. He has not been charged, however.

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A former Nellis Cab Co. driver has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit that is sure to attract the attention of industry leaders and regulators.

Adrian Niculescu, who spent four years at Nellis Cab, alleges that he was fired July 14 in part because he refused to follow an unofficial company practice of long-hauling passengers to McCarran International Airport.

Long-hauling, which is against state law, enables drivers, and in turn their companies, to earn more money by running up the meter on unsuspecting passengers. Cabbies picking up tourists on the Strip will sometimes take the long route by traveling on I-15 South to the airport tunnel off I-215, rather than the direct route through street traffic.

Niculescu should find himself popular with Nevada Taxicab Authority investigators. Cracking down on long-hauling within the industry traditionally has given investigators fits because the practice usually is accompanied by a code of silence.

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