Violations of the RICO laws can be alleged in civil lawsuits or with criminal charges against individuals or corporations that retaliate against those working with law enforcement. Charges also can be brought against individuals or corporations that have sued or filed criminal charges against another person or corporation. No doubt Harvey Whittemore is using RICO as his strongest defense against his former partners, the Seeno brothers.
Last week, the Seeno brothers sued Whittemore for misusing corporate funds from 2007 through 2009. Whittemore retaliated and filed a suit against the Seeno brothers, claiming they are guilty of extortion, fraud and racketeering. So what’s the problem? According to news reports, the Seenos have witnesses who will testify that Whittemore admitted he misused the corporate funds but he doesn’t want to return the money.
The Seenos had loaned Whittemore approximately $20 million over the years and wanted some of their money back. They allegedly tried to force Whittemore to give them some of his assets to satisfy the terms of the loan. That sounds reasonable. However, according to Whittemore, they had the nerve and audacity to threaten the Nevada political kingmaker and lobbyist with physical violence to get his attention; but to no avail. Harvey wasn’t budging. Although, Albert Seeno did get Harvey’s attention when he said he would personally bring down every member of the political “machine” in Nevada. I wonder what he knows and we don’t about Mr. Whittemore’s lobbying practices. We could soon find out.
Whittemore claims a “large, very ominous and burly man” went to his house, made him open his safe and took everything out of it. Wow! I wonder what Harvey was doing while that burglary was going on. How did the man threaten him? Did he hold a gun to Harvey’s head? Did Harvey get a weapon or attempt to protect his property? Did he struggle and refuse to open the safe for the burglar? After the alleged burglary, did Harvey call 9-1-1? Did he file a police report? Did he do anything to document and prove his allegation? Or is this claim a feeble attempt to save face, preserving his political power in the state?
This is not the first racketeering case in northern Nevada. In 1999, John Ascuaga’s Nugget was fined $250,000 by the Nevada Gaming Control Board to settle a state complaint that it accepted almost $2 million in illegal messenger sports betting over six football seasons. A messenger bettor is someone who is paid to place a race or sports book wager for someone else. Every week during football season, the Nugget paid travel, lodging and meals for a husband and wife team to shuttle hundreds of football parlay cards — on which bettors pick the winners of at least three games — from the Nugget to San Jose, Calif. and back. During that time, the Nugget accepted more than $1.95 million in football parlay card cash wagers from the bettors, whom the Nugget knew were messenger bettors.
Rather than admitting to violating the RICO Act, the Nugget claimed it was just a “bad business decision.” Whittemore’s choice to file a suit against the Seeno brothers might also be a bad business decision. The courts aren’t necessarily a safe place for people to blow the whistle on racketeering, extortion and fraud. No doubt both Whittemore and the Seenos will come out hurling accusations at each other if this goes to trial, not to mention the politicians and others who might get dragged into the mud along with them.
And who knows how messy things will get outside the courtroom. After all, this is Nevada.
David Farside is a Sparks resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.