By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
While Robertson can dismiss the demand for a mortgage company and an escrow as nothing more than "a scheme to launder the money," that is certainly not the reaction undercover detective Berentz had.
Leaving an easily traced paper trail through a legal mortgage company was not what the undercover cop had in mind. He wanted Corbet to commit to passing the 15 percent under the table. When Corbet proposed the mortgage company route for the entire transaction, detective Berentz quickly tried to derail the idea.
"Well, what I thought is we'll--what we'll do is put the--put the package in as we initially talked about without the increase [15 percent], right?" responded undercover detective Berentz.
Corbet's final word on the loan was that it had to proceed through a mortgage company. Leo Corbet served in the state Senate from 1970 to 1982, the last two terms as Senate president. His legislative pay in that twelve-year period averaged $7,500 a year. In 1982 the Republican leadership persuaded Corbet to offer himself as the GOP's candidate for governor. Following a disastrous campaign, Corbet was a candidate for the poorhouse.
A powerful politician who wasn't greasy enough to line up a second career when he had real clout, Corbet found himself hustling real estate in 1987, five years after he'd left public life. Just because Corbet was broke and competing with several thousand bored housewives around the state who also had real estate licenses is no reason to feel sorry for the guy. But it does help you understand the sort of ring-a-ding-ding torment Corbet went through when the attorney general's undercover boys said, "Leo, baby, we're going to make you a millionaire. Several times over. Oh, by the way, would you mind signing this little ol' document?"
Sign a document? Hell, Leo Corbet went cash simple; he'd have signed a pool contract, bought encyclopedias sold door-to-door, converted to Buddhism, danced the Watusi. It didn't matter. Leo Corbet was going to be a millionaire.
"Lotta people walk around saying, `Well, I'm not greedy. I'm not greedy.'
"Well, bullshit. I am greedy," admitted Corbet on the tapes. "But I am not stupid at the same time . . . ," a matter of some debate.
That was on February 20, 1987. Within 24 hours, by the meeting on February 21, Corbet had come to his senses.
In the winter of '87, the attorney general had opened up a storefront operation with con man Howard Woodall, a notorious scam artist recently out of prison. The authorities put the word out that Woodall had Teamster money to lend. It came with strings attached, in the form of kickbacks.
In a recent interview, Corbet said that going into the first meeting he had no idea about Woodall's background or that the pension fund required kickbacks.
What Corbet did have was a golden investment opportunity and a credit background that frightened conventional loan sources like banks.
Corbet knew about a parcel of land in the boom town of Laughlin, Nevada, that fronted on the Colorado River. Zoned for gambling casinos, that dirt was appraised at over $20 million. The elderly owner wanted cash, however, not a ten-year note. In return for cash, the owner would drop the price to $13 million.
Con man Woodall and undercover cop Berentz said that based upon a $21 million appraisal, the Teamsters could loan around $18 million. With $13 million going to the landowner, $5 million would be split among Woodall, Berentz, Corbet, and the Teamsters in fees and points. (Nowhere is there a call for a "kickback.") What's more, the Teamsters would carry the loan for five years. In that amount of time, Corbet expected the land to double in value as the Vegas casinos moved into Laughlin.
Corbet could hardly believe his ears. Not only would he make a multimillion-dollar commission on the front side of the deal, he might get to make a bigger killing on the back side.
Woodall and Berentz had even more to offer. Every time Corbet came down to earth, one or the other would attempt to seduce him further. At one point, the cop tried to convince Corbet to think in terms of building his own casino.
Berentz: "You'd do the first loan to get the property and then put a package together for your hotel-casino. We'll go back and resubmit it [to the Teamsters]. You know, you got five years to get that ready, consolidate the loans themselves, rework the whole thing and you're in like Flynn . . . so what we need to do is if you wanna do the casino . . . get your master plan put together and we can go in and redo it."
Corbet: "Well, I . . . "
Berentz: "We'll call it LEO'S PLACE."
Corbet: "No. Screw that."
Woodall and Berentz did more than just keep visions of sugarplums dancing in Corbet's head. Whenever Corbet moved in a direction that would keep the deal kosher, one or the other took Corbet by the hand and led him to Donkey Island. For example, at one point, Corbet wanted to run the deal past an attorney who would clearly have insisted upon the straight and narrow:
Corbet: "It's just that this guy I trust with anything I've got. He's former president of the State Bar and he's an experienced son of a bitch . . . "