Casinos Checked Out Babbitt
@deck:His Denials of Gambling Don't Fit Record
@body:Four Las Vegas casinos ran credit checks on Bruce Babbitt in 1976, when as Arizona attorney general he is said to have run up substantial gambling debts, a previously undisclosed grand jury transcript and a report by the Arizona Attorney General's Office reveal.
The checks by the casinos to establish credit limits came at a time when Mr. Babbitt, now interior secretary and a leading contender for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, said he had never been involved in gambling and had never been in the Nevada casinos.
George Weisz, an investigator for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, testified to a state grand jury in 1990 that the Babbitt credit checks were made by the Dunes Hotel, the Marina Hotel, the MGM Grand (now Bally's) and Caesar's Palace.
The Dunes made a follow-up check in 1986.
Mr. Weisz's testimony was part of an investigation by state officials into the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles and whether it was linked to Arizona greyhound racing interests.
Mr. Babbitt was accused of taking a mob payoff to settle large gambling debts--as much as $149,000--while Emprise Corp., a New York company convicted under federal racketeering laws, was required to divest its racing holdings in the state.
The grand jury testimony and state report demonstrate that law enforcement authorities were continuing as late as 1990 to investigate gambling accusations that Mr. Babbitt says were settled in his favor 13 years earlier.
It was not clear yesterday why the state probe continued into 1990 or where it stands today. Mr. Babbitt has said a 1977 FBI inquiry established that the allegations were "nonsense."
Mr. Babbitt, who later served two terms as Arizona's governor, told the FBI in May 1977 that the charges were a "lie," his gambling activities consisted only of "penny-ante poker in high school" and he had never visited the casinos.
Mary Helen Thompson, spokeswoman for Mr. Babbitt, did not return calls to her office yesterday for comment. On Monday, she said it was "premature" to discuss any allegations "since there is no nomination at this time."
The White House yesterday described the accusations as "old stuff." Spokesman Mark Gearan said they "have all been reported with little substantiation in the past."
But Kent Clifford, former head of the Las Vegas Metro Police intelligence unit, said yesterday his office investigated the matter in 1982 and confirmed that Mr. Babbitt had gambled several times at the Dunes Hotel. He said his agents watched Mr. Babbitt at the casino on "two or three occasions," and the former governor went to the casino every six to nine months" between 1979 and 1982.
Mr. Clifford, now a real estate executive, said his agents never learned that Mr. Babbitt had done anything illegal, but they were told Mr. Babbitt had outstanding gambling debts that eventually were paid off.
"We were told he had markers at the Dunes, but we didn't pursue it because we couldn't show he had done anything illegal." Mr. Clifford said. "But he was there."
Mr. Clifford's comments contradict Mr. Babbitt's public statements in 1986, when he repeated his comments to the FBI in 1977 that he had never been in the casinos.
Mr. Clifford said the Babbitt inquiry began after his officers received information "from the Dunes casino" that the former governor had gambling markers, or IOUs. He said the information was kept in an informal file and later destroyed because officers could not prove that any crimes had occurred.
The former Las Vegas police official also confirmed that U.S. Senate investigators questioned him after Mr. Babbitt's nomination as interior secretary about his gambling activities.
Capitol Hill sources said Republicans on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which held confirmation hearings on the nomination, were told about the allegations, including investigative reports and court records, but did not act on them.
The gambling losses also were examined in 1989 by the special investigations and intelligence division of the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The board told Arizona investigators in March 1989 that the Babbitt credit checks had been made, but records confirming them could not be located.
Ron Hollis, former chief of the Gaming Control Board investigations division, was quoted as saying none of the credit inquiries included a social security number or date of birth. As a result, he said, there was no way to prove that the credit inquiries concerning a "Bruce Babbitt" referred to the Arizona governor.
However, Mr. Hollis told investigators, "When casinos make credit inquiries about celebrities or prominent people, as a courtesy often positive identifiers will be omitted from the inquiry to allow the subject of the inquiry to deny gambling activity."
The Arizona Attorney General's Office also said Mr. Hollis had talked with a Las Vegas private investigator who said Dunes employee Ash Resnick, a suspected mob figure, had offered to give investigators Mr. Babbitt's gambling markers for a fee. Mr. Resnick, who worked as a vice president for the Dunes Casino, died shortly after the April 1989 report.
Mr. Resnick, 72, had worked at a number of Las Vegas casinos. At the Dunes he was responsible for organizing junkets, authorizing credit to players and collecting gambling debts, the report said.
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Mr. Hollis has retired and was not available yesterday for comment.
The charges against Mr. Babbitt came to light in early 1977, and an FBI investigation began in May 1977. After the eight-week investigation, which did not include interviews with several potential witnesses, authorities concluded that the allegations could not be substantiated.
Mr. Babbitt's involvement in gambling debts was mentioned in a November 1986 tape recording that surfaced during the Bolles probe. In the Phoenix police tape, Keith Nation, an undercover informant, is told by Leo Lane, a Colorado man tied in Arizona's greyhound racing industry, that Mr. Babbitt had received a mob payoff.
In the grand jury transcript, Mr. Weisz, who could not be reached yesterday for comment, confirmed that Mr. Lane is heard saying Mr. Babbitt got $45,000 in cash. A January 1986 report by Mr. Weisz quoted Mr. Lane on the tape as saying the "money is a payoff."
The payoff, according to the transcript, dealt with a decision by Arizona legislators to order Emprise Corp. of Buffalo, N.Y., to sell its stake in six Arizona dog tracks. The order was entered after the company was found guilty of conspiring to hide mob interests in a Las Vegas casino in which it held a partnership.