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After an organized-crime associate secures free whores, strong cocktails, limo rides and easy profits, the only thing left for him to crave is a hospitable local sheriff.
On the weekend of April 28 and 29, Rizzolo flew into John Wayne Airport and mocked his upcoming 366-day stint in a federal penitentiary. Officials say he threw himself a "Rick's Farewell Party" at the Ritz near Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Restaurant employees donned police uniforms or inmate jumpsuits, held toy machine guns and handed out handcuffs, according to sources. Rizzolo even constructed a mock jail cell to provide a comedic photographic backdrop for the estimated 200 partygoers.
"If you think THIS is a party, just wait until I get out!" was written on the special barbecue menu that included "Jumbo Kosher Hot Dog," "The RITZ Burger" and "Jumbo Chili Dog."
The affair may have also amused Sheriff Mike Carona. Our top cop presides over the second-largest sheriff's department in California, but he accepted a re-election contribution from Rizzolo in the 2006 campaign. He returned the money after an embarrassing news article. Ironically, the two men have previously partied together inside the Ritz.
Indeed, Carona—a politician who likes to appear on televangelist broadcasts professing his Christian faith—first denied knowing Rizzolo. But the man who has an organized-crime bureau in his $660 million-per-year department changed his story after the Weekly published a photo of Rizzolo embracing the smiling sheriff. Reports about the Vegas businessman's underworld connections—documented in both FBI reports and media accounts for years—were unfounded rumors, Carona claimed.
The swank Ritz is owned by Vegas' Freddie Glusman, a Rizzolo pal who brags about his Mafia connections and was appointed a reserve Orange County sheriff's deputy by Carona. Glusman is also one of the sheriff's campaign contributors. Two years ago, Glusman resigned from the department after he was caught trying to use his official badge to illegally park before a dinner date.
In January, Rizzolo—who owns a 3,700-square-foot Newport Beach mansion—pleaded guilty to racketeering and income-tax evasion in exchange for the Department of Justice dropping probes into other questionable matters. A federal judge sentenced him to a year and one day in prison. Rizzolo won the delay of his incarceration for several months to sell his mobbed-up Crazy Horse Too nightclub, as part of the punishment.
It's unlikely that U.S. Federal Court Chief Judge Philip M. Pro thought Rizzolo would use part of the five-month delay from prison to mock the criminal-justice system.
On May 7, Steven W. Myhre, the acting U.S. attorney in Las Vegas, informed Pro about Rizzolo's Newport Beach bash.
"The defendant does not appear to appreciate the significance of the court's sentence and seriousness of his conduct forming the underlying basis for his prison sentence," wrote Myhre. "[Rizzolo's] attitude that his prison sentence is somehow a joke is further demonstrated in his request to this court for an [additional] extension of his surrender date. . . . The time has come for the defendant to accept the consequences of his conduct leading to his felony conviction."
In court documents filed in Nevada, Rizzolo admitted there had been a Newport Beach party but denied it was intended to mock authorities. No one, he said, is taking his upcoming incarceration "more seriously" than he is.
"The party came as a complete surprise to Rizzolo," Anthony P. Sgro, Rizzolo's defense lawyer, told the judge on May 11. "The Defendant had believed that he was going out to dinner when he arrived at the surprise party thrown in his honor. The actions of Defendant's friends and family in an attempt to cheer Defendant up and show him how much he means to them does not reflect on Defendant's beliefs at all. He understands the severity and the seriousness of both the sentence that he will serve and the seriousness of the underlying charges."
Pro wasn't swayed. He ordered Rizzolo to surrender to the federal Bureau of Prisons on May 22.
John L. Smith, a mob expert at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has reported that Rizzolo's nightclub staff included Vinny Faraci, son of Bonanno crime-family capo Johnny Faraci, as well as Rocco Lombardo, the brother of legendary mob boss/hitman Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, who is tied to at least 18 grisly murders.
Smith has also documented the cozy relationship between Rizzolo and numerous mobsters such as Lombardo, Joey Cusumano, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Joe "The Builder" Andriacchi, Fred Pascente and the late Joe Blasko, a cop turned mobster. In 2005, the veteran columnist obtained FBI evidence that placed Rizzolo at a Chicago restaurant table in May 1999 with numerous gangsters, including Lombardo. According to the records, the men discussed ways to infiltrate gambling enterprises.
"With new friends like Freddie Glusman and Rick Rizzolo, Orange County needs no enemies," he told the Weekly. "Let's hope they don't end up corrupting your county's leaders as they have so efficiently done in Sin City."