The Carefully Crafted Image of Janet
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
July 28, 2003
Bob Stupak Janet Moncrief (REVIEW-JOURNAL FILE PHOTO)
She was catapulted into office by a two thirds margin because her predecessor was under federal investigation for ties to organized crime. After her landslide victory June 3, and her swearing in two weeks later as Sin City's newest Councilwoman, still nobody in town new anything about the mystery woman they just elected other than she was a trauma nurse turned upstart politician; had never voted in her life; had just moved into the city; and was the lesser of two evils. Few knew that she also entered office with a dark secret.
Bob Stupak was one of my closest friends for over twenty years. Stupak was the developer of the Stratosphere Tower on the Las Vegas Strip - the tallest structure west of the Mississippi, so hearing of another far-fetched scheme from Bob was of no surprise. However another surprise, one I could not foresee, a surprise that would end our two decade long friendship was in the works.
In September 2002, Bob called to invite me to fly to Bakersfield to see a prize fight featuring a boxer he sponsored. Bob's girlfriend accompanied us. At the match, Stupak was surrounded by reporters and cameras because of his celebrity status. In the meantime I got to know Janet Moncrief.
She was a charming 44 year old nurse who worked in the E.R. of a Vegas hospital, the same E.R. that received Stupak in 1995 following a horrendous motorcycle accident that almost took his life. Janet was part of the team that saved him. I liked her. Bob lovingly referred to her as his "Angel of mercy," and it was obvious that he had fallen in love. I was also truly touched because I was there when he was ready to be pronounced dead and then made a miraculous recovery, a recovery that came with the help of the best critical care team in the West, a team that included Janet.
I didn't talk to Bob or Janet for some time following our trip, then in early March of this year Bob called me at home. He asked if I would like to go back to work at City Hall. I replied that I had given up on the idea after losing several elections for my old council seat. He said he had an idea that would put me back on the tenth floor of City Hall as an appointed official. I became all ears because I always wanted to resume my career in public service. Then, I was asked a favor.
Within a few moments I realized that my motivation to return to public service and that of Bob's were quite different. I wanted to help my community, but Bob had another agenda - revenge. Bob told me that my placement in an office next to Mayor Oscar Goodman would be his perfect pay back for something that happened to him in 2000.
Several years ago, Bob told me about having problems with an idea for an Internet gambling site called VegasOne.com. He wanted to use the city seal and advertise it as the official City of Las Vegas gambling website. He would pay the city for the use of its name and seal and said Goodman agreed to support his idea. Then at the last minute, Goodman abstained supposedly because his law firm once represented Stupak. The project was voted down. Goodman was the swing vote, but his purported conflict did not legally rise to the level to warrant abstention, just full disclosure at the public hearing. I recall Bob telling me he believed Goodman lied to him; abstained to cause the project to fail; then stole the project to give to one of his cronies. Now, three years later, Bob was itching to get even.
"I'm going to run my girlfriend for City Council. I'll spend as much as it takes to get her elected, but she'll need your help. In exchange, I'll pay you $25,000 for helping to run her campaign, and after the election you'll become her assistant." Are you in?"
I replied, "What does a nurse know about city government?" Bob said, "Nothing, that's why you'll be her assistant." He went on to say he was going to marry her and they plan to travel extensively during the next several years. He said she would fly back for council meetings, but while she was away, and that would be often, I would handle her day to day routine in city hall and brief her about important items on the council agenda.
Janet also repeatedly made me the same offer including the $25,000 fee for my services during the campaign.
Bob said my daily presence in Janet's council office would give Goodman a heart attack. I replied that my being there could be a blessing in disguise for Oscar and the city, that I know more about Vegas than he does and I could help him fulfill his dreams for the city since he and I agree on many subjects including the redevelopment of Downtown. Bob said it wasn't that easy, that Goodman despised me and would do everything to stop my being appointed. Nonetheless, he then said my expertise would make Janet the most powerful member of the council, to Oscar's dismay, and that Oscar would work to prevent my eyes and ears being near his office at any cost. That was Bob's plan, to drive Oscar Goodman crazy.
Goodman in 1999, was spotted entertaining Charles Panarella at city hall. Panarella who is listed in the state's Black Book is reportedly a member of the Colombo crime family and was convicted nine years ago on drug money laundering that involved a Vegas casino. If the Mayor of Las Vegas is routinely entertaining such folks in his city hall office, I would certainly pay attention if I were in the next office per Stupak's plan, but conversely if Goodman had nothing to hide, I knew I would be his best ally, this to Stupak's dismay. I found the offer too intriguing to turn down.
Over the next four months I worked day and night on the Moncrief for Councilcampaign writing most of her material and coaching her on a daily basis. In the meantime, rumors began to fly that I was behind her campaign and would join her at city hall if she was elected. The powers behind Goodman began to take notice, and Stupak asked me to go further undercover.
At the outset, Bob had told me he did not want Janet to go negative in any way, that she should ride into office on a "white horse." He asked if I knew someone who lived in the district who could be a "stalking horse" to expose the incumbent's weaknesses. Bob offered to pay up to $50,000 to finance such a person's campaign. I suggested a man named Peter "Chris" Christoff, a well known community activist. Christoff accepted, filed for office, and I began secretly authoring a series of mailers for him that told of Mike McDonald's alleged connections to organized crime. Bob paid cash to local printer Jerry Wolkon to produce and mail the Christoff hit pieces. They did the trick. After each one, the polls showed McDonald losing points and Moncrief gaining. The race heated up especially after Janet declared she had spent only ten percent of what McDonald spent to make it into the general election.
Soon, McDonald received the endorsement of all the local unions and he started rebounding in the polls. Janet was devastated. In response she personally came up with a scheme to turn his good fortune around, a scheme that would put her in harm's way but she didn't seen to care.
I received a call from an ad agency in California asking me to scan and e-mail high resolution copies of McDonald's most recent four-color mailer with his image, logo, and campaign headquarters' address. I reluctantly complied. Then I received another e-mail containing the verbiage to be used on a new mailer. It was for me to edit for spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors.
"If we Republicans get out and vote, we can put an end to union domination in local politics. Vote No to unions! Vote No to Democrats! Vote Yes to Michael McDonald!" The mailer listed "Republicans for Good Government" as the sender with McDonald's return address. There is no such PAC.
I called Janet to protest. She said the mailer would be mailed to Democrats and union members with first-class postage from out of state to avoid detection. I told her that to do so would be a horrible and potentially illegal mistake. She discounted my advice. That's when I should have quit, but I felt the end justified the means so I edited the copy and sent it back. I wanted to rid our city of a corrupt politician, and I wanted to return to city hall to continue my work. However, I continued to protest her tactic to Bob and Janet's campaign manager Tony Dane. I was not aware my protests were tearing a rift in my relationship with both Bob and Janet.
Following the anti-union mailer, McDonald's campaign manager Jim Ferrence filed an unfair election practices complaint with the Secretary of State. In the complaint he accused me of being behind the falsely addressed anti-union mailer. George Knapp of KLAS TV News called to ask if it was true? I denied having anything to do with the mailer and went so far as to threaten Knapp with a lawsuit if he mentioned my name in association with Moncrief's campaign. He didn't, but my empty threat caused me to be tagged a "liar" after the election. A month later, Janet put out another false mailer using McDonald's return address, this time without my knowledge. This mailer was meant to immunize her from last minute accusations that she had once been arrested for D.U.I.. I continued to ghost write her positive mailers along with the Christoff hit pieces, in addition to coaching her for public appearances.
Moncrief breezed into office. Her anti-union mailer hit home with Democrats and union members who previously supported McDonald. She became our town's newest sensation, but unbeknownst to me there was a price on my head. Oscar's minions were burning the midnight oil trying to find a way to keep me from ever returning to city hall, and to find out how much that would cost? An emissary with a checkbook was dispatched to meet with Bob Stupak.
On June 9, John L. Smith reported in the Las Vegas Review Journal that Moncrief had hired Oscar's campaign manager Tom Letizia onto her "transition team." I had warned Janet to avoid all of Oscar's cronies during the campaign and she had agreed she would. I also told her that persons associated with Rick Rizzolo would most likely try to befriend her, and Letizia is Rizzolo's PR man. I explained that Rizzolo who is under federal investigation for alleged ties to organized crime, needs the city to take out a long term leasehold through eminent domain so he can expand his topless bar, and for that to happen he would need her help as the councilperson for the ward in which his business is located.
On Sunday, June 15, I received a call from Bob Stupak. It was three days before Janet was to be sworn in. He said that Letizia had approached him and was promising to raise $700,000 for Janet at a July 2, fundraiser at a golf course owned by Billy Walters. I had often warned Janet to also stay away from Walters who was three times indicted for money laundering. Now Bob was bragging that these men were about to raise a fortune for his girlfriend. It sounded too much to me like he was pimping her out. I angrily told him that I could not be associated with him or Janet if she became involved with such people.
Bob told me it was like a poker game, that he had an ace up his sleeve. He said he was going to take their money, then double cross them and have me march into city hall with Moncrief. For the first time, I didn't believe him. I told him nobody gets away with double crossing the Mob, and several of the his new friends were connected. He laughed.
I became more angry and told him that he and Janet had broken numerous laws in the way they conducted her campaign. That I could not just sit back and see her being bought by our local Mob, and that I would have to take action if she was. He ask me to hold off until after the fundraiser. I replied that it was Christoff that wanted take legal action because Janet had double crossed him and I. I also reminded Bob that she had only declared a fraction of her campaign contributions and expenses. Hearing this, Bob made his biggest mistake.
"How much does Christoff want," asked Stupak? I relayed his remark to Chris who immediately met with his attorney. That evening Chris presented me with his addendum to Jim Ferrence's complaint; a document that affirmed most of Ferrence's accusations.
The next day Christoff met with Bob and Janet at the Cafe Bellagio. He gave them a last chance to reconsider their decision to collaborate with their new friends. They refused. That evening, Christoff filed his complaint. I followed the next day with one of my own. Several others complaints followed, along with affidavits from witnesses. The Secretary of State took the matter under advisement.
Moncrief's fundraiser went on as scheduled at Walter's country club and was reportedly attended by folks I write about each week on these pages.
I feel totally betrayed, duped, and completely responsible for my actions. Never in Nevada history has anyone been elected to public office under such a cloud. I'm ashamed of being involved in her campaign and publicly apologize to the citizens of my town, however I had to tell the truth about my involvement or forever carry guilt for blindly replacing one corrupt elected official with another. Instead of protecting her from scoundrels as was my intent, I'm now obligated because of an error in judgment to expose her each time she attempts to do favors for those who discovered her price, and gladly paid it.