Thursday, Dec. 10, 1998 | 11:43 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- A $35 million casino on the Boulder Strip in the Las Vegas area may not open as scheduled on Dec. 27 because of background questions about its owner, Michael Mona Jr.
The state Gaming Control Board Wednesday criticized Mona for his associations with telemarketers who had brushes with federal regulators. And Board members complained about his accounting practices.
After more than three hours of testimony, Board Chairman Steve DuCharme said, "I don't believe Mr. Mona has been candid with us today." He said he was "concerned" that friends of Mona were involved in the telemarketing business and they ran afoul of the law.
Mona and his lawyers denied he had done anything wrong. And they said the bookkeeping errors had been corrected.
Mona and his wife Rhonda have a 305-room hotel called Sunrise Suite Hotel and a recreational vehicle park on the Boulder Highway. They have built a 25,000-square-foot casino to employ 550 to 600 people with the opening scheduled later this month.
The Board was close to denying the application of Mona but his lawyers persuaded the Board to send the case back to its investigators so it might be restructured. While there were no allegations against Rhonda, Board members balked at a suggestion she be licensed to run the casino because she did not have any background in gaming.
The Board questioned Mona about his practice of charging personal expenses such as the $15,000 purchase of a Harley Davidson motorcycle to his business. When those things were called to his attention during the state's investigation, he cleaned them up.
But Board member Brian Harris said, "It's amazing how people get religion when they want a gaming license."
Harris said he had "serious questions" about an incident in Newport Beach, Calif., in which Mona was arrested for drunkenness and disturbing the peace. Mona said the trouble started in a restaurant where some men started making disparaging remarks about the women in his party. He said he was paying the check and five to six of them jumped him.
They were the aggressors, not him, Mona said. But DuCharme said the police report told a different story, that Mona was the cause and that he even challenged the police officer who responded to the scene. Mona paid a $500 fine as a result of the incident.
On the question of his associations, Mona said he met a man, Michael Minetti, while attending UNLV basketball games in 1987. And Minetti later introduced him to telemarketers who included Richard Secchiaroli, Denny Mason and Gary Hoseman.
When some of these telemarketers got in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission in 1993, Mona said he questioned them. He was assured they were not the target of the investigation. "They told me they were not part of the negative element" in that industry.
"I regret meeting them but I cannot deny the relationship."
His lawyer Mark Ferrario said there was no evidence Mona knew any of these telemarketers were tied to organized crime. He said newspaper stories making these allegations were "speculation and creative imagination."
Secchiaroli was later convicted in a telemarketing scheme, sentenced to 51 months in federal prison and ordered to make $21 million in restitution.
If anything, Ferrario said Mona was "guilty of giving these gentlemen the benefit of the doubt."
John O'Reilly, Las Vegas attorney representing Rhonda Mona, argued there was "only a handful" of questionable accounting entries compared to the $80 million to $90 million in transactions the Monas have been involved in. Mona has always showed "good business practices," said O'Reilly, former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.
O'Reilly and Ferrario argued the life savings of the Monas are tied up in this project. And they urged the Board to grant a conditional license to expire in one to two years if the Monas did not toe the line.
But DuCharme said there were too many "suspicious" things uncovered in the investigation. Harris added he had no doubt the couple had their life savings in the project. But he added it was their burden to convince the Board of their good character.
In other action, the Board:
--Recommended approval for Terry P. Ellis of Chicago to become owner of the Pot O' Gold in Henderson. It was formerly called the Post Office. The Board recommended limiting the license to two years because of the past financial problems. Dick Price will be general manager of the club that will have 190 slot machines and four table games.
--Referred back to staff the application of Bruce Becker to be approved for an option to buy into Arizona Charlie's Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Investigators said Becker had not submitted all the required forms for the transaction. Becker's family formerly operated the business until it ran into financial trouble and was taken over by Carl Icahn. Becker remained in a management capacity.