Las Vegas Sun
Monday, May 21, 2012 | 2:55 p.m.
Vegas crooks may conjure images of the neon city’s old days run by the mob, but in the past two decades, a new crop of criminals has made a name for themselves by executing daring casino robberies or thefts — some botched, some successful, most solved.
And they’re not all bad boys. A woman even makes the list, which covers a wide array of Strip properties. These five notable casino robberies or thefts occurred at high-end casinos and cheaper properties, with some criminals brandishing weapons and others simply walking or driving away.
But the headline-grabbing stories paint a fair warning to would-be casino thieves or robbers: More often than not, these crooks end up behind bars. It’s only a matter of time.
'Biker Bandit' Bellagio Robbery in 2010
The world came to know him as the “biker bandit,” the man who stole $1.5 million worth of casino chips from the Bellagio during a brazen heist Dec. 14, 2010. Seemingly ripped from the pages of a Hollywood script, then 29-year-old Anthony Carleo rode up to the casino entrance on a motorcycle, walked to a craps table, pulled a gun and demanded chips.
Robber Flees the Bellagio
His downfall? He stole a wide range of chip denominations, including ones worth $25,000. He tried peddling them on an Internet poker website, using the email address firstname.lastname@example.org (a reference to the color of the $25,000 chips) and signing the emails, “biker bandit.” Metro Police caught up with him seven weeks after the robbery at the Bellagio, where he was gambling and attempting to sell chips to undercover officers.
Carleo, the son of a former Las Vegas Municipal Court judge, confessed to the crime. In August 2011, a Clark County judge sentenced Carleo to serve from nine to 27 years in prison for the Bellagio robbery and an earlier heist he committed at the Suncoast Casino on Dec. 9, 2010.
Circus Circus Theft in 1993
A 1993 Circus Circus heist ended with a bizarre twist: One of the alleged thieves turned herself in 12 years after vanishing with nearly $2.95 million in an armored truck.
Heather Tallchief, a former Loomis Armor Inc. driver, confessed to her involvement in the October 1993 theft, in which she drove away from the casino in an armored truck containing the millions.
After more than a decade on the lam, Tallchief surrendered to Las Vegas authorities in September 2005. She accepted full responsibility for her role, citing mounting guilt as her reason for coming clean. Her former boyfriend and alleged accomplice, Roberto Solis, remains at large.
Tallchief fled to the Netherlands after the heist. She said Solis has the money, which has never been found.
A federal judge in March 2006 gave Tallchief the maximum sentence: five years and three months.
Bellagio Cashier Cage Robbery in 2000
In the early 2000s, a string of casino robberies plagued the Strip, including a brazen heist at the Bellagio’s cashier cage.
Two men wearing body armor allegedly jumped over the cashier cage counter and stole about $160,000 in cash and casino chips. Meanwhile, a third accomplice stood as lookout.
As they fled, the suspects allegedly fired one shot at casino security guards who were chasing them. No one was injured.
Authorities arrested Oscar Sanchez Cisneros, then 23; Jose Manuel Vigoa, then 40; and Luis Suarez, then 35, in connection with the robbery.
Four months after the robbery, Cisneros committed suicide in his Clark County Detention Center cell by hanging himself with a bed sheet.
Vigoa, responsible for multiple casino robberies and the killings of two armored truck drivers in Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charges. Before the plea agreement, Vigoa allegedly staged a jail escape attempt. In August 2002, he was sentenced to four no-parole life sentences and an additional 306 to 760 years in prison for the crimes.
A year later, in October 2003, Suarez was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $150,000 in restitution.
The robbery prompted MGM Resorts to install bars around each of its Strip cashier cages.
Theft from Stardust in 1992
In perhaps the most under-the-radar casino theft, a Stardust sports book cashier simply walked out the door of the now-demolished casino in September 1992 with an estimated $500,000 worth of cash and chips. The suspect, William John Brennan, has not been seen since.
At the time, it was considered the largest casino theft — classified as an unlawful taking of goods or money without the use of violence or threats.
Stardust employees described Brennan, then 34, as a clean-cut guy originally from Pennsylvania who kept to himself. Several days after the theft, a warrant was issued for Brennan’s arrest, charging him with a dozen counts of felony theft.
Treasure Island Robberies in 2000
A botched robbery at Treasure Island in December 2000 left one security guard wounded and led to the arrest of a man wanted in connection with two previous robberies at the casino the same year.
During the December attempt, Reginald Johnson, then 27, entered Treasure Island, approached the security guard and fired one shot at him while he walked toward the casino cashier, where he fired another shot before leaving empty-handed. The security guard suffered injuries that weren’t life-threatening.
Police caught Johnson walking on Lake Mead Boulevard hours after the robbery attempt. Authorities already had been looking for Johnson and his brother, Donnell Johnson, who were considered suspects in a July 2000 robbery at Treasure Island.
In October 2000, a robber struck Treasure Island again, firing two shots and stealing about $30,000.
Reginald Johnson pleaded guilty in January 2001 to all three Treasure Island robberies. In March 2011, a judge sentenced him to 130 years in prison for the robberies during a colorful sentencing hearing, where Johnson made several outbursts and laughed while watching surveillance video of him shooting the security guard.