Monday, Oct. 18, 1999 | 11:40 a.m.
A Las Vegas private investigator has become the center of a vicious legal battle between archrivals Mirage Resorts Inc. and Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts Inc.
Mirage is pursuing a federal lawsuit accusing Trump of stealing secret lists of its high rollers from Korea. One of Trump's co-defendants, Las Vegas P.I. Curt Rodriguez, is now working for Mirage in exchange for a $120,000 fee and immunity from execution of any judgment against him.
Rodriguez now says, in court documents, that he first approached Mirage in November 1998 -- a move he undertook, he said, "after becoming uncomfortable that the information I had collected for (Trump) ... was being used by ... Trump Hotel's executives and United States government agents in an immoral and unethical manner to cause financial harm to (Mirage) and its CEO Steve Wynn."
Trump tried, and failed, to have Rodriguez removed from the list of defendants, calling him a "sham defendant." Now, Trump is arguing that Rodriguez's testimony should be disallowed because Mirage illegally approached Rodriguez while he was still working for Trump on a separate lawsuit between the companies.
Trump claims Mirage enticed Rodriguez to switch sides, then "sent that agent back into (Trump's) defense camp in a clandestine effort to set up (Trump) and the individual defendants in the (current) litigation."
What is known about Rodriguez is that he was hired by Trump in February 1998 to begin investigating Mirage in Las Vegas, and that he was formally hired by Mirage in April 1999 to begin investigating Trump. Virtually everything else about Rodriguez is disputed in conflicting affidavits.
According to his affidavit, Rodriguez was hired to conduct a massive smear campaign against Mirage and Wynn on behalf of Trump. Rodriguez called this investigation "Operation Snake Eyes."
Rodriguez testified that he was told to approach former Mirage employee Laura Choi to investigate her activities in South Korea.
Choi was arrested in South Korea in August 1997 for collecting gaming debts, a violation of that country's laws. She was sentenced to a year in prison and fined more than $500,000. She was released less than three months later, and fired by Mirage shortly afterwards.
Choi is the central figure in the Mirage-Trump lawsuit. Mirage alleges that she turned over confidential lists of its Korean high rollers to Trump. Choi denies this, and has filed a countersuit for wrongful termination.
Mirage alleged Choi was acting on her own when she went to collect the debts, and had been warned such activity would violate Korean laws. Choi countered that she was ordered to make the trips, and would have been fired if she did not. Mirage paid a $350,000 fine to the Nevada Gaming Control Board in connection with the incident, but did not admit wrongdoing.
According to Rodriguez, Trump officials hired him to persuade Choi to file a lawsuit against Mirage in connection with the Korean scandal. He was also asked to help convince Mirage's Korean patrons to file lawsuits against Mirage, according to his affidavit, and uncover evidence that Mirage was engaging in money laundering.
But Rodriguez claims he was also asked to dig up personal damaging information on Wynn as well. Specifically, Rodriguez said Trump officials asked him to compile and distribute information about alleged organized crime ties of Mirage officials, and to compile information about an alleged murder investigation relating to a boating accident on Lake Mead in 1993.
Rodriguez also testified he was asked to gather and distribute information about the slot machine playing habits of Wynn's mother.
According to Rodriguez, these activities were designed not only to embarrass Wynn, but to also trigger a federal criminal investigation of Mirage officials. He claims that William Kish, the New York investigator who hired him on behalf of Trump, constantly referred to Wynn as "the villain." He stated that he repeatedly provided information uncovered during his investigation to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's office, the U.S. Customs attache in South Korea and the Japanese National Police.
"Kish informed me that the purpose of the information I had previously gathered was part of Trump's plan to do harm and cause embarrassment to Steve Wynn and Mirage by generating information that would cause federal, state and local agencies to pursue an investigation of (Mirage)," Rodriguez stated in the affidavit. "It was described to me that Trump had an ... attack against Mirage designed to bring economic harm and humiliation to Mirage and its executives."
But Trump and its co-defendants paint an entirely different picture of Rodriguez and his activities.
According to the affidavit of Kish, Rodriguez was hired specifically to gather information that would be used to defend Trump against an antitrust lawsuit filed by Mirage against Trump and Hilton Hotels Corp. in 1997 in New York City. This lawsuit alleged that Trump and Hilton -- now called Park Place Entertainment -- conspired to block Mirage's plans to develop a resort in Atlantic City. The lawsuit is still pending.
"I further relayed to Rodriguez that Trump's counsel had made it very clear to me that it was important to uncover any information which the attorneys could use to impeach the credibility of Mirage executives," Kish stated. He denied, however, that it was Trump's intent to trigger a criminal investigation, and said he made it clear to Rodriguez that his work would be used in pursuit of the antitrust case.
Kish called this investigation "Project White." "Operation Snake Eyes" referred to an ongoing investigation of Mirage by the FBI, Kish claimed. This investigation did turn up illegal activities by Mirage, claimed Trump general counsel Kevin Smith. Smith claims in an affidavit that Rodriguez provided information "concerning a number of illegal business practices by Mirage, all of which was intended to give Mirage an unfair economic advantage over its competitors in the marketplace."
In a specific example, Smith claimed a Rodriguez report provided evidence that a Mirage official engaged in perjury "in an effort to satisfy the jurisdictional requirements for the filing of a lawsuit against a Las Vegas reporter in the state of Kentucky." This report was sealed by the court.
Smith, Kish, Choi and former Mirage marketing executive Paul Liu -- also a defendant in the lawsuit -- all claimed that Rodriguez had continued to contact them up until April 20, the day Mirage filed its lawsuit against Trump. That would have been well after the date Rodriguez claimed he contacted Mirage.
All four say that Rodriguez never told them that he was in contact with Mirage.
Kish claimed, in his testimony, that Rodriguez actually filed an FBI complaint against Mirage in July 1998, claiming that agents of the company were putting his life in danger after learning of his activities on behalf of Trump. Rodriguez claimed, according to Kish, that Mirage agents had broken into his roommate's car and rigged the tires so they would blow out at high speeds. Kish also testified that Rodriguez said Mirage agents had bugged his home and stolen confidential documents.
Soon afterward, Kish claimed that Rodriguez became "obsessive" about not making enough money working for Trump. At one point, Kish said Rodriguez told him that Mirage investigators were making "a lot of money," and suggested that "maybe we should join up with the other side."
"When I strongly criticized him for this statement, he told me not to get so upset, that he was just kidding," Kish said.
Kish said he continued to be in contact with Rodriguez until April, and said Rodriguez never mentioned any contact with Mirage. He said he believed Rodriguez taped some of their conversations.
This allegation was also raised by Liu in his affidavit.
According to Liu, Rodriguez first approached him this spring in New York City to inquire about becoming a junket representative in New Jersey. At the time, Liu was working as a marketing executive for Mirage.
A month later, Liu said Rodriguez called him and asked for a meeting. Liu said he declined. However, Liu said, Rodriguez showed up at his office anyway.
Liu said he then escorted Rodriguez out of the office and to a nearby restaurant, where Rodriguez again discussed becoming a junket representative. He also mentioned knowing Joseph Guzzardo, Trump's chief of security, according to Liu's testimony.
Liu was fired the next day by two Mirage executives from Las Vegas, and Liu said he believed he was taped by Rodriguez.
"I believe I was set up for their lawsuit by Rodriguez and Mirage," Liu stated.