Las Vegas Sun

January 23, 2018

Currently: 39° — Complete forecast

Youth charity’s board is a curious mix

The list of board members of Youth Charities of Southern Nevada, the nonprofit group dragged into the ethics scandal swirling around City Councilman Michael McDonald, is a microcosm of the melting pot that built Las Vegas.

Only in Las Vegas could a Catholic priest, a topless nightclub owner, a former mayor, a restaurateur, a tourism boss, the father-in-law of a reputed mob figure, a prosecutor, the trustee of a charitable foundation and a convicted felon come together for the worthy cause of helping children in need.

And only in Las Vegas could this colorful group blend into society with such ease.

Not everyone, however, is at ease these days within this year-old philanthropic organization, which through no fault of its own has been thrust into the McDonald media spotlight.

Recently the high-powered officers of Youth Charities were interviewed by police during a criminal investigation into allegations McDonald misused his office. The district attorney decided not to file charges against McDonald, a Youth Charities board member, but McDonald still remains the focus of an ethics probe.

McDonald, who denies wrongdoing, was accused of unlawfully trying to broker the sale of the troubled Las Vegas Sportspark for his boss in private business, Larry Scheffler.

In May the second-term councilman showed up at the athletic complex with a contingent that included Scheffler, topless nightclub owner Rick Rizzolo and Rizzolo lawyer Dean Patti.

Sportspark minority owner Don Schlesinger charged that the group was looking to buy the facility, but McDonald claimed the men were scouting the softball fields for a Youth Charities benefit.

Youth Charities officers, however, told detectives McDonald had not talked to the executive board about the softball fund-raiser, and police later concluded McDonald was lying.

All of the publicity has made some Youth Charities members nervous.

"This has been a group that has never looked for publicity," said Mike Meyer, the president of Youth Charities. "It's a group that just likes to help the community. We don't have an agenda other than helping kids and their families."

At 59, Meyer knows how to help kids. He spent 30 years as executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs in Southern Nevada until his retirement in 1999.

Meyer, a former all-American football player who grew up as a Boys and Girls Club member in the San Francisco Bay Area, began his tenure at the helm of the Southern Nevada organization in 1969 with a staff of three and an annual operating budget of $15,000. By the time he stepped down in 1999, he had 140 employees under his direction and a $3 million budget.

Proud of growth

But what Meyer is most proud of is seeing the number of children who became members of the Boys and Girls Club grow from 1,000 to 15,000 over the years.

"We had a pretty good run when I was at the club," Meyer said. "I worked hard, and I think I developed good credibility."

Youth Charities, Meyer said, evolved out of the annual Turkey Gobble put on by Freddie Glusman at Glusman's upscale Piero's restaurant just off the Strip. For the past decade, Glusman and his group of close friends have been busing in hundreds of underprivileged kids to Piero's every Thanksgiving Day and feeding them a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

The Boys and Girls Club was one of the main beneficiaries of the Turkey Gobble. But after Meyer left, the club decided to do its own Thanksgiving Day event at the Beach nightclub next door. That allowed Meyer to help Glusman and company reach out to other deserving youths in the community for their event.

"We felt we needed to be more structured," Meyer said. "We felt that we might as well incorporate this group into a nonprofit charity to accept donations."

Hence, Youth Charities was born.

On July 16, 1999, Youth Charities filed papers with the secretary of state's office, registering as a nonprofit organization.

Other officers

Though Glusman was one of the founders, his name does not appear on any of the paperwork filed with the secretary of state. He is, however, listed in the group's telephone directory as one of 27 board members.

Meyer, now the director of athletics and community relations at the Community College of Southern Nevada, is listed on the incorporation papers as president of Youth Charities.

Two other longtime Glusman friends, Clark County Public Administrator Jared Shafer and Assistant District Attorney J. Charles Thompson, also are listed as officers.

Shafer, who has held his elected post since 1979, is the secretary of the organization. And Thompson, a district judge for 20 years before accepting the No. 2 job in the district attorney's office in 1995, is treasurer.

Thompson said he recalled taking minutes for the first meeting that was chaired by Shafer.

"I thought it was a good idea, and I volunteered," said Thompson, who ran for the Nevada Supreme Court in 1992. "I think we have done a lot of good for children in the areas of community services and athletics.

"We like to help disadvantaged children regardless of their socioeconomic status, their race and their religion."

Shafer said Youth Charities was created one day during lunch at Piero's in the spring of 1999. Glusman had invited his friends to dine at the restaurant.

"I came to lunch one day, and the next thing I know I'm part of this charity and then I'm running the first meeting," Shafer said. "We all just felt we could raise a lot of money."

Records show that two other influential Las Vegans, Gloria Banks Weddle and Manny Cortez, also are on the group's five-member executive board.

Weddle, a top executive at Nevada Power Co., is listed as vice president, and Cortez, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, is named as a director at large.

"We've all been active with kids for a long time," said Cortez, a former county commissioner. "The problem is there are more and more kids who need help, and we're trying to help them.

"For the most part, people aren't doing this for the publicity. They're doing it because it's what they want to do, and it's the right thing to do."

Thompson would not provide exact figures of how much money Youth Charities has raised since July 1999.

In its first year, Meyer said, the organization has donated $35,000 in $2,500 increments to 14 local children's charities, among them the Sun Camp Fund, Take Five for Kids, Baby Find, Reach Out, St. James After School Program, Kappa League Youth Group and the Homeless Youth Coalition.

Shafer estimated that the group has at least $63,000 in cash and securities in the bank and is ready to distribute more money in December.

Much of the cash, about $27,000, was raised at a controversial sports memorabilia auction at Piero's on July 14 in which a half-dozen topless dancers from Rizzolo's Crazy Horse Too were asked to participate.

Rizzolo, a Youth Charities board member, had brought the women to the male-dominated event. The dancers, organizers said, wore bikinis, but did not appear topless.

Some unhappy

But some board members weren't happy about the involvement of the women in the auction.

"I was surprised," said one member, who asked not to be identified. "It's not the type of fund-raising activity you would expect from a youth charitable group."

Rizzolo is on one end of the diverse mixture of people Glusman has brought together at Youth Charities.

In many ways, the board is a cross section of Glusman's clientele at Piero's. For more than two decades, Piero's has been a trendy hangout for celebrities, sports figures, politicians, business leaders and underworld figures. It has been a place where the movers and shakers come to be seen and dine on fine food. Much of Glusman's business was built up with the help of his friend, former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, who was a Piero's regular during his coaching heyday at the university.

Other Youth Charities board members include Glusman friends, former Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie, luxury auto dealer Jim Chaisson and developer Mike Fauci. Also on the board are businessman Mark Fine, attorney John Moran Jr. and gaming executive Bob McMonigle.

Terry Wright, chairman of the board of Nevada Title Co., is another board member. Wright served as Gov. Kenny Guinn's fund-raising chairman during Guinn's 1998 campaign.

But maybe the biggest catch for Youth Charities is the media-shy Christina Hixson, a well-known philanthropist in Las Vegas and the West.

Hixson, who declined comment, is the sole trustee of the Las Vegas-based Lied Foundation, a charitable trust that has donated millions of dollars over the years to various universities, including UNLV, and other civic projects in Las Vegas and elsewhere in the country. The trust was started by the late Omaha auto dealer Ernest Lied, who had made a fortune in Las Vegas real estate investments.

Hixson, one of only three female Youth Charities board members, is responsible for handing out $48 million alone in foundation money to the University of Nebraska and millions more to the University of Kansas and Iowa State University.

At UNLV, Hixson has donated $15 million to the new $53 million Lied Library and several million more to other university athletic and academic projects.

Like many others, Hixson has been a longtime fan of Meyer's work with the Boys and Girls Club.

Other fans

Meyer has other fans, such as businessman Tony Tegano of Tango Pools fame. Tegano is the father-in-law of reputed mob figure Joseph Cusumano, another frequent patron of Piero's.

Until recent years, Cusumano was close to Rizzolo, who has said he now makes a point of staying away from the one-time reported associate of slain Chicago mob kingpin Anthony Spilotro.

Also on the Youth Charities board is Richard Isola, a former Silver State Disposal Service vice president who pleaded guilty in October 1997 to conspiracy to commit tax fraud.

Isola and several other Silver State executives were charged in a 1996 federal indictment that accused them of using company money and resources for personal services. Silver State later was bought out by Republic Industries.

Another board member is Father Dave Casaleggio, the former priest at Our Lady of Las Vegas Catholic Church. Casaleggio, a McDonald friend and defender, declined to comment.

So did Glusman.

But top officers said they were proud of the people involved in the organization.

"It's a great mix of people," Jared Shafer said. "These are people who are moving Las Vegas and the charity world right now."