Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Tale of Plagiarism: So Avoidable, So Detectable


By Cathy Scott

Nothing is worse for an author than opening a book and discovering passages from your own work used as if they were that author’s words.

This just happened to me with someone else’s newly released book. 
Read complete piece here, on ForbesWoman blog Crime, She Writes.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Did Cindy Anthony Negotiate to Save Daughter Casey's Life



Synopsis:
Did Cindy Anthony negotiate with her conscience, her god and the defense to save daughter Casey’s life? Did she contact Casey’s lawyers, even though she was a witness for the prosecution, and offer testimony midway through trial to take the death penalty off the table?


Cindy surely knew – as did half the nation – that in the absence of premeditation, jurors could not convict Casey of first-degree murder.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Is Confession Real in Tupac Shooting?

Jimmy "Henchman" Rosemond
by Cathy Scott
Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink

Something stinks in River City, namely the bold words of a convict named Dexter Isaac who, on the eve of what would have been rapper Tupac Shakur’s 40th birthday, “confessed” to shooting Tupac in November 1994 during a grab-and-run armed robbery at a recording studio in New York City.

Tupac survived that shooting. With him that winter night was rapper Randy “Stretch” Walker, who a year later was shot and killed driving a vehicle. Two years after the Quad Studios event, Tupac, too, was killed in a car-to-car shooting, which remains unsolved but is widely believed to have been carried out by the Crips street gang out of Compton, California.

Isaac chose to announce his so-called confession on AllHipHop.com, a popular rap site. Isaac, in his grand confession, claimed he was paid $2,500 by Czar Entertainment founder James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond to pull off the stunt. Isaac also claims he kept “the gold chain” he and a supposed accomplice yanked from Tupac’s neck. The problem with that claim is everything Isaac has said can be found in newspaper accounts of the ’94 shooting. Another problem is that several gold chains, not just one, as Isaac stated, were stolen from Tupac that night.

Isaac’s confession doesn’t add up, and I, for one, am not buying it.

Here’s what actually played out in the late-night hours of November 30, 1994: Tupac was wearing $35,000 worth of jewelry, including two rings, as he and his buddies walked into Quad Recording Studios in Times Square so Tupac could help out a lesser-known performer by rapping on his CD. Hanging out just inside the studio lobby was a man, while another stood outside, both wearing Army fatigues. They jumped all four people, grabbed $5,000 worth of jewelry and chains off Stretch’s neck, then yanked the jewelry from Tupac’s neck.

One of the men grabbed Tupac’s hand and pulled two rings from it. Tupac was shot only after he went for his gun, and they weren’t fatal shots. The perpetrators disappeared into the night.

Tupac didn’t know until earlier in the day that he’d be at Quad studios. Singers are often asked to backup other singers and appear on their CDs, so Tupac, for a fee, agreed at the last minute to help an up-and-coming rapper by performing on one of his tracks. That rapper had nothing to do with Rosemond, and neither did Tupac.

And what did Rosemond have to gain by rubbing out Tupac? The answer? Not a thing.

We’re led to believe by Isaac that Rosemond told him to “Find Tupac, steal jewelry off his neck, keep the jewelry, shoot him, and, in return, I’ll pay you $2,500 for doing it. But give me Tupac’s diamond ring for my girlfriend.”

Hooey, I say. Rosemond doesn’t have a motive. But Isaac does, and that’s cooperating with the feds in a drug-related case against Rosemond where Isaac has reportedly been named as an accomplice. To get himself off the hook, he’s ‘fessing up. Rosemond’s no angel, and I’m not defending him. But facts are facts.

Robbery was the obvious motive for whoever robbed and shot Tupac. Police, however, didn’t check pawnshops for the stolen jewelry and closed the case 30 days later because, as NYPD Detective George Nagy told me two years after the shooting, “Tupac and his attorney wouldn’t talk to us.” So police closed the case.

As for Rosemond, who’s had a federal warrant out for his arrest on drug charges since mid May, was recently taken into custody by federal agents as he left the W Hotel in New York City’s Union Square. Rosemond’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, called the shooting accusation a "flat-out lie," telling Reuters news service that Isaac invented the story to help authorities build their case against Rosemond.

"This is not [Isaac] being a good soldier or clearing his conscience. It's a desperate 17-year-old attempt to reduce his sentence," Lichtman said.

As for 46-year-old Isaac, he’s serving life in prison, for an unrelated murder conviction, at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, which houses federal inmates. NYPD’s Paul Browne told CBS News that his department was looking into Isaac’s claim, and, if it’s determined it’s legitimate, police will interview Isaac.

I’ll be flabbergasted if it pans out. If a man walks into a police station and says, “I shot Tupac Shakur,” the obvious answer would be, “Prove it.” The burden, in this case, lies with the person making the claim.

Scott is the author of The Killing of Tupac Shakur.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

New Evidence in the Cold Case Murder of Susan Berman

By Cathy Scott

New evidence in the murder of writer Susan Berman has come to light, causing the Los Angeles Police Department department to reopen the decades' old case.

New York magazine, where Susan once worked as a writer, is reporting that police are closing in on millionaire Robert Durst as their number one suspect. "We would like to question him," LAPD homicide detective Paul Coulter, the lead investigator in the Berman case, told the magazine. "We would love nothing more than to sit down with Durst and talk to him about this, There's nobody else we're looking at."

Susan Berman, daughter of Las Vegas mobster Davie Berman, was found murdered on Christmas Eve 2000 in her Benedict Canyon home. She had been shot in the back of the head with a single 9mm bullet. There was no sign of forced entry or a burglary, and police determined that someone Susan knew had killed her.

From the start Durst, who befriended Susan when they were classmates at the University of California, Los Angeles, was suspected in the killing. Durst has denied any involvement in Susan's murder.

Coulter told the magazine it's been difficult finding Durst so detectives can interview him. "He's like the silver fox," Coulter said. "He knows what's going on."

Friday, May 13, 2011

How a True Crime Writer Protects Herself Against Scammers

By Cathy Scott
(Reprinted from ForbesWoman.com)

Wanna-be scammers sometimes jump out of the shadows to steal authors’ identities to pull off their dirty deeds. Case in point was my own recent encounter with a man who said he was developing the definitive biopic about Tupac Shakur.

That’s been done. Over and over. But no one’s quite hit the mark yet. So, I talked to Mr. Scam, who said he was a producer. The first red flag was his request that I do interviews for his documentary.

I’m used to being at the flip side of a reporter’s notebook, taking down interview notes and quotes. I’m also used to being on the lens side of the camera as the interviewee, especially when it comes to the Tupac story, because of my book, The Killing of Tupac Shakur, about the murder case.

What I’m not used to is being asked to do a producer’s work. They land the interviews, hire the video crew, nail down a studio and on-site locations for the interviews, and typically get on-air talent to conduct the interviews.

But scammer was eager. He didn’t stop calling. Or e-mailing. He wanted to get me immediately signed to a contract–for what, it wasn’t made clear. What did become clear was his burning desire to use my name as part of his project.

How to Spot a Scammer

Unlike other producers who have contacted me over the years, this one didn’t offer his background or even the name of his company. I learned that myself through a simple Internet search. A tap of the Google “send” button turned up a disturbing recent past. He’d been arrested and charged in a multi-million-dollar Ponzi scheme (think Madoff) bilking people and companies out of millions for investments in projects and land deals as illusory as the fabled swampland in Florida.

My scammer’s new con was the promise of a documentary that would never be made using an author’s name to lend it credibility. The author being offered the starring role in that scam was me. In the meantime, my personal predator had already been living large on the backs of others running an old-fashioned con.

FBI to Author – 'He’s Desperate – Give Him Wide Berth'

An FBI agent, when reached about the case, said the poser was desperate. He’d lost his house and had run out of cash. He was fund-raising his own support. The fed’s advice? “Stay away. And don’t get him angry. You don’t want to be in a confrontation with this guy.”

As business women, we all have to watch for red lights, green lights, and red flags. Not everybody is good at recognizing them. I’m a skeptic at heart. I’ve been in the business of crime news too long not to be. And it’s not just little fish that get fried. Even the big kids occasionally get scammed. Witness the recent porn site ad scam that AT&T and Verizon fell for.

Here’s how I protect myself from scammers. Recognize the red flags, do your research, and consult with law enforcement.

For Mr. Producer, I have some very public advice:  Quit e-mailing, quit texting, quit calling. I know who you are and what you’re trying to pull. Don’t use my name to plan your crime.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Is Vegas Mayoral Candidate Carolyn Goodman More Than a 'Mouthpiece' for Husband Oscar?

By Cathy Scott

Word on the street is that the campaign headquarters of Carolyn Goodman on Tuesday's election night in Sin City was peppered with mobsters. Old-time mobsters.

"At least 10 were there," the source said.

It's not surprising, considering Carolyn's husband is Oscar Goodman, the self-proclaimed "Mouthpiece for the Mob" who, as a criminal defense attorney, represented the likes of Chicago mobster Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, once suspected of more than 20 killings, and Philadelphia mob underboss Philip Leonetti. Oscar, currently the mayor of Las Vegas whose three-term sting is expiring, has been vocal about his hopes for his wife succeeding him as mayor.

Back in June of 1999, Oscar Goodman was elected mayor of this gambling mecca.At the time, he said he was proud of his past: "I'm not ashamed of anything." During Goodman's tenure as mayor, he changed his popular "mouthpiece" moniker to "America's Happiest Mayor."

On Tuesday, his wife won 37 percent of the vote, with Chris Giunchigliani coming in second, inching closer to her husband's aspirations for her.

Whisperings, however, at the Goodmans' election-night party, according to the source, were that Carolyn might have been able to pull off an early first in the primary based on name recognition, but when it comes to winning in the run off, it won't be as simple.

That's because Giunchigliani, currently a county commissioner, is known as a politician for the people who runs grassroots campaigns. The personable Carolyn Goodman, on the other hand, is new to politics other than as first lady of Las Vegas for the last 12 years. Mrs. Goodman is more recognized as the founder of a private school, known as a top college prep academy where people with money send their kids

"I am running against a name, let’s put it that way," Chris recently told The Washington Post." But I think the public recognizes that the time for that type of leadership style has passed."

Now it's up to the voters. Chris, 57, and Carolyn, 72, will face each other again on June 7 in a run-off election.

Photos courtesy of the candidates' campaign websites and philly.com.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Remembering Notorious B.I.G.


"My son's albums, to me, are a celebration of his life." Voletta Wallace, a couple of years after her son's murder on March 9, 1997, said those words in a telephone interview about the murder of Biggie Smalls. She's proud of what her son accomplished in his short life but frustrated that his murder remains unsolved.

Fourteen years after the slaying, the music of Biggie Smalls–a k a Christopher Wallace–is as big as ever. But his murder doesn't appear any closer to being solved than it was shortly after his murder following a VIBE magazine party outside the Petersen Automotive Museum, in Los Angeles, on the eve of the release of Biggie's double-disc album, ironically titled "Life After Death."

No one knows what else Biggie, a New York-based rapper who performed as The Notorious B.I.G., would have accomplished had he not been cut down that fateful March night. He was embraced by his Brooklyn community and rap fans worldwide. What we do know is that Biggie's music, after his death, topped the charts and sold millions of CDs. Like Tupac Shakur before him, Smalls is bigger in death than in life. Biggie was known for his semi-autobiographical lyrics and storytelling and his easy style of rap.

Shakur was killed in Las Vegas six months before Smalls in what some have called eerily similar drive-by shootings. Biggie and Tupac unfortunately became tragic victims of the culture of violence depicted in their lyrics.

Smalls, who died at 24 years old, had been mentoring younger rappers, including hip-hop singer Lil' Kim. On the 14th anniversary of the shooting, Lil' Kim posted her sentiments on Twitter: "On this very day a great soul was laid to rest. Now on this very day we celebrate the rebirth of a beautiful Life! R.I.P Biggie Baby."

Smalls' record producer, Sean "P Diddy" Combs, also took to the pages of Twitter to remember his friend: "Today is #BIGGIEDAY–send me all your videos, links, photos, exclusive content. ALL things BIGGIE so I can tell the world!!"

Spreading the word about her son is music to Mrs. Wallace's ears, to keep her son's legacy alive. But, while Biggie's music keeps his memory on the forefront, his mother, a single mom who worked as a pre-school teacher to support her son, holds out hope his killer (composite sketch, right) will one day be found and brought to justice. Despite the length of time without a named suspect (although a task force in L.A. has been, for several months, looking into the cold case), she keeps the faith.

"I'm not only hoping," Mrs. Wallace told me, "but I am praying that they catch the dog who killed my son. I can't wait. I know that's a trip [to Los Angeles] I'm waiting to take ... to look the murderer in the face."

Cathy Scott's book, The Murder of Biggie Smalls, is a biographical and true crime account of his life and death.

Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink

Smoke and Mirrors: The Truth About Las Vegas

Credit: Wikipedia Commons
by Cathy Scott 

Watching Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s indignation over recent advice by President Barack Obama to a New Hampshire audience to not waste cash in Las Vegas was reminiscent of a similarly indignant Goodman a decade earlier. 

Goodman, a former criminal defense attorney and self-described “mouthpiece for the mob,” spent 35 years defending the nation’s most notorious underworld figures. His clients included mobsters Meyer Lansky, Anthony "Tony The Ant" Spilotro and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the latter two portrayed in the film Casino by actors Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro. Goodman, also in the film, played himself–a lawyer for the mob. 

So, it came as a surprise in 1999 when Goodman tried to deny the mob’s existence in Las Vegas. It was during Goodman’s mayoral run, when he issued a statement in the midst of a colorful Las Vegas trial of two reputed Mafiosi charged in connection with the 1997 execution-style murder of another gangster, Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein. The trial spotlighted the very kind of mob activity that officials, other than Goodman, had insisted, year after year, no longer existed in Las Vegas.

It started in the early 1990s, when the Nevada Gaming Commission released the first of several statements assuring the public that the FBI had forced the last of the mob out of Las Vegas in the 1980s. That was not true, of course. Goodman himself had represented Spilotro in a mob trial in the mid-1980s, shortly before Spilotro was buried alive and left for dead in an Indiana cornfield. Blitzstein was a co-defendant with Spilotro in that trial. After Spilotro’s murder, Blitzstein pleaded guilty and went to prison. He was released in the early 1990s and returned to Las Vegas, picking up where he had left off.

The 62-year-old Blitzstein ran a downtown auto-repair shop that fronted for his rackets. Authorities said he ran loan-shark and insurance-fraud racketeering operations out of the shop.

In January 1997, Blitzstein was gunned down in his town house. Federal prosecutors later contended that mob families in Los Angeles and Buffalo, N.Y., had ordered Blitzstein’s hit so they could take control of his business.

Then, in May 1999, Goodman, as a mayoral candidate, issued a press release declaring the streets of the city free of traditional organized crime.

"For the last 15 years," Goodman said, "there hasn't been a mob presence here."

Coincidentally or not, Goodman issued that statement from his law office, which was around the corner from the U.S. District courthouse where the Blitzstein murder-related trial was well underway. Testimony in that case, which was heavily covered by the media, related to the life-and-death saga of Herbert Blitzstein–who had been Spilotro's right-hand man–provided new details about Las Vegas street rackets. For example, the 12-count racketeering indictment handed down in the case named 10 defendants charged with offenses ranging from Mafia-related murder-for-hire to racketeering.

The trial surrounding Blitzstein’s murder, which ended with most of the defendants pleading out to lesser crimes, was the last Mafia-related trial in Las Vegas.

Blitzstein’s murder also marked the last mob hit in Sin City. But don't tell Oscar Goodman. We'll just keep it between us. 

Reprinted from Women in Crime Ink.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Who Killed Dawn Viens?

Who Killed Dawn Viens?: by Cathy Scott "This week, investigators, working with a crew of firefighters and coroner's office personnel, used jackhammers to dig up the ..."

Thursday, March 03, 2011

'The Millionaire's Wife'


On a rainy morning in the fall of 1990, a gunman, in broad daylight, caught up with George Kogan as George walked home from a Manhattan Upper East Side market. The shooter pumped three slugs into his back. Seven hours later, George was dead.

From the start, the prime suspect was the estranged wife of George Kogan, because, in part, George had $4 million worth of insurance on his life, and Barbara was the beneficiary. Yet, it would take nearly two decades to solve the murder. George, who had turned 49 the month before the killing, was gunned down as he approached the lobby doors of his East 69th Street apartment building, where he lived with his young girlfriend.

Manuel Martinez, an attorney with a small law practice who mostly handled eviction cases, once represented Barbara and eventually was charged and convicted of hiring a hit man to kill Barbara’s husband. It 's a love triangle and a hit-for-hire, and the story fascinated me.

It's also a sad story, because, in the end, everyone lost, including George's two sons, who were in college at the time of the murder, and who lost their father to murder and, ultimately, their mother to prison.

Nineteen years long years after the death of her husband, Barbara Susan Kogan was indicted for the murder of her husband, but not until she had spent every penny of the insurance payout, the last of which went toward her defense.9I’ve spent the last year piecing together this book. It’s titled THE MILLIONAIRE'S WIFE: The True Story of a Real Estate Tycoon, his Beautiful Young Mistress, and a Marriage that Ended in Murder. And while it is my eighth book, it is one of the toughest I’ve ever written.

True crime books, my friend and colleague Kathryn Casey recently reminded me, are not easy to write. As a journalist, I’ve been trained to chase the story, go to the scene, find sources, get documents, land interviews--anything and everything to flesh out the story. True crime books take real perseverance, especially in cases that are about to go to trial and when those on either side of the case are skittish about talking.

I was scheduled to interview Barbara, with her attorney, before her arrest. But, soon after, a warrant for her arrest was issued and her attorney instead arranged for her surrender. It was disappointing, and, while difficult, I love a challenge, plus I was lucky.

After I went on a radio show and talked about the case and after posting or two an article updating the case on Women in Crime Ink, family members on both sides of the case contacted me. I also was able to speak several times with the deputy district attorney as well as three defense attorneys. And a generous reporter who had covered the crime 19 years early shared with me what he recalled. And a doorman at George’s building, where George had been killed nearly two decades earlier, was particularly helpful and walked me through the crime scene. Several people at the courthouse were helpful as well, as were a couple of NYPD police officers. And E.W. Count, a crime writer in New York City, on two occasions became my eyes and ears in a Manhattan courtroom.

For the research part of books, I approach them in the same way I do news stories--digging for clues, links, and, especially, documentation and confirmations via paperwork and those I interview. For every book, I invariably contact mortuary personnel and verify college degrees with universities; this case was no different. Thank goodness the records were fairly easy to find, despite the passage of time. Fact-checking our own stories is part of the deal.

For newspaper and magazine articles, I got into Lexis-Nexis to pull up the original articles and, at the same time, stumbled on some relevant federal court documents. Early on, writer/author Sue Russell
pulled a couple of articles from Lexis-Nexis for me. After that, I did pay-as-you-go searches (a great service for research). The one thing, however, I could not find was George Kogan’s obituary. I knew there had to be one, and, ultimately, getting creative with search words (“slaying” instead of “murder” worked in this case), I found it. It was a real prize, because it was loaded with the detail I had been looking for--when and where George was buried, who officiated, who attended, and who did not.

When it came to police and court records, that got tricky. As soon as Barbara appeared in court, I filed a Freedom of Information Act form; it was ignored. So, with the help of attorneys, a defendant’s family members and a journalism student working on a class paper (and whose professor was friends with the defense), I was able to get the complete court files, trial transcripts, copies of depositions, a transcript of a surveillance telephone conversation, statements from witnesses from the scene of the crime, a list of witnesses and evidence, and a roster of jurors.

Then, the reading began. I pored through documents. It became a matter of learning who the characters and players were--and there were lots. Because two defendants were charged three years apart, it made the story more complicated. So I tried to boil it down and tell the story chronologically, as it had unfolded.

Deciding where to start a book is always a challenge. With The Murder of Biggie Smalls (a k a Notorious B.I.G., I began with Biggie, at age 15, sitting in a Brooklyn police precinct, crying for his mother after an officer detained Biggie and a friend for questioning to see if they were witnesses to a murder in a Bed-Stuy neighborhood. To me, that scene at the precinct spoke volumes about Biggie, whose real name was Christopher Wallace. He was not the street thug, like Tupac Shakur, who came of age on the mean streets of the Jungle housing project in Oakland, Californai. Biggie, conversely, was a mama’s boy, and his mother was a school teacher who sent Biggie to Jamaica every year to spend the summer with his grandfather, an ocean away from Brooklyn.

In Murder of a Mafia Daughter, after I went to victim Susan Berman’s Beverly Hills home, in Benedict Canyon, and met a neighbor who’d been the one to alert police that something was awry next door, I began the book with the neighbor awakening to Susan’s dogs running loose, on Christmas Eve morning, in his front yard.

With the Kogan case,  after traveling to New York City several times, the way the killer stalked George as he made his way home from a neighborhood market became a vivid picture to me, and I began the book with the morning he died.

I love the cover of this book, because it captures the feel of that fateful morning. So, it is with pride and pleasure that I give you, the reader, a sneak peek at the cover of The Millionaire’s Wife, released here, on Women in Crime Ink. When the book comes out later this year, I’ll give you a heads up.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Kingston Trio: 'Just 3 guys standing on stage with their guitars'

By Cathy Scott

The Kingston Trio, circa 1960
I met Nick Reynolds, a founding member of The Kingston Trio, when I interviewed him in the summer of 1990. I was the business editor at the time of the La Jolla Light newspaper, and the band was having a reunion concert there, so I covered it.

I called Nick to set up an interview, and he invited me to his Coronado home. Once there, we sat down in his family room, surrounded by Kingston Trio memorabilia and musical instruments. His then-girlfriend was there too. My sister Cordelia, brother-in-law Bob, and I attended the group's reunion concert, part of a two-dozen cities tour, this one held at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla at the Aventine, outside on the tennis courts.

Backing the band was the San Diego Chamber Festival Orchestra. Our seats were up front and you could see the emotion in the band members' faces as they performed. "When we go into a ballad and the orchestra comes in behind us, tears come to my eyes," Nick told me. "It's powerful -- not just three guys standing on a stage with their guitars."

So it was with surprise and pleasure this week to see The Kingston Trio receive a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award for their work. It was long overdue and well-deserved. They were a pioneering folk group and leaders of the ’50s folk revival best known for the chart-topping songs "Tom Dooley," as well as "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" and "Tijuana Jail."

What struck me about Nick, who played a tenor guitar, was his enthusiasm for the group's music, even after all those years. He strummed his guitar during a break in the interview. In the room was memorabilia from the days when the group was in its heyday. A couple of The Kingston Trio members switched off over the years, but Nick Reynolds, Bob Shane and John Stewart were the best-known lineup. I saw Nick again a few months later at the Honolulu, Oahu, airport, when we coincidentally ran into each other while waiting at the gate for a flight back to San Diego.

Nick didn't live to see the group's Grammy honor. He passed away in 2008 from chronic heart disease. Bob Shane, the only surviving original member, accepted the award on behalf of The Kingston Trio. Nick would have been proud.

___

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Sambalatte: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

By Cathy Scott

There's a new place in town, where everybody knows your name. It's called Sambalatte.

Step inside this caffee lounge and espresso bar, and you’re welcomed by your first name. The baristas and owners know everyone, and the guests know just about everybody too. It reminds me of the popular TV show “Cheers” and the fictional neighborhood bar, where everybody knew your name. “Cheers” was a welcoming watering hole, a place for friendship and comaradarie. 

Now, Sambalatte is the new “Cheers” and the place to hang out in Vegas.

Since it opened last fall, it's been embraced by the community, and the media have discovered it as well, including The New York Post, the local NPR affiliate, Fox 5, and a Brazilian TV station. Haute Living ranked Sambalatte No. 1 in its Top 5 coffee shops in Las Vegas. Word is spreading all over Twitter and Facebook too. And Seven magazine wrote, because of the micro-roasted varieties, “this just might be the freshest, most distinctive cup of coffee you’ve ever had in Las Vegas.”


Owners Sheila and Luiz have taken the time to not only focus on the brews, but on customers too by offering quiet attention and friendly smiles, and creating a cheerful atmosphere for people to stop in for their morning organic java and French pastry or sit at a table and sip while reading the paper. They’ve created an upscale boutique coffee lounge with a welcoming atmosphere that’s tough to beat. There’s a European feel about the place, found mostly in coffeehouses in New York and San Francisco.

 
Located on the West Side, in Fashion Village Boca Park, Sambalatte is already filling a niche in the area. The owners have created an environment that welcomes students, entrepreneurs, business people, and friends for a place to meet up by offering comfortable couches, tables and wireless Internet. The mezzanine upstairs is a favorite for some visitors. It’s already being called the best place in town to spot celebrities. But that list also includes local lawyers, cops, journalists, and dancers and performers from the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip.

When the sun is out, people flock to the outdoor umbrella tables and bring their dogs with them (there's an outdoor doggie station too). The shelves are stocked with books, magazines, board and table games, the morning paper, as well as an alt-weekly newspaper, and children are welcome. By nightfall on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s a coffee lounge with live music.

Urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, in his 1989 book The Great Good Place, called such spots “third places,” where they’re not work and they’re not home. Instead, they’re “the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy,” he wrote. In his book, he examines gathering places and reminds us how important they still are.


Sambalatte is just that: a great gathering place, where guests feel connected. Located between the Cheesecake Factory and Kona Grill, some stop by for a short time. Others go in with their Kindles, Nooks, laptops, netbooks and iPads, to work while sipping a white mocha or a chai latte, or lunching on an Italian sandwich or Caprese on a bagette (my favorite), yogurt, or a fruit-and-cheese plate. Fresh-baked goods are made in-house daily, so there's a lot to choose from.

Opening Sambalatte was a good move, choosing a corner of Boca Park Fashion Village that has an almost-village feel to it, with a waterfall, a meandering walkway and greenery. The place caught on quickly.

Like “Cheers” and its characters, who regularly hung out for the camaraderie, Sambalatte has become the place to be, where everybody knows your name. You can smell the fresh-roasted aroma before you walk in, and, somehow, the world seems better for it.

Take a virtual tour, with this video, and see for yourself:


Sambalatte Torrefazione
750 South Rampart Blvd
Las Vegas, Nevada 89145
702.272.2333

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Book Signing for Vegas Author

By Cathy Scott

One of my favorite things is being around other writers, especially fellow authors. Such was the case on a recent Saturday when I attended my friend Matt O’Brien’s book signing at Barnes & Noble. It was for his latest book, My Week at the Blue Angel.

I got there just a few minutes after the event started, and already two people were buying books.

Then, an author friend of Matt’s–JJ Wylie–showed up, as did local photographer Bill Hughes and prolific author Bill Branon.

I hadn’t seen either Bills in a few years, so it was like a homecoming. Bill Hughes took the photos that are featured in Matt’s latest book, as well as the cover art, and I worked with Bill a few times back when I freelanced for Las Vegas CityLife.

Matt explained that the blue angel pictured on the cover, taken by Bill, is prominently standing at the seedy hotel on East Fremont Street–in Las Vegas’s red-light district–and is a 10-feet high piece of art standing in stark contrast to its environs.

Branon is a fellow author at my first publishing house, Huntington Press. And Branon has left an impressive list of books in his wake, including his first, Let Us Prey, which made The New York Times' 1992 Notable Books of the Year–a large feat, considering, before it was picked up by HarperCollins, he'd self-published it.

 Congrats to Matt on a successful signing, and a good time with old friends.

Photo of Matt courtesy of JJ Wylie.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

What Happens in Sin City Doesn't Stay Here

Here's a twist -- and exactly the type of news the public relations machine behind Vegas doesn't like to see.

Still, it's tough to keep this one off the front pages, after a New York college student, according to a report in the New York Daily News, sued a Las Vegas escort service claiming the prostitute he hired did not stay with him for the agreed-upon amount of time.

Hubert Blackman would like his $275 back, plus an additional $1.8 million for his trouble and damages for what he has called a "tragic event."

Blackman claims in his suit against Las Vegas Exclusive Personals that, during a vacation to Las Vegas last December, he paid $155 for a stripper to visit his room at the Stratosphere Hotel and paid an additional $120 to have her perform a sex act on him, the News reported. She did a strip dance and performed a sex act, but left after 30 minutes.

Upon his arrival home in New York City, he filed his suit in Manhattan Federal Court claiming that “an escort did an illegal sexual act on me during her paid service to me” and “I almost had gotten arrested.”He's also claiming he now needs medical treatment for a mental condition related to the incident.

But Blackman, in his suit, said he paid the woman to stay with him for an hour. The problem arose when she left after just 30 minutes. So he called the escort company and requested his money back. When they refused to give him a refund, he then called Las Vegas Metro Police, only to have officers threaten him with arrest because prostitution is illegal in the city.

It may be illegal in the city, but it's overlooked in hotel rooms, where hotel staff are very much aware of the comings and goings of high-priced escorts and paying visits to guests' hotel rooms. It's a lucrative business, and an old one, in Strip and downtown hotels. The phone books and online directories are full of so-called escort service companies.

Blackman, who said the woman suggested the sex act, claims he was unaware of the law.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

AC360° Cold Case: 'Mystery still surrounds rappers' deaths'


Credit: Wikipedia Commons
By Cathy Scott


A couple weeks ago, I sat down with CNN's anchor/reporter Ted Rowlands and producer Michael Cary to talk about the Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls murders. Here is Anderson Cooper's resulting blog post.

Ted Rowlands and Michael Cary
Reprinted from CNN's AC360 Blogs
Los Angeles, California (CNN) - In the late '90s, two of hip hop’s biggest stars—Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace (aka Biggie Smalls, Notorious B.I.G.) were gunned down six months apart in eerily similar fashions.

According to witnesses, both were passengers in vehicles, stopped at busy intersections, but police never received solid leads to arrest a suspect for either of the seemingly targeted shootings.

On September 7, 1996, Marion “Suge” Knight, then head of Death Row Records, was driving Tupac Shakur, his multi-platinum recording artist, to a party in Las Vegas after attending the Mike Tyson-Bruce Sheldon boxing match. Their security team was in separate vehicles. While stopped at a busy intersection just off the Las Vegas Strip, witnesses say a white Cadillac pulled alongside, and a gunman in the backseat fired multiple rounds from a semiautomatic gun into Knight’s vehicle.

With Shakur bleeding in the passenger seat, Knight made a U-turn, driving over a street median, and ultimately coming to a stop blocks away.

Las Vegas bicycle police nearby, who heard the shooting, followed Knight’s vehicle. The white Cadillac sped away.

Cathy Scott, who was one of the first reporters on the scene and author of The Killing of Tupac Shakur, tells CNN the failure to secure the actual scene of the shooting and interview witnesses immediately doomed the investigation. Las Vegas police said witnesses were not forthcoming with detailed information.

There are several possible motives for the murder.

One theory is that the shooting was payback for a fight caught on casino surveillance video three hours before the shooting. The man who was beaten that night, Orlando Anderson, told CNN a year later that he had nothing to do with the crime. Eight months after that interview, Anderson was killed in what police described as a gang shoot-out in Los Angeles.
Another theory focuses on the “gangsta” lifestyle of the hip hop world at the time and a publicized East Coast-West Coast rap war between Knight’s Death Row Records in Los Angeles and Bad Boy Entertainment in New York, which represented rapper Biggie Smalls. Shakur and Smalls had been embroiled in verbal sparring through their music.

Six months after Shakur’s shooting, Smalls came to California to promote an upcoming album entitled  “Life After Death” and told a San Francisco radio station that he wanted to “squash” rumors of the East Coast-West Coast battle.


Four days later, on March 9, 1997, when leaving a music industry party at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, Smalls was shot and killed. Los Angeles police said a lone gunmen pulled alongside the suburban and opened fire on Smalls, who was in the passenger seat.

The main theory behind Smalls’ shooting: payback for the slaying of Shakur six months earlier.

Retired Los Angeles Police Detective Russell Poole, who worked on the Smalls’ case, tells CNN that he believes Suge Knight was behind the murder, even though the Death Row Records’ boss was serving time on a probation violation at the time.
 
“Suge Knight ordered the hit,” Poole says, adding that he believes it was arranged by Reggie Wright Jr., who headed security for Death Row Records.
 
Poole goes even further, stating that he believes Knight was behind the shooting of Tupac Shakur as well. Poole says Shakur’s bodyguards told him that the rapper planned to sever ties with Knight’s Death Row Records which could have cost the company millions of dollars.

Reggie Wright Jr. told CNN he had nothing to do with either murder, and Suge Knight has repeatedly said he had nothing to do with the crime.
But two months after Shakur’s killing, Knight talked to ABC News and one quote seems to follow the former record company executive: “If you knew who killed Tupac, would you tell police?” To which Knight responded: “Absolutely not. It’s not my job. I don’t get paid to solve homicides. I don’t get paid to tell on people.”

Both the Los Angeles and Las Vegas police departments say the investigations are still open.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Cool 'Big Book of Social Media'

By Cathy Scott

Adriel Hampton's review of The Big Book of Social Media: Case Studies, Stories, Perspectives is now out on Creating Government 2.0 and Social Media site -- and it's a good one.

The many contributors who make up the anthology, Hampton says, are "the product of 20 media conferences."

Indeed. I spoke at three of those conferences and loved every minute of them. But little did I know that a book would follow. A big book.

I learned about Bob Fine's first Twitter conference, beginning mid-2009, when my sister, Cordelia Mendoza, spoke at the first Cool Twitter Conference, held at Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar in the heart of downtown San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. How cool was that, to have the conference at Croce's? The energy in the room, Cordelia tweeted, "was contagious." I was more than curious. So I contacted Bob and signed on for the next conference.

Bob Fine and Cordelia Mendoza
I met him for the first time at the House of Blues in West Hollywood, where my friend, attorney Vickie Pynchon, also spoke. I was hooked. What else would Bob come up with? First, Croce's, and now, the House of Blues.

Well, when he invited me to speak at the CTC conference at The Playwright Tavern in New York City's Theatre District, I couldn't resist. I was going to be in the city just before the conference, so I added a couple of days to my trip to attend. Again, how cool was that? Bob had an uncanny knack of being able to land hip venues-for-a-day as the conferences winded their way from city to city.

I spoke again at the Orange County, California, conference on the continuing tour from coast to coast, as well as internationally. Cordelia was the official Twitter coordinator, gathering tons of steam and followers as she tweeted, quoting speakers live from The O.C. And while the venues were awesome, so were the presenters, who were fired up to share their passion for getting out the word via social media.

A few months after the Cool Twitter Conferences had finished its run, Bob invited me to contribute to his Big Book of Social Media.

Nothing Bob Fine does is small, including this book, so it shouldn't have come as a surprise that he had a big, ambitious idea to incorporate many of the people who had spoken at his conferences -- tweeters, Facebookers and social media hounds from all walks of life who were successfully using new media in a variety of ways. As an author, I know what it takes to put together a book. My sister, too, was invited to write a chapter for the book about how she uses social media to help spur sales at Cottage Antiques, her shop in Ocean Beach, a coastal town in San Diego. With so many contributors, would it actually happen?

But Bob, just like he had with the conferences, pulled it off, and The Big Book, as Hampton writes in his review, "collects the best thoughts of an amazing cast, from marketers to true-crime novelists to activists and small business owners."

Hampton quotes from my sister's chapter, which is titled Something Old, Something New: "Antique store owner Cordelia Mendoza writes of 'broadening the market for antiques through social engagement,' going far beyond the typical listing of for-sale items to photograph, blog and tweet changes in displays, unusual inventory and visits by prominent customers."

Combine 42 of the best-of-the-best who spoke at the Cool Twitter Conferences, as well as at the Cool Gravity Summit last year, roll them into The Big Book of Social Media, and it's a star combination

Thanks, Bob, for a great run of better-than-cool conferences and an even cooler Big Book of Social Media. I'm proud to be a part of it.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The 2010 Darwin Awards

It's that magical time of year when the annual Darwin Awards are bestowed, honoring the least evolved among us. As those who put the list together each year say, the Darwin Awards are about "honoring those who improve the species by accidentally removing themselves from it! This award is usually bestowed posthumously." Happy New Year, and enjoy!

Here is this year's glorious winner: 1. When his 38-caliber revolver failed to fire at his intended victim during a hold-up in Long Beach, California, would-be robber James Elliot did something that can only inspire wonder. He peered down the barrel and tried the trigger again. This time it worked.

And now, the honorable mentions:

2. The chef at a hotel in Switzerland lost a finger in a meat cutting machine and after a little shopping around, submitted a claim to his insurance company. The company expecting negligence sent out one of its men to have a look for himself. He tried the machine and he also lost a finger. The chef's claim was approved.

3. A man who shoveled snow for an hour to clear a space for his car during a blizzard in Chicago returned with his vehicle to find a woman had taken the space.
Understandably, he shot her.

4. After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn't discovered for three days.

5. An American teenager was in the hospital recovering from serious head wounds received from an oncoming train. When asked how he received the injuries, the lad told police that he was simply trying to see how close he could get his head to a moving train before he was hit.

6. A man walked into a Louisiana Circle-K, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer -- $15.

7. Seems an Arkansas guy wanted some beer pretty badly.. He decided that he'd just throw a cinder block through a liquor store window, grab some booze, and run. So he lifted the cinder block and heaved it over his head at the window. The cinder block bounced back and hit the would-be thief on the head, knocking him unconscious. The liquor store window was made of Plexiglas. The whole event was caught on videotape.

8. As a female shopper exited a New York convenience store, a man grabbed her purse, and ran. The clerk immediately called 911 and the woman was able to give them a detailed description of the snatcher. Within minutes, the police apprehended the snatcher. They put him in the car and drove back to the store. The thief was then taken out of the car and told to stand there for a positive ID. To which, he replied, "Yes, officer, that's her. That's the lady I stole the purse from."

9. The Ann Arbor News crime column reported that a man walked into a Burger King in Ypsilanti, Michigan, at 5 a.m., flashed a gun and demanded cash. The clerk turned him down because he said he couldn't open the cash register without a food order. When the man ordered onion rings, the clerk said they weren't available for breakfast. The man, frustrated, walked away. [*A 5-STAR STUPIDITY AWARD WINNER]

10. When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motorhome parked on a Seattle street by sucking on a hose, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find a very sick man curled up next to the motorhome near spilled sewage. A police spokesman said that the man admitted to trying to steal gasoline, but he'd plugged his siphon hose into the RV's sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying it was the best laugh he'd ever had.

In the interest of bettering mankind, please share these with friends and family, unless, of course, one of these individuals by chance is a distant relative or long, lost friend. In that case, be glad they are distant and hope they remain lost. Remember: They walk among us, they can reproduce, and they do!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Personal Tale of Identity Theft

Credit: Wikipedia Commons
by Cathy Scott

Two days before Thanksgiving, I was the victim of a short-lived identity theft.

I’d gone to the supermarket that evening and spent $75, including dinner-to-go from the salad bar. When I arrived at the grocery, I grabbed my wallet, not my purse, from my car and went inside to shop.

When I walked out of the store after shopping, I had my wallet and keys in one hand and two paper shopping bags in the other. When I reached my car, I put the bags down to press the unlock button on my keyless door opener. Then I picked up the bags and put them in the car. A large SUV was parked next to my car and I had to squeeze in between the two to slip into the passenger seat, which distracted me. I got in, put on my seat belt and headed home.

A few minutes later, once in my driveway, I realized I did not know where my wallet was. I searched the grocery bags, under the car seats, next to them, in the center console, on the floor, in the back. No sign of the wallet. I got back into my car and hurried back to the store. Not more than 15 minutes had elapsed. I parked near where I had just been and checked the blacktop parking lot as I walked toward the store.

The checkout clerk didn’t have my wallet, and no one had turned it in at the service counter. “It must be in my car somewhere, “ I told a store clerk.

Inside my wallet was an ATM/Visa credit card, my driver’s license, my athletic club card, a Barnes and Noble membership card, and some business cards from other people. No money was in the wallet except for coins. I don’t typically keep photos in my wallet.

When I finally walked into my house, two messages had already been left on my phone from the bank. “This is the fraud unit at Wells Fargo Bank,” the message began. “Please call us immediately to verify some recent activity on your ATM card.”

Oh, no, I said to myself. Someone has my wallet.

I called the bank's fraud unit (open 24 hours) and talked to an employee. She asked, “Did you authorize anyone to use your card?”

“No,” I answered.

“Did you lose your card?”

“Yes,” I said. “About 40 minutes ago.”

“Someone just tried to make another purchase a few minutes ago. We flagged it,” she said.

Whoever picked up my wallet in the parking lot had a decision to make. “Should I walk the wallet into the store? Or should I keep it?”

The person kept it. And then she got very busy. (I say “she” because the person used my Nevada driver’s license as identification for her ensuing shopping spree.)

She made her first stop down the street at Grumpy’s, a neighborhood gas station, charging $1 on my card. The bank said it looked like a test purchase, to see if she could get away with using my ID. An internal flag went up at the bank, because it was an even dollar--a dead give-away for a fraud purchase to see if the person could pull it off.

To me, it appears the thief was not alone, and here’s why. The second stop on the spending spree, after having success at Grumpy’s, was a Taco Bell drive-thru about two miles away. The total was $23.68. But that apparently was not enough quick food for the thief. She drove back to a strip mall across the street from the supermarket and spent another $23-and-change on fast food.

Next up was a Payless Shoes in the same parking lot. Grand total? $88.

Then, a few doors away from Payless, she went into Target and attempted to purchase $200 worth of electronics. By then, my bank was onto her, flagged the account, and would not pay. But being declined didn’t stop the thief. She proceeded from the electronics department at Target to one of the main checkout registers for another purchase (I don’t know what the price was). She was turned away for that too.

Not to be dissuaded, she walked a few doors up from Target and went into Bed, Bath & Beyond for yet another attempt to buy merchandise with my plastic. At the checkout, the clerk rang up a $5 item. “Declined,” she was told.

The bank employee assured me that I was not responsible for the purchases and asked if I wanted to prosecute. "Absolutely," I said.

The snafu for the thief in this quick-and-dirty shopping trip is that drive-thru restaurants have surveillance cameras that take clear photos of cars--and license plates--as does Grumpy’s, because it’s a gas station with cameras pointed smack-dab at the parking lot and gas pumps. And at each and every place the thief went to, she not only committed fraud by using my bank card, but she presented my driver’s license as an ID. That’s a felonious federal offense of identity theft.

By my count, she committed four counts of theft, three counts of attempted theft (state offenses), and seven counts of felony identity theft. The bank has its own investigators and, by the next morning, had opened a case.

As for me, I had my work cut out for me. I got up early the next morning--Thanksgiving eve--which wasn't how I had planned that morning; I'd intended to spend it and most of the afternoon, writing. Instead, my first stop of the day was the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.

The banker had told me the night before that I could get a temporary ATM card but that I could not do that without proof of a driver's license. So, I drove to the DMV, where I stood in two lines before I was able to present proof of my identity with an ancient photo ID from a newspaper I’d once worked for, along with my phone bill. Because driver’s licenses are now embedded with a logo, the license was mailed and not immediately available.

With a paper driver’s license in hand and the dated press pass, I drove to the bank to get a temporary ATM card. I answered their security questions so they could access my account. But without a name and account number stamped on it, the card they gave me is only useful in ATM machines, not for debit or credit at stores. It was a step back in time to not-so-long-ago banking.

My third stop was Office Max to pick up a fraud complaint form that was faxed there by my bank. I filled it out and faxed it back. I went to the gym later in the day to work out and have my photo taken for a new gym membership card. I needed something with a current photo on it, and that did the trick.

I blame myself for being in a hurry and careless with my wallet, but I mostly blame the thief who took advantage instead of handing over my wallet to a supermarket employee. Luckily, my wallet didn’t have my Social Security card inside, and I don’t include my Social Security number on my driver’s license, so the thief didn't have access to it. And I also don’t typically keep my checkbook in my wallet, so I didn't have to close out my checking account and open a new one, thank goodness.

My fourth stop was at a department store. With gym and ATM cards, cash and a temporary paper driver's license, I needed something to put them in, so I bought a new wallet.

More than anything, this was a major hassle, an expense to my bank, nominal expense to me but a major inconvenience. Luckily, I wasn’t flying out of town for Thanksgiving, because I wouldn’t have been able to board a plane without identification.

This should be a slam-dunk case for Las Vegas police, given the cameras at the two fast-food restaurants and surveillance at the stores, snapping the woman's photo each time she presented my driver's license to a store clerk. I know there are bigger fish to fry, but it appears, relatively speaking, to be an uncomplicated case to solve, given the strong possibility that at least one of the fast-food cameras camptured the license plate. Plus, each transaction made wth my card was time stamped, as are surveillance photos. It's a matter of matching them up.

That afternoon, I went to Payless Shoes, and the clerk there said the thief showed my driver's license to make the $88 credit purchase. And it was the bank employee who told me, because the card was used for credit (my pin number wasn't in my wallet and the person did not use it as an ATM card), that it's identity theft.

It's been just a few days, but I'm already ultra sensitive about my wallet, as well as my Blackberry, hardly letting them out of my sight when I'm out and about. I don't want it to happen again.

My advice to holiday shoppers is, while you're hitting the stores buying gifts, hang on to your wallets! You never know who's nearby, ready and willing to steal your identity.

Reprinted with permission from Women in Crime Ink.
Loading...