Multiple Las Vegas Casinos Ripped Off By Sophisticated Scammers
On June 26, 2023, it was reported Circa had been robbed of $1.2 million. Not old-school, strong-arm robbed, something much stranger.
A casino employee, it was reported, delivered the cash to the crooks, voluntarily. The reason: The con artist impersonated the owner of the casino and instructed the employee to do so.
There was an arrest and $850,000 of the pilfered cash was recovered.
Reactions to the story involved a lot of confusion, skepticism and more than a little “WTF?” The reactions were largely based on speculation. We’re here to help.
The story is much bigger and contains substantially more WTF than you can even imagine.
The fact is Circa was just the latest of a series of con jobs perpetuated on Las Vegas casinos, and beyond.
We’ve heard five casinos have been hit in Las Vegas, plus one in Mesquite, Nevada and another in Laughlin, Nevada.
There are some parts of this story we can’t share yet, including the names of the casinos that fell victim to this scam. The casinos are on The Strip, downtown and on the Boulder Strip (the theft at that casino is rumored to be in the $750,000 range). Some are part of big corporations, others are stand-alone casinos.
The M.O. is the same in each theft, and no, it’s not a case of someone being incompetent or stupid. Victims are meticulously targeted and the people perpetuating these crimes have committed them before in other parts of the country.
It’s believed another casino theft in Colorado fits the pattern of what’s happened in Nevada.
Specifically, casino employees (always women) are contacted by the con men (it’s not sexism, they’re men), and they impersonate casino owners or high-ranking executives. They make up a detailed story about why cash is needed.
The one that’s been confirmed, at Circa, had to do with paying for fire safety equipment.
Channel 8 (KLAS-TV) did a great job of breaking the story about the theft at Circa, but what’s been reported is just tip of the grift iceberg.
When the story first broke, and it was revealed one of the con artists impersonated “a Las Vegas hotel owner,” everyone assumed that owner was Derek Stevens. Everyone asked how a senior employee could not know what Stevens looks like as he’s at the casino all the time interacting with guests and employees.
Stevens co-owns Circa (and Golden Gate and The D) with his brother Greg Stevens. Derek Stevens owns 75 percent of the casinos, Greg owns 25 percent. The employee who removed the funds never interacted with the person pretending to be Greg Stevens.
She was told to deliver $320,000 “for an emergency payment to the fire department,” and did so, returning to the casino after the delivery was made. Again, the employee was a cage supervisor, and was not part of the scam. She believed she was protecting the interests of the casino and performing a task assigned to her by one of the owners.
Hindsight is 20/20, as is often the case of such scams.
The employee brought additional cash to the person she believed to be a lawyer representing the Stevens. The amounts were $314,000, $350,000 and $500,000.
Circa’s security team realized something was up and law enforcement got involved.
Metro apprehended the recipient of the cash and recovered $850,000.
Details of how the asshat, sorry, “alleged asshat” was caught are a little unclear.
Here’s what court documents say, “Detectives tracked the vehicle involved in the suspected theft, finding its registered owner. Police suspect the car belonged to Gutierrez’s aunt with whom he lives. Police also surveilled the home, seeing a different car arrive and then leave with Gutierrez and another man in it. Police searched the car, finding no money it it.”
Police got a search warrant for the home and found a metric hell-ton of cash with “Circa” on it.
Erik Gutierrez, 23, was arrested and has been presented as the person responsible for the crime. How do we know that’s a red herring? His bail was set at $25,000. For stealing $1.2 million. From just this one casino.
The term is “mule,” also known as a “patsy” or “fall guy.” The alleged criminal genius couldn’t even figure out how to bury $850,000 in his back yard to hide it from authorities.
The investigation is ongoing.
As we said, this wasn’t just a Circa thing. Circa’s incident was the first to be reported because it was the first casino theft to involve an arrest.
Since the Circa story broke, our friend Las Vegas Locally got his hands on a “Fraud Scam Alert” sent by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to casinos warning them about this scheme.
“PBX” stands for “private branch exchange.” A PBX operator transfers incoming calls to a company’s internal telephone system.
As mentioned in that caption you probably didn’t read, the Metro memo confirms these frauds have been attempted (or accomplished) for at least the last five months in Las Vegas, “but the frequency of calls has seen a large uptick in the past few weeks.”
We’ve been told the evil-doers have made a significant number of attempts to pull this scam in Las Vegas even in the period since the Circa theft occurred (June 17, 2023).
The cojones on these guys.
The “Fraud Scam Alert” also confirms “Scammers have been successful, resulting in millions of dollars being taken.” Please note “millions” is plural.
Authorities have not shared which other Las Vegas casinos have fallen victim to this well-planned and skillfully executed confidence game.
We would love to share more details about these con jobs, but many specifics are locked down tighter than the slot machines at Resorts World. Some for good reason, as they could muck with the investigation or inspire copycats by other alleged asshats.
Circa isn’t talking. Derek Stevens released this statement: “Although I love a good PR story, this isn’t one of them. Circa Resort & Casino is cooperating with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in this investigation. We greatly appreciate their efforts to date and cannot comment further due to an ongoing investigation.”
Stevens is a master marketer, and he’s referring to unfortunate incidents at his casinos he later turned into P.R. gold. For example, when his Manneken Pis statue at The D was vandalized, he turned the repair and return of the statue into an event.
When a drunk oaf stole the Blarney Stone from The D, again, Stevens flipped the script and made the most of the shenanigans.
At one point, during the building of Circa, an exterior panel was installed upside down by an engineer, Mo Pierce. When the mistake was pointed out, Stevens made it into a thing. He even gave it a name: MoDot.
Now you know! We’re sharing what we can share, but we honestly aren’t sure we’re allowed to share that we aren’t allowed to share certain things.
If you’re curious about the status of the Circa cage manager, it’s safe to assume she was let go. It’s definitely better than being arrested, as the casino employee was in Colorado (she’s since been released on bond).
Just be careful out there, question everything and never take phone calls from your boss.
“Sorry, boss, I can’t take your calls, it could be an alleged asshat trying to bilk us out of money,” you can say. Yes, your boss will be confused by the word “bilk” as it hasn’t been used since 1974, but that’s beside the point. The bottom line is you won’t have to take calls from your boss, for legitimate loss prevention reasons.
Update (6/29/23): We got to chat with Contessa Brewer on CNBC about this story.
Update (10/30/23): The aforementioned fall guy has been sentenced. Erik Gutierrez Martinez got a 36-to-96-month suspended sentence. Not exactly the punishment a criminal mastermind would get.