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John L. Smith On Why Nevada Seems To Be A Paradise For Con Artists

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Last week, Las Vegan Edwin Fujinaga was convicted of ripping people off in a $1.5 billion Ponzi scheme. 

 

He operated for a decade and bilked more than 10,000 Japanese who invested in a fake medical accounts receivable business. 

 

Fujinaga might spend his life in prison for the scheme. And Nevada? Well, his conviction doesn’t do anything to diminish its reputation as a scammer’s paradise. 

“Nevada has a long tradition of essentially being the headquarters of different kinds of con artists,” John L. Smith told KNPR's State of Nevada.

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Smith has been following the case.

A person running a Ponzi scheme pays investors with money he gets from new investors. 

“He basically paid his investors back a portion of what they paid him as an investment,” Smith said.

With the rest of the money, Fujinaga lived the "high-roller lifestyle," Smith said. He had luxury houses and a stake in a private jet.

It took several years to finally end the scheme because most of the victims were in Japan and not Las Vegas. It required international cooperation between authorities in Japan, the FBI, the SEC and the Department of Justice.

Smith said Nevada's incorporation laws are pretty permissive, allowing for bad actors to work in the shadows easily.

Despite the laws and the state's reputation, the con artist paradise mantle hasn't hurt Las Vegas' tourism industry.

“I used to think it did. When I was younger and more naïve I thought it would have a real impact on companies coming to Nevada to do business," Smith said, "But the fact is, the state – since statehood – has been a place where grifters have come to apply their trade.”

Repeal Day 

“Las Vegas is a city that has celebrated alcohol consumption like no other,” Smith said.

The Mob Museum will be holding its annual Repeal Day celebration December 5, marking the day Prohibition was officially repealed.

Smith says Las Vegas never really followed prohibition laws. He compares that time period with the attitude towards marijuana. There used to be signs along I-15 cautioning travelers of the severe penalties if they were caught with marijuana in Nevada. 

“We now live in a city that a growing – rapidly growing and very successful and very lucrative --  marijuana culture," he said.

Smith expects to see 'speakeasies' for marijuana in Las Vegas' downtown in the very near future.

The Retirement of Bob Coffin

"Bob Coffin, I think for almost anyone who has met him and been around him, he is a fine guy. He’s basically a kid from the neighborhood who grew up and had an opportunity to pursue public service," Smith said.

Coffin served as a state senator and as a Las Vegas City Councilman. 

“It was really a natural from my standpoint because it was the guy from the neighborhood coming back to the neighborhood to take part and really to help repair a careworn area of the community not far from downtown,” Smith said.

Coffin worked to repair the neighborhoods and address quality of life issues like parks and infrastructure.

Smith said Coffin has earned his retirement.

Federal Money for Survivors of October 1 

“It is a great sign that the federal government, which is really swimming in mass shootings not all as grisly and awful as October 1 but there is an awful lot of mass shootings in America. This is a sign that we are still on that Justice Department radar,” Smith said.

He said being on the Justice Department's radar is important. It means more financial help for survivors and importantly for first responders many of whom are still dealing with the after-effects of the trauma.

 

 

 

 

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John L. Smith, contributor

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