A bizarre aftermath to this month's election has politically scarred Nevada's governor-elect, widened a federal probe into underworld influence and provided an underworld influence and provided an wielded in this gambling-oriented state.
The governor-elect is state Attorney General Robert List, a Republican who campaigned on a law-and-order theme and won a 17 percentage point victory in a state where the Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 registration edge. List, widely regarded as incorruptible, successfully defended Nevada's tough gambling-license law before the U.S. Supereme Court.
Disclosures in Nevada newspapers since the election, however, have tarnished List's Mr. Clean image.
The governor-elect has acknowledged that on at least 13 occasions during the past two years he accepted the hospitality of the Stardust a hotel-casino in Las Vegas owned by Argent Corp. which has been a principal target of a massive federal probe into underworld influence in Nevada gambling.
In an effort to cut his political losses. List this week sent the Stardust a personal check of $3.124 to cover free lodging meals and entertainment he had received there. List also admitted that he had received $425 from the state for lodging and food expenses at the same time he was staying for free at the Stardust.
These admissions would in most states probably be enough to impeach recall or thoroughly discredit a new governor.
But in wide-open Nevada there appears to be considerable sympathy for List and general acceptance of his story that he has been the target of a plot by an unsavory casino figure who was refused a gambling license and a financially shaky newspaper publisher in debt to the Stardust and other casinos.
The other figures in this only in Nevada drama are Frank (Lefty) Rosenthal entertainment director of the Stardust, and Bob Brown, publisher of a small, struggling Las Vegas daily known as the Valley Times.
Rosenthal, who has a long history of association with underworld figures, once was convicted of bribing a basketball player to affect the outcome of a game. It is a measure of Las Vegas lack of concern for such things that Rosenthal now has a Monday night television program in which he comments on the game and offers a football handicap.
When Rosenthal was denied a license by the Nevada Gaming Commission a few years ago, he appealed and challenged the constitutionality of the law - a challenge supported by publisher Brown. It was this case that List took to the Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of the Nevada gambling license law.
Brown is a friend of Rosenthal's and acknowledge that he has received large amounts" of prepaid advertising from Argent Corp. to keep his hard-pressed newspaper alive. Last year Brown went to Florida to testify as a character witness for Rosenthal, who had been barred from Florida racetracks and was attempting to be reinstated.
On Oct. 29, 10 days before the election. List and Brown met privately in a Las Vegas coffee shop. The two men had once been friends, but Brown had tion. List and Brown met privately in become a critic of the attorney gencratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Bob Rose.
As Brown tells the story. List made an overture to him to join the winning team. "If I'm elected governor. I can do you a lot of good Brown remembers List saying.
As List recalls it, Brown told him that the Valley Times was working on a story about List's free stay at the Stardust. Brown said he had witnesses who would say that "booze and broads" were sent to the room in which List was staying.
List, whose wife and three children had been with him during one of the times he stayed free at the Stardust, emotionally denied this part of the story and asked Brown not to print it.
Then, it List's version, Brown asked him. "How would you feel toward Argent and these people if this story did not run?" Immediately, says List, he sensed that the story was an effort to win favorable licensing treatment for Rosenthal.
Brown acknowledges that he raised the issue but says he was not trying to win any kind of deal for Rosenthal.
List then reported the matter to the FBI as an "extortion" effort by Brown and Rosenthal. The FBI investigated and this week presented undisclosed testimony to a federal grand jury here.
The offending story never ran before election day. During the days between the meeting and the election. Brown was asked to withhold the story by emissaries of List, outgoing Nevada Gov. Mike O'Callaghan and Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid. Rose himself asked that the story be suppressed saying it would backfire.
In the end, Brown agreed not to print the story.
"It was too near the election and would have looked like a smear," he said in retrospect. "Everybody in the state would have thought I was a hatchetman. There was no way I could have recovered from that."
The story finally came out after the election, first appearing in the Pro List Las Vegas Sun in a version heavily favorable to the governor-elect and sharply critical of the Valley Times.
Whatever the motive of the participants, the story seems to have damaged all who were involved. Brown admits that the affair has deepened his "credibility problems," which he says arise from the favors he has received from Argent.
Rosenthal has been called up by the Gaming Commission to see whether he should be designated "a key employe," who must be licensed. Refusal of this license, which seems almost a foregone conclusion, would require him to leave the Stardust.
And List, although everyone concedes he gave no favor to Rosenthal, is starting his own administration under a cloud.
List makes no apology for accepting the Stardust's hospitality, saying that the state only allows $117.50 for a hotel room and that he usually winds up out-of-pocket on state trips. Nevada budget director Howard Barrett, reappointed to his job by List, says that the practice is widespread.
But List's judgment in staying at the Standust at the same time that he was carrying the Rosenthal case to the high court seems questionable even to many of his supporters. List's responses on this issue have, if anything only expanded these questions about his judgment.