Las Vegas' leading newspaper has a confession to make: It buried a huge story about one of its city's leading citizens some 20 years ago. But why it's fessing up now may be a story in itself.
In a lengthy article published Monday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal acknowledged that it knew about sexual harassment allegations surrounding casino mogul Steve Wynn and his Mirage Hotel in 1998 but spiked the story for unknown reasons.
The newspaper had court records and other documentation about harassment allegations involving Wynn, who later became the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. It even took the unusual step of paying for lie detector tests for two women who said harassment was common at the Wynn-owned Mirage during that time.
Yet the paper never published the story. The Wall Street Journal broke the news last month, leading to Wynn's resignation from the RNC and an internal investigation at his company. Wynn has denied the allegations.
Although the Review-Journal doesn't mention it in its article about itself, its self-revelation follows a significant change in the paper's ownership over the past two years.
After decades of control by a private media company, the Review-Journal was sold twice in 2015, eventually ending up in the hands of Sheldon Adelson, who, like Wynn, is a billionaire casino magnate and a major Republican donor. Adelson and Wynn are also longtime business rivals in Las Vegas — giving the Review-Journal's new story a possible payback subplot.
But the paper's editor, J. Keith Moyer, denied in an interview that Adelson had any involvement or influence over publication of the new story.
"I've said this many times before," he said. "Sheldon Adelson read this story this morning for the first time like everyone else. . . .We're just reporting what's going on. We thought this was a story our readers should know about."
Moyer said Adelson maintains a hands-off policy about the paper's news coverage. He said any assertion to the contrary would be similar to suggesting The Washington Post favors the interests of its owner, Amazon.com founder Jeffrey P. Bezos, in its reporting.
The Review-Journal said in its story Monday that it was unable to determine who ordered the 1998 article killed or why. But it suggested that publishing what it knew back in 1998 might have led to Wynn's removal from his company or changed what it said was "a culture of harassment" in Wynn's company.
The reporter of the 1998 story, Carri Geer Thevenot (who is now the paper's metropolitan editor) told her newspaper that she kept her file of notes, documents and interviews from 1998, including a printout of the story itself. "I always wanted to tell these women's stories," she said in the Review-Journal's article on Monday. "That's why I saved this file for 20 years."
According to a 1997 court filing, a Mirage waitress said she was pressured into having sex with Wynn after she mentioned the birth of her first grandchild; she said Wynn wanted to experience sex with a grandmother.
Another Mirage server alleged that supervisors didn't protect women from gamblers who groped and harassed them, and that some were sent to sexually "accommodate" high rollers at the resort's luxury villas throughout the 1990s.
The statements were part of a lawsuit in which 11 women who worked at the Mirage alleged coerced sexual conduct at the hotel and misconduct by Wynn. One of the plaintiffs told the newspaper the following year that she received between $1,000 and $5,000 from each customer in exchange for sex. The Mirage settled all of the claims in 2003.
Two of the women took lie detector tests at the newspaper's request — a practice sometimes employed by celebrity-gossip publications but almost unheard of by a mainstream newspaper. One woman passed; another showed indications of untruthfulness. The Review-Journal published an image of the bill for the polygraph test.
The paper said its former publisher didn't remember the 1998 story. Its outside counsel at the time — who raised libel concerns about the original article — said he wouldn't comment, citing attorney-client privilege. The Review-Journal's editor in 1998, Thomas Mitchell, offered only a vague account of the spiking, saying he wasn't pressured by others to kill the story.
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal denying the allegations against him last month, Wynn wrote, "We find ourselves in a world where people can make allegations, regardless of the truth, and a person is left with the choice of weathering insulting publicity or engaging in multi-year lawsuits. It is deplorable for anyone to find themselves in this situation."
One of the women quoted in the quashed 1998 story, Cynthia Simmons, said she was upset that the paper never published her account.
"It was hard enough to come forward in the first place and reveal this stuff to my family, and then to have the newspaper curb the whole story, I feel I got silenced," she said.