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Aladdin Hotel's Controversial Korean 'Genie' : New Owner Has Colorful Past, Passion for Gaming

August 02, 1987|AL DELUGACH | Times Staff Writer

Calabrese assisted a group of individuals from St. Louis and Detroit in buying the Aladdin early in 1971. The group was eventually ousted after a hidden ownership scandal involving organized crime in 1979. Calabrese got a $500,000 share in a $1.5-million "finders' fee" that went to Dunes owner Morris Shenker on the 1971 hotel sale, Nevada authorities were told afterward.

A Calabrese family corporation, World Capital Corp., had deeded the Holmby Hills house to one of its officers, a female family member, one month before Yasuda bought it for an indicated price of about $400,000, Los Angeles County public records disclose. The relative subsequently carried a third mortgage for $140,000 of Yasuda's purchase price, and Samuel Calabrese signed one of the associated documents as "her attorney in fact."

Calabrese was indicted in June, 1975, on a charge of conspiring to impede a federal investigation of one of the key people in the group owning the Aladdin, St. Louis lawyer Sorkis J. Webbe, who later was convicted of income tax evasion related to skimming Teamster loan money from the Aladdin. Calabrese was convicted and served a federal prison term for two unrelated fraud convictions. Both Webbe and Calabrese have since died.

Tax Liens Filed

A spokesman said Yasuda bought the house through a broker and never met Calabrese. Gaming investigators had questioned Yasuda privately about the Calabrese matter but appeared satisfied with this explanation, the spokesman added. The subject was never brought up at the public licensing hearings last year.

Yasuda did not respond to requests for comment on his association with Calabrese.

Despite Yasuda's social status as a millionaire in Holmby Hills, public records show a number of federal, state and county tax liens were filed against him during the 1970s. They included liens for failure to pay state unemployment insurance in connection with his Camelot Golf Course in Mojave and racehorse taxes in Riverside County. Records also show defaults on mortgage payments on his house.

Most liens were paid off, and the mortgage defaults were cured within a month or two. However, in two cases, they were on file for more than a year. One involved a default on Yasuda's payments on the Calabrese mortgage. It was filed in November, 1975, and not canceled until January, 1977. Another was a state income tax lien for $6,383 that was filed in August, 1985, and was not released until January this year.

It has now been four months since Yasuda reopened the Aladdin's casino. Yasuda admits that the property has been losing money. He maintained recently in an interview in halting English that he was nursing hopes of reaching the break-even point in the month just ended.

That hope was viewed as not particularly realistic among close observers. Further, it undoubtedly has put more pressure on his professional casino team brought in by Chief Operating Officer Dennis Gomes, whom he hired away from a top post at Hilton's Las Vegas casinos. Ironically, it was Gomes, while a state regulator, who uncovered the Aladdin's practice of giving of free rooms, food and drinks to many known mobsters in the early 1970s.

Up and down the Strip, reports are rife that Yasuda and Gomes have frequently been at odds about major decisions. Gomes declined to comment on the situation, and Yasuda played down any friction.

It would not be the first instance of friction or disenchantment between Yasuda and Americans working for him.

Even before the casino opened, Yasuda's Las Vegas attorney, former head casino commissioner Frank Schreck, had quit and the new owner had engineered a shake-up that displaced a number of executives and employees.

Yasuda also fired a Los Angeles lawyer who had handled some of the early hiring. The casino owner has since filed a civil suit here accusing lawyer Joseph Muto and the Kelley, Drye & Warren law firm of malpractice and fraud. The suit alleges that Yasuda hired the defendants back in May, 1985, to represent him in purchasing the Aladdin. Among other things, the action alleged that the lawyers overbilled Yasuda and wasted money with unnecessary procedures, including switching insurance to "cronies," who were later fired. Muto and others at the law firm did not respond to calls about the case.

Even more recently, the new owner parted company with his initial chief executive, Richard Bunker. Bunker had been chairman of the state Gaming Control Board when it dealt with many of the Aladdin's previous troubles. He was an executive at the Dunes when he met Yasuda.

Yasuda eased Bunker out of control over the hotel and put in Gomes. Sources said Yasuda initially balked at paying off Bunker's employment contract, which Muto had arranged. A private settlement was negotiated in recent weeks.

Shifted Executives

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