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Another scrape for Simpson

He says the incident at a Vegas hotel was no robbery, he just wanted his memorabilia back. Police say he's a suspect.

September 15, 2007|Scott Glover and Ari B. Bloomekatz | Times Staff Writers

las vegas -- It's too soon to know if O.J. Simpson and a gun-wielding entourage barged into a Las Vegas hotel room Thursday night to retrieve stolen memorabilia, or if an unarmed Simpson and company merely knocked and requested that his items be returned.

What is known is that the sports icon has become tabloid fodder once again.

Since being acquitted in the 1994 deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, the former football star has been accused of assaulting a photographer; questioned by police when a former girlfriend reported domestic disturbances; charged in a road-rage incident; ticketed for speeding through a Florida manatee zone in a power boat; and investigated in connection with an Ecstasy ring, a money-laundering scheme and the pirating of satellite television programs.

In all of the cases, Simpson was either not charged or was acquitted of any wrongdoing -- although he did pay a $130 fine in the manatee incident.

On Friday, Las Vegas police named Simpson as a suspect in what was described as an armed robbery by Alfred Beardsley, a real estate agent, memorabilia collector and sometimes Simpson associate.

"There's an ongoing legal investigation, and law enforcement asked me not to speak with any reporters," said Beardsley, who was in the room during the incident. "This story has just really gone wild. I have not slept since this thing happened."

Authorities planned to question Simpson during the next few days about Thursday night's events in the 1970s-vintage Palace Station Hotel & Casino. They said Simpson was cooperative and agreed to remain in Las Vegas until he was no longer needed.

It all started, Southern California auctioneer Thomas Riccio said, when he received a phone call about a month ago "from someone insinuating they had personal items that once belonged to O.J. Simpson" and was interested in selling them. He said he was suspicious about how the sellers had obtained the items, which were described as footballs from record-breaking games, awards and personal photos. He said the sellers also claimed to have the suit Simpson wore the day he was acquitted in the deaths of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Riccio said he had set up a meeting for 7 p.m. Thursday in a ground-floor room in an economy-rate annex of the Palace Station, a nondescript facility about a quarter-mile west of the Strip.

"Simpson was supposed to show up, identify the items, and tell the men to either give the stuff back or he would call the police," Riccio said.

But the plan quickly fell apart when Simpson arrived with an entourage of about seven "intimidating-looking guys" -- at least one of whom had a gun, Riccio said, adding that Simpson did not have a gun. "O.J. got really emotional and things got kind of nutty," Riccio said.

"We tried to peacefully reacquire these personal items, not for their monetary value, but for their family value. O.J. wanted to be able to pass these things down to his kids," Riccio said. The auctioneer said that Simpson told him the items had been stolen from his house in Brentwood by a former agent who claimed Simpson owed him money.

"It got kind of nasty. They took the stuff and they left," Riccio said of Simpson and his companions. "What can I say? Things went haywire. I'm not sure if O.J. knew what was going to happen or not."

Las Vegas police said they were holding most of the items during the investigation.

Simpson denied any wrongdoing and told the Associated Press that no guns were involved. "Everybody knows this is stolen stuff," Simpson said. "Not only wasn't there a break-in, but Riccio came to the lobby and escorted us up to the room. . . . Nobody was roughed up."

Simpson, 60, a Heisman Trophy winner, former National Football League star and actor, lives near Miami. After being acquitted of murder in 1995, another jury held him liable in a wrongful-death lawsuit and awarded the victims' families $38 million.

David Cook, an attorney for the Goldman family, said he had collected less than $10,000, all of it coming from film royalties.

On Thursday, the Goldmans published a book about the killings that Simpson had written under the title "If I Did It." It purported to tell how he would have gone about the slayings if he had committed them. A federal bankruptcy judge had awarded the book's rights to the Goldman family after Simpson's publishing deal fell through because of a public outcry.

Within hours Thursday, the book soared to No. 1 on the Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists.

"Surreal, absolutely surreal. I don't think that there is a fiction writer in all of Hollywood that could write up this scenario," Sharlene Martin, the Los Angeles literary agent who arranged publication of the book for the Goldmans, said of the Las Vegas incident. "I just find it so coincidental that this would happen the day the book is released.

"It's almost like a child that is throwing a temper tantrum because he's not getting enough attention. The irony is beyond belief."

On Friday, Fred Goldman, Ronald Goldman's father, said the Las Vegas incident "reminds us again that this is exactly who he is. . . a guy who believes that he can do whatever he wants. I'm not surprised at anything that he's done over the years. . . . The fact is that he's a scumbag, he's a murderer, and now maybe he's an armed robber."

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scott.glover@latimes.com

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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Glover reported from Las Vegas and Bloomekatz from Los Angeles. Times staff writer James Ricci in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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