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Recording amplifies the drama

A witness to the Simpson incident says the audio capturing a menacing confrontation sounds authentic.

September 18, 2007|Miguel Bustillo, Ashley Powers and Scott Glover | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — A celebrity website released a recording Monday that appears to capture an agitated O.J. Simpson shouting expletives and threatening sports memorabilia collectors in a hotel room here last week as he tried to take back mementos he claimed were his.

"Think you can steal my [property] and sell it?" a man believed to be Simpson angrily says on the audio obtained by TMZ.com after it was surreptitiously taped by Thomas Riccio. The auctioneer arranged for Simpson to meet with the men, who reportedly were trying to sell his mementos.

The recording appears to capture a far more menacing confrontation than the one Simpson, 60, described in interviews after the Thursday incident.

Las Vegas authorities, who are holding Simpson on suspicion of armed robbery and other charges, said they could not confirm whether the recording was authentic.

But one of the two sports memorabilia dealers who was in the hotel room with Riccio when Simpson allegedly burst in with an armed entourage said that it sounded like what he witnessed.

"It's definitely audio from that room, though I'm not sure if it has been edited," said Alfred Beardsley, a Burbank collector who said he was trying to broker a sale for the man in possession of the items, collector Bruce Fromong.

After learning of Riccio's recording Monday, Beardsley accused Riccio of setting up the confrontation for personal gain.

"Riccio said he had a guy who was just a huge, huge O.J. fan, who wanted anything he could get. I now see that I was brokering a deal with someone who didn't exist. It was an O.J. sting," he said. "It was a robbery; the [men] came in with guns. I feel bad because I could have gotten Bruce killed."

Riccio -- a Corona-based auctioneer who recently was involved in selling the diaries of the late Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith to a German businessman for $500,000 -- said Monday that he hid a recording device in the room at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino because he wanted evidence that Beardsley and Fromong were trying to sell stolen merchandise.

"I wanted it on tape in case [Beardsley] denied it when O.J. came in," Riccio said.

He added that the device was still rolling when police conducted interviews in the room after the incident.

Simpson has said he was trying to recover memorabilia from his professional and college football days, as well as personal photos, that he said had been stolen by a former agent.

Riccio insinuated he had given the recording to TMZ.com, but was evasive when asked whether he had been compensated for it. He said he mailed a copy to Las Vegas police on Sunday.

"They should have it soon," he said.

Riccio -- who promoted a 2005 event where Simpson sold autographed football jerseys on the 10th anniversary of his acquittal in the slaying of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman -- has been involved in questionable collectible dealings himself, records show.

He was convicted in 1994 of receiving stolen goods after trying to sell some rare Latin American coins in Glendale.

A Miami dealer had reported the coins stolen from him at a collectibles show in Long Beach. Riccio was sentenced to three years in prison and forced to pay the dealer $165,000 in restitution.

Fromong could not be reached Monday for reaction on the release of the audio recording.

But in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," he said he could not believe what he was seeing when Simpson came into the hotel room with armed men.

"As soon as I saw him, I'm thinking, 'O.J., how can you be this dumb?' " Fromong said, adding that Simpson and his companions entered the hotel room with guns drawn, "almost commando style."

Simpson was in Las Vegas to serve as best man in the casino chapel wedding of a close friend, Thomas Scotto, 45, of Miami, according to marriage license records.

Scotto was among the men named by police in connection with the crime, but he was not arrested.

Walter Alexander, 46, of Arizona, was arrested but was released Sunday without bond after speaking with prosecutors. His attorney said Monday that Alexander had not cut any deals with prosecutors, and was unclear whether he would be a government witness in any trial.

A third man, Clarence Stewart, 54, of Las Vegas, was arrested Monday in connection with the case, police said.

Since Simpson's arrest Sunday, he has been held without bail in a 7-by-14-foot cell with one bunk bed, a toilet, a desk and a window, officials said. He has been visited by several lawyers and a minister, who brought a Bible, the book "The Purpose-Driven Life" and two pairs of reading glasses.

Simpson cannot be held longer than 72 hours without being formally charged, said Clark County Judge Nancy C. Oesterle, who was assigned Monday to field questions from the growing media circus assembling in Las Vegas.

Court officials said formal charges could come today.

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Powers reported from Las Vegas, Bustillo from Houston and Glover from Los Angeles.

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