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Auctioneer has a history of felonies

Thomas Riccio says he set up the Las Vegas meeting to help Simpson peacefully reclaim what was his.

September 19, 2007|Scott Glover | Times Staff Writer

Thomas J. Riccio, who has emerged as a central figure in the armed robbery case against former football great O.J. Simpson and three other men, has a string of felony convictions spanning two decades, court records show.

Riccio is the Corona-based auctioneer who arranged the meeting in a Las Vegas hotel room during which Simpson and several cohorts allegedly barged in with guns and commandeered sports memorabilia, personal photos and other items Simpson said were stolen from him by a former agent.

Riccio further enmeshed himself in the case by secretly tape-recording the raucous encounter at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino and selling the tape for an undisclosed sum to the celebrity website TMZ.com. On Tuesday evening, he discussed his role in the case with CNN's Larry King.

Court records show that Riccio has an extensive criminal history. The New Jersey native has been convicted of grand larceny in Florida, possession of stolen goods in Connecticut and escape, receiving stolen property and arson in California. The crimes were committed in the 1980s and '90s and resulted in two stints in California prisons, records show.

Reached on his cellphone shortly after his appearance on the Larry King program, Riccio acknowledged his past problems. "Basically, it's all true," he said. "I did it. I've been in trouble in the past. What do you want me to say?"

In fact, he did quibble with one of the convictions.

He said the arson case stemmed from a fire at a house he owned in Buena Park. He admits to setting the fire but says it did not amount to arson. He said that vandals had severely damaged the property but that his insurance agent was refusing to pay what he considered a fair settlement unless the problem was worse.

"So I made it worse," he said. "They call that arson."

Riccio said that he had been crime-free for more than a decade and that he was not concerned with how his past crimes might affect on his credibility in the unfolding Simpson robbery case.

"It doesn't matter to me what my credibility is because everything's on tape," he said. "That's why it's on tape."

Riccio said he had been promised some form of immunity by Las Vegas prosecutors but seemed unclear to what extent he was protected.

"I think I got immunity for anything to do with the case," he said.

"I know that's what I want."

Riccio said his role in the case began about a month ago when he was contacted by two men claiming to have sports memorabilia, personal photos and other items that once belonged to Simpson. He said he was concerned about how the men came into possession of the items and alerted Simpson of his suspicions.

Riccio said he then agreed to set up a meeting with the prospective sellers -- Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong -- with the idea that Simpson would walk in, identify his possessions and tell the men to return his belongings or else he would call police.

Riccio said he secretly set up a recording device in the room. Sometime later Simpson and five other men came in and began seizing the material, allegedly at gunpoint. The tape captures what appears to be an agitated Simpson screaming angrily at Beardsley and Fromong.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times before his arrest, Simpson described a much calmer encounter and insisted that no one had guns. Simpson and three other men were charged Tuesday with felony counts including kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the purported theft. Las Vegas police were seeking two other men.

Simpson was being held without bail at the Clark County Detention Center.

Riccio, meanwhile, said his sole motivation in setting up the meeting was to help Simpson peacefully reclaim what was his. Immediately after being contacted by the would-be sellers, Riccio said, he contacted Los Angeles police and the FBI for help. Neither expressed any interest.

"I was on hold with the LAPD for three hours, and then they told me it was a civil matter," he said. "So I just did what I had to do."

The recent episode with Simpson is not Riccio's first foray into the celebrity limelight. Earlier this year, after the death of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith, Riccio auctioned off Smith's personal diaries for $500,000.

At the time, he called the deal "quite a bargain" for the buyers during an interview on CNN's "Showbiz Tonight."

"I'm proud of my business," Riccio said in the interview Tuesday evening. "I'm proud of what I do."

He added later that his career was probably over.

"No one is going to want to deal with me anymore," he said.

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scott.glover@latimes.com

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