Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Beyond Belief: The Bellagio Bandit

Two 'cranberries'Have you been reading about the arrest of this “Bellagio bandit”? Stranger than fiction, that.

The arrest took place last Wednesday night, February 2, a little over six weeks after the crime was committed. The suspect, Anthony Michael Carleo, appeared in court yesterday, at which time a hearing was scheduled for February 23.

The article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal reporting the arrest from last week is interesting enough. For a more detailed, suspense-filled account, though, check out the arrest report, which reads like a decent “hard-boiled”-type police procedural.

The report begins by describing the robbery that took place at the Bellagio just before 4 a.m. on the morning of December 14, 2010. The thief drove up to the north entrance on a black motorcycle with no license plate. Leaving the bike parked outside of the entrance with the keys still in the ignition, the suspect walked into the casino -- still wearing his helmet -- pulled a handgun and yelled, filled his fanny pack full of casino chips, and left.

Later it was determined the thief made off with about $1.5 million worth of chips, including a number of $25,000 denomination ones, sometimes called “cranberries” because of their dark-pinkish color.

A little over a week later, on December 23, two fellows came into the Bellagio trying to cash a $25,000 chip and aroused suspicions. It would take some digging, but eventually it was determined that one of the them had been manning a Salvation Army collection bucket just before Christmas when a man had placed the chip in his pocket, telling him it was valuable. After being interviewed, the Salvation Army volunteer and his friend were released.

From Bellagio surveillance footageRight around then the police were contacted by someone else -- a dealer -- who had spoken with Anthony Carleo shortly before the robbery had taken place. Carleo had apparently told this person of his desire to commit such a crime, noting additionally that he thought he knew people who would purchase the stolen chips. Carleo also had mentioned to this dealer that his “parents were connected” -- referring to his father’s being a Las Vegas municipal court judge -- a fact which apparently made him believe he would have a better chance of escaping punishment for the crime.

The dealer additionally reported that he’d seen Carleo gambling at the Bellagio shortly after the robbery had occurred, thinking it odd since his impression was Carleo was busto. He saw him again on January 4 when he sat down in the poker game he was dealing.

Tipped off about Carleo, background checks revealed he lived at an address also associated with the purchase of some handguns, he owned a motorcycle, he had prescriptions for more Oxycontin than is usual, he had once filed for bankruptcy, and a few other bits of biographical ephemera. Carleo’s activities at the Bellagio were also researched, revealing that he’d lost more than $107,000 gambling there between December 14, 2010 and January 22, 2011.

The report goes on to uncover some other information about Carleo subsequently pieced together to support the case against him, including having spoken with others whom Carleo had contacted about possibly buying some chips. Most interesting is the revelation that among those Carleo was talking to was a fellow named Matthew Brooks, someone Carleo contacted via “a website named Two Plus Two poker forum.”

That’s right! Brooks, who goes by “provotrout” on 2+2, was contacted by Carleo who had created an account with the name “oceanspray25.” You read that right. Oceanspray25. Name kind of makes you think of cranberries, yes? If not, perhaps his listed location might -- “Cranada.” (No shinola.)

In fiction, authors will sometimes choose character names that evoke certain ideas they intend to associate with those characters. Gotta be careful, though. A lack of subtlety with such name choices might pull your reader out of the story.

But this isn’t fiction. It’s real life. And so the story continued.

You can see posts by both “provotrout” and “oceanspray25” in this thread about the robbery. And in a couple of other threads there appear posts by Carleo petitioning Brooks to get in touch with him via private message (here and here).

The report describes how Brooks did exchange some emails with Carleo, including some in which Carleo sent him photographs of stolen “cranberries.” That’s when Brooks contacted the investigators, a sting was subsequently set up in which Carleo unwittingly tried to sell chips to an undercover officer, and the arrest was made.

A note from the 'biker bandit'You can read more on Brooks’s involvement in the “Bellagio chip robber BUSTED (Judge’s son)” thread on 2+2, including some further info from Brooks himself regarding some of his exchanges with Carleo (including pictures like the one up top and at left) and his assistance with the arrest. (Some in the thread are expressing uncertainty about Brooks -- now a primary witness -- continuing to speak out about what happened, wondering if perhaps his doing so might compromise either the case against Carleo or the chances of his securing any reward money.)

From start to finish, Carleo’s actions appear quite desperate, perhaps making it seem as though he was expecting (hoping?) to get caught, though determined to live out an exciting few weeks before he did.

But that is really too rational of an interpretation, I think. The fact is, there’s a kind of irrationality present throughout that makes it difficult to empathize enough with the guy to comprehend his decision-making. Like that dude sitting across the table whose plays consistently fail to conform to logical explanations, it’s always possible even he didn’t know exactly what he was doing or what his “plan” ultimately was.

One does get the sense from the report, though, that Carleo himself believed he would somehow get away with not only the robbery, but with the spending and selling of the chips, too. It is somewhere in there that he loses most of us, unable to share such a belief.

'Ocean's Eleven (2001)Many have evoked the film Ocean’s Eleven when discussing the robbery, the plot of which revolves around an especially elaborate, complex scheme to rob several Vegas casinos simultaneously. Usually those references are to the 2001 remake (not the 1960 original), in which the Bellagio -- opened in 1998 -- serves as one of the thieves’ targets.

Even the police report includes reference to the movie when quoting that dealer who’d been in conversations with Carleo before and after the robbery. Upon hearing Carleo contemplating the possibility of trying to pull off such a theft, the soon-to-become-informant was incredulous.

“Dude you watch Ocean’s Eleven too much,” he told Carleo. “This is real life and that shit doesn’t happen.” “Oh, no, it’s not that hard,” was Carleo’s reply. “All you need is a black mask and a motorcycle and I have a motorcycle.”

Such a simple plan. Simple-minded, anyway.

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