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Bellagio bandit arrested after returning to casino

Friday, February 4, 2011

LAS VEGAS -- A helmeted bandit who escaped the Bellagio with $1.5 million in chips during a daring gunpoint heist returned to the scene of the crime several times before his luck finally ran out, police said Thursday.

"He likes to gamble," Las Vegas police Lt. Ray Steiber said as he described for reporters how Anthony M. Carleo, 29, the son of a Las Vegas judge, was nabbed late Wednesday on the same casino floor at the Bellagio resort.

Carleo wasn't armed and offered no resistance when he was taken into custody. Steiber wouldn't say whether Carleo was trying to sell the hot casino chips.

The arrest was part of an undercover police investigation, a person familiar with the investigation said. The person declined to be named because he was not authorized to publicly provide details about the case.

Police recovered $900,000 in chips, and can account for $1.2 million, Steiber said. He said police were still looking for the black Suzuki GSXR they say Carleo used to make his getaway in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 14. The police lieutenant wouldn't say whether police still believe the same man robbed the Suncoast casino in northwest Las Vegas at gunpoint early Dec. 8, although police previously said the same person was suspected in both heists.

Carleo's father, Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge George Assad, issued a statement through a publicist saying he and his family were "devastated and heartbroken to see my son arrested under these circumstances."

Assad said that as a working judge, he couldn't comment about "any pending legal matter as it relates to anyone, including my son."

"I can say that as a prosecutor and a judge, I have always felt people who break the law need to be held accountable," he added.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Carleo had a lawyer.

Carleo is a former real estate broker and student who declared bankruptcy in Colorado in May 2009. On his bankruptcy filing, he listed among his personal belongings a .40-caliber Taurus pistol.

His bankruptcy filing said Carleo received at least $19,000 from his father over a three-year period, but owed nearly $188,000 in various debts. The case was closed seven months later, and a lawyer from the firm that represented him then said Thursday that they are not representing him now.

Voting records in 2010 showed that Carleo lived at the same address as his father in Las Vegas.

Jail records showed Carleo was being held under the name Anthony M. Assad. The name was also used in Carleo's bankruptcy filing.

His bail was set at $15,000 on felony armed robbery and burglary charges. Court spokeswoman Mary Ann Price said he was due for an initial appearance in Las Vegas Justice Court on Monday.

Carleo won't be required to appear when a judge reviews the charges against him on Friday, Price said.

A police statement early Thursday said Carleo would face a drug trafficking charge. But Steiber told reporters that officials ultimately decided not to seek that charge. He didn't say why.

Experts and police noted after the heist that stealing $1.5 million in chips isn't like stealing $1.5 million in cash.

Chips are unique to casino properties and are generally not interchangeable, although state regulations let casino companies redeem sister properties' chips with some restrictions.

After the heist, Bellagio announced plans to discontinue the casino's $25,000 chips in April, setting a deadline for the thief to try to use them. Police have not said whether Carleo tried to redeem the chips -- which ranged from $100 to $25,000 -- before his arrest.

Steiber said investigators followed numerous tips in the case, and on Dec. 23 interviewed a Salvation Army bell ringer who tried to cash a $25,000 Bellagio chip. He told police that a man he didn't know put the chip in his pocket while he was manning a charity collection bucket.

Bellagio officials won't say whether MGM Resorts International properties, which include the posh hotel-casino on the Strip known for its fountains, are among Las Vegas casinos that embed radio frequency devices inside the tokens.

Police say it took less than three minutes for the robber to pull off the heist.

He entered the casino from Flamingo Road, strode fewer than 500 feet to a craps table, brandished the handgun at the 10 to 12 patrons and three or four dealers with chips piled on the green felt, scooped up the loot and ran.

Casino security officers didn't confront the robber, but a ceiling security video camera followed his path out the door. Police say a 911 call was placed to police while the man was still in the casino.

He was gone by the time police arrived.


Associated Press writers Cristina Silva and Ken Ritter contributed to this report.


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