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You my name's Samuel T. Smith. Call me Sam. I spent 20 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. About 15 of those years I spent as a robbery detective and a homicide detective. I went in as a regular shift of work to the robbery section, and we were notified at a briefing that the bellagio had been robbed. It also came to light that $1.6 million of chips was taken into robbery. It was one of the premier properties on the Strip. It was a ton of money. It was a guy with a gun. And I know one of the underlying thought process at that time would be, we got to make sure we get this guy so that he doesn't do it again. And I was thinking to myself, man, I don't envy the poor bastard that gets his case. I just didn't know it was going to be me.


From wavelength Pegalo Pictures, this is the high roller heist. I'm your host, Chris Simps. Chapter five, game on.


I'm originally from South Jersey. I was always interested in law enforcement. I didn't go into it in New Jersey. I actually went to work for a friend of mine named Dennis Gomes. In the casino industry, I was a casino host. Dennis wanted me to go to graduate school at UNLV for casino and hotel casino gaming. So in 1996, I moved out here and enrolled in UNLV for graduate school. Didn't like it that much, but I worked as an executive casino host. An opportunity came up, and I tested for Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 1999. And I loved it. I loved my entire career.


With a decade of experience on the LVMPD. Detective Sam Smith was assigned to the Bellagio case the morning after Tony robbed the casino. And just like that, he had hit one of the toughest stretches of his career.


I knew that it was going to be a pressure cooker. When I had a big case, a lot of the pressure I put on myself because I took pride in what I did, and I wanted to solve this case. The other pressure that you get is you would have to do briefings with your chain of command. We would get questions coming down, like, sheriff would like to know what you guys are doing about this. And then, of course, pressure from the Bellagio. You had public safety concerns because you didn't want this guy to do it again and crank all some rounds and hurt somebody. You had monetary ramifications on it. The Bellagio wanted their stuff back. We had Bellagio's reputation because they didn't want it to get out, to say, okay, we're easy target. We're going to go and do it to your casino again. And then other casinos were kind of like, hey, we don't want this to happen to us.


Something that didn't ease any of this initial pressure was the general lack of evidence available to Detective Smith.


I was really surprised when I saw the video surveillance. I was like, timeout. Okay, guys, where's the good stuff? And they were like, that's it.


Lesson learned the hard way. Yet dwelling on the Bellagio's shockingly antiquated security system wasn't going to help catch the thief. While casino security and law enforcement usually try to stay out of each other's lanes in Las Vegas, it quickly became clear that the two organizations would have to work together to make any headway, which was perfect for Detective Smith, given his history of working in casinos and his generally softer touch as an investigator.


They were really very accommodating. I made contact with the vice president of security there, Ray Brown. And Ray took it personal. I can't believe this guy did this to my casino. And this is one of the best casinos on the Strip. I treated him with respect, and I didn't put up any walls because I knew that he was going to be a huge piece in solving this crime.


Now aligned with Bellagio's security, Detective Smith began to work with what he had. His first task was a doozy determining if any of the hundreds of leads coming in from the general public had merit.


So, initially, I was looking at different aspects, and I was getting leads from Crimestoppers. Crime stoppers is. People will call in, hey, I know who did this, or I have some information about it. And they would send in their leads, and if the lead was relevant, they were able to get some money for it. But we would get leads. Like, I saw a motorcycle two days after the robbery at an intersection at 330 in the afternoon. Did you get a license plate or anything? No. Okay. So we had to kind of plow through stuff like that. That's where we first started getting information. And then we looked at prior robberies from casinos to see if they may be related. And that was it.


It wasn't long before Detective Smith learned about the suncoast robbery, which occurred five days prior to the Bellagio robbery. The commonalities between the two were undeniable.


It was a lone individual. It was a semiautomatic handgun. A motorcycle was used. He wore a helmet the whole time. He planned his escape route, where the vehicle was close to an entrance or egress. So there was a lot of similarities. But the frustrating part was we didn't have any physical evidence. We didn't have any fingerprints because he wore gloves. We didn't have any dna evidence because he didn't initially touch anything. We just had video surveillance. That was about all we had to go on at that time.


But then there were the stolen chips themselves, most notably the $25,000 cranberry chips.


The higher the chips, the harder it is to pick them somewhere else, because all the other casinos, they're in contact with each other. And when that robbery happened, it gets sent out to all the casinos and also gets out to the gaming control board. Hey, we had this denomination of chips, and it specifically marked Bellagio, and this is what identifies them. So we knew that they would be hard to move because everyone would be aware of it. One of the interesting things is that these cranberries sometimes wind up in the hands of high end poker players. And they have these huge games. Nobody knows about them, millions of dollars. And it's almost like a bragging thing. Oh, yeah, I got this cranberry. And they would play with that. So we didn't initially have a list to go by as to who had them. But if we had a question, security was always available to say, yeah, well, that makes sense. That guy would have them because he has x amount of money, or he won this amount. So they're very controlled.


Even Tony Cardleo understood that these cranberry chips were his greatest vulnerability, a lingering problem that nagged at him the day after the robbery. Exchanging them could raise red flags, and that could get him caught. Trying to cash them out. Couldn't possibly be worth the risk, right?


It's hard to voluntarily throw some shit away that even nominally is worth a million dollars. There's some asshole in Vegas that could cash these chips for me. There's a lot of assholes, actually, that could cast the chips for me. I just wasn't the right asshole.


Yet at the same time, Tony knew the cranberries would be a focus for law enforcement. They'd be watching for when people who weren't elite poker players or high rollers came in and tried to exchange them, and then they'd pounce. The way Tony saw it, the more that happened, the less significant it might seem. If and when the time came for him to try and cash out his own cranberries.


Wanted to create some misdirection. So I would just be, like, driving down the strip, grab a rag, wipe off any kind of DNA, fingerprints, and I'm just, like, randomly chucking them out the window. I may have thrown one in a pond somewhere. I just want somebody to find it, go bring it in, and create chaos. Kansas City shuffle. Like, looking over here, looking over there. It was around Christmas time, and in my head, I was going to give one of these chips to the Salvation Army. Merry Christmas. And through the Christmas spirit, some sort of publicity stunt. I thought they would try to redeem it and the blagio would honor it, because what do they do if they try to redeem it and they don't honor it, right? Like, they don't look good. So I thought maybe some sort of good would come with this. So I wrapped a cranberry chip, 25k chip, in two $100 bills. So you literally couldn't see what the hell was going. It just looked like I put $200 in there. Merry Christmas. Turns out these motherfuckers, they go through the Salvation army bucket, and they tried to go cash this chip in.


Which brings us right back to Detective Sam Smith.


We got a call that two individuals came in and tried to cash a $25,000 chip. And we were like, what is going on here? So they identify them. And I actually interviewed them, according to their story, and they're working as salvation army, ringing the bell out in front of the casinos. And they said a male individual comes by, throws the chip in their bucket, and says, merry Christmas, or something along those lines. And we believe them because they didn't have a criminal background or anything like that. Plus, you just got two guys working for Salvation army. They didn't fit the profile, and we believe they didn't have anything to do with the actual robbery. We analyzed it. I was like, that son of a bitch thinks he's friggin Robin Hood. And this kind of got me a little bit. I think that's probably one of the only things in this case that I took a little personal. I'm like, who the hell do you think you are? Balls on this guy. It was like, all right, this guy is a little cavalier. The pressure was already high anyhow, so we didn't need any more. I was like, all right, game on.


It. So, I mean, I've always liked casinos, like, as much as the next guy, maybe more. I spent quite a bit of time in them when I was a child. Not necessarily in the gaming areas, but we would always go eat there. Whoever I was with, probably my dad, was watching a game at the sports book, and he'd give me some money. I'd go to the arcade. We kind of bonded.


We go eat, have lunch there.


I sit down and watch a football game with them. So just really good memories. These casinos do studies on what they can do to make you like their place more, right? Like, just marketing. You got the sound, the bright lights, the people, the chance you could win money, the risk reward situation. Good food, beautiful women, money. Who doesn't like that? All the good stuff, right? Like, who doesn't like casinos? So I had good memories from my childhood all the way up through adulthood. Unless when you lose, get your ass kicked. Those aren't fond memories. Those are bad memories.


While Tony's plan to change out the stolen Bellagio chips for cash was progressing smoothly, it still required a certain amount of patience, care, and diligence. So as to not raise any suspicions. He had to move chips, but he also had to fly under the radar. Of course, that's a simple plan on paper. But for a guy like Tony, who was stoking a raging OxyContin addiction, who was crazy enough to rob a casino in the first place, and then crazy enough to return to it the next day, to gamble as the most wanted man in Vegas, patience, care, and diligence didn't exactly come naturally.


My end game was obviously to convert chips to cash. I really enjoyed living in that moment. I like to gamble anyway. I like being there. I like winning. They say gamblers like losing as much as they like winning. That's probably a psychologist question, but I really became, I don't want to say addicted, but I fucking really loved the action. Imagine you got 100 grand in your pocket that you didn't earn. And they just say, here, kid, go have fun. It's hard not to, you know what I mean? I was literally playing with house money. Really don't care if I lose because it's not my fucking money. Didn't matter if I want to lose because I'm cashing out more money than I came in there with. Like, that was the wrong way to think about it. I should have been methodical and actually cared, but it wasn't real. So I'm acting like an asshole, making bets and calls and all these things that I normally wouldn't have done had the money been quote unquote real. It really didn't hold any value to me at that point other than living the dream, partying. When the dust settles, we're going to cash something out and we're going to be ahead of the game.


That was hustling backwards, as I would call it.


While Tony may have been enjoying himself that first week, after pulling off the heist, others who were involved, like Kara Corenti, were freaking out.


I was terrified. I was with him in his car. It was all over the news, on his phone and he was showing me. And I was like, ready to cry. He was getting mad at me because I was panicking. He was getting really mad at me. He's like, you better chill out or I'm going to make you go home. And I was scared at that point because I didn't know what else he was capable of doing. He always had his gun in the center console. Am I safe having this information? Am I safe knowing what he has done? I didn't know whether he was capable of harming me at that point. I didn't know what to think. I was terrified. I just wanted to go home. I was so scared and I lied to Tony. I told him I'm going home early for Christmas and I wasn't planning on coming back, but I didn't tell him that. I packed up my car and my dad flew out to Vegas because I called my mom, just sobbing hysterically, crying my eyes out. Just a disaster. And she's like, what happened? I was like, I can't tell you, I can't tell you, I can't tell you, I can't tell you.


Eventually I did tell my family. I told them what happened.


Kara telling her family was obviously not good for Tony. But he didn't know that at the time. Plus, her confession still implicated her in a major crime, which most likely meant the secret was safe for now. And even if someone in Kara's family went to the authorities with this information, they would need hard evidence to connect Tony to the crime itself. Something Tony was already doing his best to get rid of whenever he was away from the Bellagio.


I sold my motorcycle. I wanted to remove myself from even owning a motorcycle. It wasn't plated, wasn't registered. And I had a guy do some mechanical work on the bike. When I first got there, I had his number on my phone. I hit him up and I asked him, do you know anybody that wants to buy this bike? So I sold him the bike for, like, two grand, bro. I just wanted it gone. I raised the white flag. After the blagio, there was going to be no more robberies.


The cranberry chips, the biggest smoking gun in regards to tying Tony Carleo to the Bellagio robbery, were also strategically hidden.


I ended up buying some fire safes from harbor freight. I stashed them at two different places. The people who were holding these things had no idea what was in them. They were just, hey, I'm going to leave this here. Cool. What's in it? I don't know. I probably said my guns in it or something. I don't know. I ultimately ended up getting a safe deposit box at my bank. I put a good chunk of the money that I converted from chips in there.


But there was another problem that soon presented itself to Tony. Amidst all the criminal plotting, his buying and selling of oxies, his robbery of the largest casino on the strip, and the subsequent laundering of their chips back to them, he had lost the thread on his home life. His father, George Assad, the respected municipal judge who was boarding Tony in his condo while he was supposed to be going to medical school, it didn't take long for him to realize that Tony's sketchy comings and goings over the past couple of months and his drugged out Persona weren't due to his passion for studying organic chemistry.


My dad was, like, sick of my shit and didn't really kick me out, but he kicked me out. I know I was a piece of shit at the time. What, are you going to argue that? You know what I mean? Like, no, dad, I'm not fucking nodding off at dinner. And I was just fucking up, and I don't blame him. And I was just like, all right, well, I need to not sleep here for a while, so where else are you going to sleep? So I ended up hitting my host up at the Bellagio. You don't really get credit for anything in the poker room, but when you go play the table, know that's where they shower you with comps and meals and other benefits to entice you to play more. So she ended up giving me a suite.


To be clear, the biggest casino in Vegas was now comping the very thief they were desperately searching for. Tony had beaten the house, and he was now living in it.


She gave me full rf and b, which stands for room, food and beverage. Just sign whatever to the room. You go out and eat, and it's.


All comp with an incredible room and all the amenities the casino had to offer at his fingertips. The obvious next move was to, well, party his ass off.


Got the sweet dang kicks. Hookers probably involved. There's probably some cocaine involved. Moxie involved. It was a good stain.


Now, a welcome guest in the house he robbed, Tony began to see the appeal of hiding in plain sight. And he lost interest in keeping a low profile.


I went down to the gift shop and bought the velour jumpsuit like Borat would wear. Wow. These are very nice. I didn't leave. I bought socks there. I signed them to the room. Why would you want to leave, man? I got beautiful food, beautiful women, gambling. I got money in my pocket, like, I had no reason to leave. And I very rarely left, except to go get more stashed chips.


Over a week after the brazen robbery of the largest casino on the strip, law enforcement had few real leads, most of which were generated by the perpetrator toying with them by handing out cranberry chips to strangers on the street. But then a, quote, concerned citizen, or citizen source, as law enforcement would refer to him, came forward with what Detective Sam Smith would consider the first major break in the case.


He worked at De Bellagio at that time. And he came forward and said, this guy that I know is Tony, told me that Tony robbed the Bellagio.


Even now, law enforcement won't identify the source. And even if they did, the chances of him telling his story to us on the record is about as likely as hitting a royal flush on the river. But we do have his statements to Vegas police as part of the investigation, illustrating exchanges he claims to have had with Tony that gave him reason to believe Tony was the thief. So we have taken these statements and adapted them ever so slightly into exchanges between this citizen source. We'll call in Leo and Tony. Leo will be read by an actor while Tony will be read by the man himself. So without further ado, we present to you the dealer and the thief.


It was about three weeks ago, on December 5, and I was dealing at a Texas Holden no limit table at the Bellagio. Tony was there. And I remember he'd just lost around $10,000 on one hand. And that's what he said.


Man, I got to talk to you, man. I can't believe this. I wish I could just roll somebody. Snap somebody off.


So I asked him, what do you mean, snap somebody off?


No, roll somebody. I could get away with it because I don't have a criminal record and my parents are connected.


I think you left the table shortly after that. I didn't see him for a week or so until December 11. And Tony's back at my table, just me and him. And again he tells me I'm trying.


To find a way to come up with some big money.


Yeah? How are you going to do that?


I don't know. But, man, I'd love to grab some of those cranberries and some white chips, man. How easy would it be to rob a casino? All you need is a black mask and a motorcycle. And I got a motorcycle. Be a whole hell of a lot easier if you had two people, though.


He kept on about it for a little longer, and I got the feeling he was maybe trying to recruit me. And then I found myself thinking about the conversation after I heard about the robbery a few days later. So I texted Tony. We'd exchanged numbers by that point and asked him if he'd be at the Bellagio playing anytime soon and if he was the one who did the robbery, as a joke, but also kind of not as a joke, you know? He texted back saying he had lots to do and he was broke anyway. But then on my next shift at the Bellagio, a few days after the robbery, I saw Tony there playing the big stack of chips in front of him. So I confronted him about it. Tony. Hey, man, I know.


You did, huh? No, I didn't do it. I didn't do it.


Well, then why did you say all those things to me just a couple days ago? And then this place gets robbed?


Bro, I was just joking. Come on, man.


So later that night, I'm in between games, and I get a text from Tony. Text says, go to the shitter. So we start texting back and forth. I respond, no way.




Well, it's Bellagio policy that we don't use the public bathroom. Listen, I was scared. At this point, I'll be honest with you, I thought this guy might try and kill me. He talked to me about robbing the Bellagio, like, a couple days before someone a lot like him robbed the Bellagio. But he kept texting me, trying to mean.


I can't believe you would think that I would do this. That guy was, like, 270 pounds. I don't even have a bike.


I tried to ignore him, but he kept texting and started getting angrier and angrier.


Don't cross me. Don't get in my way. I'm an alpha male. You will listen to me.


After that night, I didn't hear from Tony for about a week. This time, he texted again in a friendly way.


Hey, Leo, let's grab some dinner tonight if you're free. I got something for you.


I didn't respond. Of course that's something for. All I figured was a bullet to the back of the head.


And seen. Now, while this citizen source told law enforcement his version of events, Tony, of course, has his own version of what really went, oh, this cocksucker.


I don't know his real name, but we're going to call him Leo. He was a poker dealer at the Bellagio. The first time I met this dude, I'm sitting down at a game. I'm in the one seat, which is directly to the dealer's left. As he's sitting in the box dealing, he gives me a pair of twos, right? Like, I'm in the one seat. He gives me pocket tubes. Nothing abnormal about that. But this dude starts hitting my leg, right? Trying to get my attention, and I don't think anything of it. So I muck, and he just gives me a look. I'm like, I don't fucking know this dude. Why are you looking at me like that? Fast forward, 1020 minutes. He was on break. Like, they rotate dealers, like, every 30 minutes. And I also got up to go to the bathroom this time. And he, like, approached me. Didn't want to make it too obvious, but he, like, came at me. He's like, why did you fold that? And I'm like, fuck you talking about? He's like, those fucking pocket twos. And he goes, you didn't feel me kick you under the table?


I go, yeah, why'd you do that? He goes, bro, you see a two, hit the flop. I don't even know what the fuck this guy's talking about, but it's all starting to come together. I'm like, oh, this dude's a fucking mechanic. And he's on some bullshit. I didn't know, I wish I'd have knewn because I probably was going to win that hand. That was the first encounter I had with this guy. Thought he had a little Larson in him, right? Like a little bit of criminality to him. So we became, like, pals. And I think the dude's cool. Wasn't cool. He's a real piece of shit. He comes at me, he starts sending me all these text messages and saying, I know it was you that did this. And I'm like, bro, you're fucking tripping. Never did I admit to this guy. Never was anything said confirmed or anything like that. But he's coming at me sideways like, hey, man, I know this is you. Then I'm getting a little paranoid now. It came to a point where I just fucking wanted to give him money to shut him the fuck up. And now he's starting to act squirrely.


And it's just like, my spidey sense is going off a little bit. So it gets to the point where I tell him to meet me at an off site property. I'm going to give him like, $1,100 and tell him to shut his mouth. Never mention this shit again, or it's.


Not going to be good.


He interprets me wanting to set up this meeting, like, whack him or something. I'm like, what the fuck? It was just really fucking weird situation with this guy.


Regardless of what really went down, Detective Smith suddenly had an intriguing new lead.


Problem that we had was, okay, this guy just did a huge robbery at the Bellagio, and he's going to go back there. It didn't make sense to us, but everything this guy was saying adds up. So when we got Carlio's name and the things that he was saying that we got from the citizen source, then we started delving more and more into it. It was like, yeah, this is going.


To be our guy.


Now we got to prove it, right? So we did our initial background investigations. That's running license plate, running driver's license. What kind of criminal history? How long has this guy been in town? Basically doing a whole background on him. Who were his associates? We were able to get phone numbers that he used, computer ip addresses. We did social media, which, by the way, is pretty remarkable what people share on social media.


Upon their deep dive into Tony's social media accounts, they found an interesting quote on Tony's Facebook page. Reading, money isn't everything, but it's right up there next to oxygen.


We did the whole background early on. Junior came up and he said, sam, doing the background on this guy. His dad's a judge. We've definitely changed the way that we proceeded with the case from then on. We were very cautious as to who we shared information with.


Not only did everything about the case become top secret for Detective Smith and his cohorts, but they had to do everything in their power to keep their primary suspect from knowing they were on to him, which meant letting Tony continue to live the high life at the Bellagio while cashing out what he'd stolen. For better or worse.


I ended up making a pit stop at a little high limit area at the Blasio. It's like a little lounge, little piano lounge, and they have one or two blackjack tables. I don't know why I went in there. I never even played in there. It just seemed like it's New Year's, I can go sit down, have a drink and try to win a few bucks. I start betting thousand, two, 3000, and I start losing. So I'm just like pressing. Next thing you know, somehow I'm like betting the table max, blow through all the chips I have on me, the stolen chips. I had to go up to the room and get more cash. I'm like, fuck that. I need my money back.


That's next time on the high roller heist of the high roller heist was created and produced by Eli Chorus and Joshua Schaefer of Pegalo Pictures, an executive produced by Jason Hoke of Wavelength, written by Eli Chorus, edited and assembled by Christy William Schaefer. Coproduced with interviews recorded by Nicholas Sinakis. Theme music and score by Joshua Klebe and with sound design and sound mixing by Craig Placky. Recorded at side three studios in Denver, Colorado, with engineering by Lucian Nicola. Production lead go by Sean Fawcett at Raymond Legal and Sarah Burns of Davis Wright Tremaine. Thanks again for listening, and don't forget to follow or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and leave a review.