Disputed Mirage case takes twist
By Bill Gang
LAS VEGAS SUN
Conflict-of-interest allegations persist against a District Court
judge who said he wants to drastically reduce a $6 million judgment
against The Mirage, but there is a new wrinkle to the case.
Mirage attorneys charge in court documents that the medical evidence
used to support the jury award to a New York longshoreman with reputed
underworld ties may not be accurate or may be “altogether false.”
CAT scans and MRI tests on Joseph Canterino’s head, according to Las
Vegas doctor Mark Winkler, do not show the injuries that the plaintiff’s
doctor testified to during the trial earlier this year.
In addition, The Mirage’s motion for a new trial alleges that Canterino’s
physical disabilities — which he blamed on the beating he said he suffered
at The Mirage as a result of negligent security — have been with him since
If that is the case, according to the documents filed by attorney Steve
Morris, the multimillion-dollar award should be tossed out and the case
Affidavits from one of Canterino’s junior high school teachers and from two
former classmates from Brooklyn, N.Y., indicate Canterino suffered from a
disease that caused him to utter loud grunts which sounded like “utt,”
accompanied by facial tics.
One former classmate, Richard Puccerelli of New Jersey, said the
behavior earned Canterino the nickname “Joey Utt.” Puccerelli stated that
he now believes Canterino suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome.
Morris said The Mirage only recently received copies of the MRI tests
and CAT scans, although they had been requested early in the case that has
been winding through the court system for nearly five years.
Attorney Marty Keach, who represents Canterino, has said District Judge
Stephen Huffaker should no longer be the judge that makes decisions in the
Keach criticized Huffaker’s statement that he considered the $6 million
“shocking” and that it would be “unconscionable” to let it stand. The
judge indicated he wants to reduce the award to $1.5 million or grant a
The problem, Keach claims, is that Huffaker has a conflict of interest
which should have kept him off the case from the beginning — the
judge’s son was given an $11,000 Golden Nugget scholarship to
help pay his expenses at Yale University.
On Wednesday, Huffaker said he recalled revealing the scholarship to the
attorneys — as he said he routinely does in all cases where it is an issue.
But neither Keach nor Mirage attorney Carolyn Ellsworth remembered the
disclosure that could have resulted in the judge being asked to step aside.
The judge, who admitted he actually wouldn’t have minded getting off
the case because of its contentious nature, said Keach had
quickly declined his offer to remove himself from the case.
“I wanted off the case at the time and I want off now,” Huffaker said.
“I want you off,” replied Keach, who has questioned whether the judge is
Huffaker denied taking sides in this or any case.
“I have absolutely no personal interest in any case,” the judge said. “I
work here, and that’s all I do.”
Huffaker denied taking any gratuities from Mirage Resorts Inc., but
did admit that he attended three scholarship dinners with his son at The Mirage
and played one round of golf at Shadow Creek as the guest of his son, who
was a caddy and host there during one summer.
At this point in the case, Huffaker said the parties have four options:
* Settle the case on their own.
* Accept the reduction he has suggested.
* Appeal his actions to the Nevada Supreme Court.
* Have a new trial.
The fifth option, according to the documents filed Wednesday, is to
dismiss the case and leave Canterino with nothing.
The jury award came after a nine-day trial over Canterino’s 1992 visit to
Las Vegas that he said left him physically disabled and emotionally crippled
— psychologically unable to venture outside his mother’s home.
Canterino, son of a reputed Genovese crime family “captain” who died in
prison, said he was robbed in the sparsely patrolled lobby of the 16th floor
of The Mirage.
At the time, according to his testimony, he was carrying $72,000 in cash —
much of it given to him by fellow longshoremen as a gambling stake.
The perpetrators, according to Canterino, were two Hispanic men — one with
a big belly and the other with an open shirt and a hairy chest.
Keach had argued at the trial that The Mirage spent more on security for
Siegfried and Roy’s white tigers and for the dolphins than on security for
3,000 guests in the tower’s 29 rooms.