Jury hands beating victim $5.8 mil.
Security found to be lacking at The Mirage
By Bill Gang
LAS VEGAS SUN
The story of Joseph Canterino’s ill-fated visit to Las Vegas in 1992
developed into a kind of Runyon-esque saga in 1997, with twists and
turns and eventually something of a happy ending — at least for him.
It wasn’t so happy for The Mirage hotel-casino, which must pay $5.8
million to Canterino, a District Court jury decided Thursday.
Canterino — the son of a reputed Genovese crime family “captain” —
was mugged while carrying $72,000 in cash down a hotel corridor.
The beating he suffered in the unmonitored and sparsely patrolled lobby
on the 16th floor left him permanently disabled and emotionally
crippled, attorney Marty Keach argued to the jury in District Judge
Stephen Huffaker’s courtroom.
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.
A maid testified in court that she saw them lurking in the hallway —
shifty-eyed and muttering in Spanish — for at least an hour and a half
before she heard the assault.
But that was the first time she told the story to anyone and Mirage
attorney Carolyn Ellsworth picked it apart until it had little value,
according to jurors’ comments after the verdict.
Canterino’s own testimony was full of holes but six of the eight jurors
filled in the blanks enough to find the hotel responsible for the robbery.
Chris Fossier, the jury forewoman, said much of what
Canterino said couldn’t be believed, but the deciding factor in the verdict
was the lack of security provided in the tower.
“There were no cameras,” she said. “If they had been there, perhaps
we wouldn’t be here today.”
Juror Scott Woodall noted that Mirage witnesses indicated $6.5 million
a year is spent on the resort’s security, but “it wasn’t spent in the
“There were three guards for the tower,” he said.
Keach said The Mirage spent more on security for Siegfried and Roy’s
white tigers and the dolphins than on security for 3,000 guests on the
29 floors of the tower.
“The Mirage knew it was fertile environment for criminal conduct,” he
told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday.
But Warren Bates, one of two on the eight-member jury who voted not
to award Canterino anything, said that while security could have been
improved, “I didn’t feel it was the proximate cause of the incident.”
“I felt that Canterino came in with unclean hands,” he said, indicating
that he believed the now-40-year-old New York longshoreman was
hiding vital bits of information that might have solved the mystery.
Fossier called the multimillion-dollar award “a wake-up call” for The
Mirage — and, perhaps, the resort industry.
Keach said the jury “showed a lot of courage and strength to tell
somebody as big as The Mirage that little people count.”
The Canterino who came to Las Vegas in 1992 for a gambling spree
with $100,000 in cash was a much different man than the one in court
five years later.
Testimony indicated Canterino arrived in Las Vegas as a robust
longshoreman who spent much of his off time playing in New York’s
competitive softball leagues. He was an outgoing man with an
admitted penchant for gambling and a gift for horse races.
Canterino told how he has won more than $1 million betting on those races.
The beating he suffered robbed him of his athletic prowess and left him
housebound with resulting phobias that make it difficult for him to
cope with open spaces or crowds, Keach said. There was testimony of
“nightly panic attacks” and hearing loss.
He couldn’t even attend the funeral of his father, who died in prison,
Canterino broke down into tears of anxiety on the witness stand until he
was allowed by the judge to move to a more protected spot by a wall for
Of the money he brought to Las Vegas, Canterino said $80,000 was
given to him as a stake by four fellow longshoremen.
He explained to the jury that he never carried credit cards and dealt only
Security videotapes in the casino captured him peeling bills off
huge rolls stuffed into the belly bag he wore.
But after the attack, the only thing he would have left would be the bag,
oddly re-zipped by the muggers.
The security videos in the casino and the elevators plus telephone and
room service records were also sources of problems for Canterino.
He testified that he was in Las Vegas alone and knew no one here. Yet
Ellsworth noted during closing arguments that Canterino ordered
double meals in his room and scoffed at the longshoreman’s
explanation that he was a big eater.
There also were telephone calls made to New York from the room while
security videos showed Canterino gambling at the roulette tables in the
He was caught in a falsehood about going back to his room at one
point, when videos at the elevators showed he never made the trip.
Then there was the lack of a videotape at the elevators showing the
muggers making their escape, Ellsworth pointed out.
“I felt what he was hiding was far more plausible than his own story,”
Bates said. “I felt the person he was hiding was involved.”
But there was no question Canterino suffered a serious beating,
although Ellsworth questioned whether the psychological scars were as
deep as he and psychologists had indicated.
She said that although he claimed to be incapable of leaving his
mother’s home in New York, he managed every day of the trial to walk
alone between the courthouse and the Lady Luck hotel-casino three
But Keach said Canterino’s scars are real and the jury award is
justified. Although less than the $8 million he had requested, the
attorney said the judgment was “fair.”
“The jury understands he can’t go outside,” he said. “They understand
he can’t have a life. He has had a long, tough five years and is going to
have a long, tough rest of his life.”
The Mirage is expected to appeal the judgment.