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George Knapp: Bad judgment, animal-style

Taxpayers in Connecticut could be on the hook for up to $150 million dollars because of a lawsuit filed by a woman whose face was eaten off by an enraged chimpanzee. You might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with folks here in Nevada?

As it turns out, a state official had issued a warning about Travis, the chimp in question. The inspector said the 200-pound Travis was a danger, but the warning didn’t protect a woman named Charla Nash, who came to visit the chimp’s owner and was brutalized in an attack that saw her nose, lips, eyelids and hands ripped to shreds by Travis. Today, Charla spends her time in a hospital bed, totally blind, unable to feel anything because she has no hands. She’s racked up millions in medical bills and thinks the state should be held accountable because it gave tacit approval to private ownership of a dangerous animal. (The state says it did not have the authority to seize Travis.)

Now, the principal owner of the chimp-breeding facility where Travis was born is living here in the valley, and he brought along three more chimps from that same facility, chimps that have been living in a backyard cage. Owner Mike Casey and his girlfriend have been making a modest living by renting out their chimps for TV commercials or advertising productions. They also have held meet-and-greets for the public so that kids and others can get up close and personal with a real, live chimp. Casey and his girlfriend recently applied for permission to do what they’ve already been doing — keeping chimps in their yard. In all likelihood, they decided to seek a zoning permit because of the publicity surrounding the escape of two chimps in another part of the valley, an event that ended with the shooting death of a chimp named Buddy.*

Records obtained from PETA indicate that chimps owned by the Caseys have allegedly caused trouble before. In fact, one report says Mike Casey had his nose bitten off by one of his chimps, and it had to be reattached surgically. Another of their chimps was shot and killed after an escape.

Exotic animals do not belong in backyards of neighborhoods. It’s that simple. And if Clark County OKs this zoning change, it deserves any lawsuits that might arise once the inevitable happens.

Ditto for those enlightened elected officials out in Nye County. Days ago, they gave their stamp of approval to one of them most notorious animal trainers in the nation. Karl Mitchell has lions and tigers in his backyard. He’s been fined repeatedly by the USDA for mistreatment of his big cats, has been ordered to stop displaying the animals, has been fined huge amounts for thumbing his nose at various authorities, has been accused of trying to run over with his vehicle a couple of California game officials, and even went to prison for stealing from the very same Nye County government that just gave its OK for him to have big cats in his yard. Go figure.

I am told that the high-wattage brains on the Nye County Commission figured it was better to approve Mitchell’s request than turn him into a martyr. They also reasoned that if the county denied his permit, Mitchell might move his critters to some other rural burg with even fewer regulations than Nye (as if such a place exists). And by keeping Mitchell and his sharp-toothed felines in town, Nye officials figure they can keep an eye on him until the USDA finally shuts him down. Let’s all hold our breath.

Government officials that allow such lunacy to continue should be held accountable, if not personally liable. It is bad for the animals and can be really bad for people. Just ask Charla Nash.


A trial under way in federal bankruptcy court should sell tickets. Some very prominent names are being slimed on an hourly basis in the fight between Pete Eliades, longtime strip-club owner and cab company magnate, and his daughter Dolores, who ran two of our town’s top adult nightclubs for many years. Dolores has already accused her father of physically abusing her as a girl, and I am told nastier allegations are still to come. Dolores’ name recently surfaced in another legal venue, when she agreed to testify for the government against her father’s former general manager, one Manny Varagiannis, accused by federal and local lawmen of trying to hide $1.8 million raked in from an outcall entertainment company he ran with his wife. Dolores told me in a face-to-face that Manny told her all about the escort business, showed her how much cash it earned each night and even offered her a piece of the action. She says she declined. It is not yet clear whether her father’s decision to bring Manny into the family business might endanger the privileged licenses that have generated millions of dollars at Olympic Garden, one of only three adult clubs in the city to have liquor and gaming, but you might think someone would want to take a look at those connections. Ms. Eliades is pretty sure that she’s about to get raked over the coals herself. More slime to come. … Former sheriff Ralph Lamb got some great news this week. CBS decided to extend the first season of Vegas, the hit TV show based loosely on Lamb’s colorful career as our town’s top lawman in the ’60s and ’70s. The program has been a hit, averaging close to 15 million viewers per week. (Not surprisingly, the Las Vegas viewership is tops in the nation.) CBS told Lamb it will order a full 22 episodes of the show. … If you were wondering why you couldn’t get into the Mob Museum for awhile this past weekend, it’s because HBO threw one heck of a party. The network spent more than a million bucks to entertain cable TV execs — seven busloads of them — by not only renting out the entire Mob Museum, but by inviting cast members from HBO’s mob-themed show Boardwalk Empire to mingle with the broadcasting honchos. …


If you are stumped about how to celebrate Halloween this weekend and can’t choose between the 350,000 or so local haunted house attractions, here’s an unusual option. It’s a two-day event called Paranormous 2012. An ambitious lineup of bands, comedians, a costume ball, gourmet meals, a treasure hunt and guided tours of a spooky old building that paranormal investigators say is actually haunted are among the events being staged Oct. 26-27 in the ghost town of Goldfield, in Esmeralda County, north of Las Vegas. The organizers have arranged for 300 free campsites for the truly adventurous. Best of all, the proceeds benefit the Goldfield Historical District, which is working to restore the 100-year-old high school, which is supposedly haunted by several semi-friendly spirits. Haunted or not, it’s a wonderful old building. (Knappster participated in a previous dinner and ghost hunt organized by the same folks, and it was a hoot, a cool outing for anyone seeking different Halloween thrills.) Go to for more info.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at

*A previous version of this paragraph, based on erroneous information, said that Casey’s wife also lives here; she does not.