Saturday, April 24, 1999
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Once-tragic LV figure flees U.S., casino debts
Sol Sayegh, whose son was kidnapped and never found, faces arrest if he ever returns to the valley.
By Jane Ann Morrison
Sol Sayegh, whose 6-year-old son was kidnapped in one of Las Vegas' more famous unsolved crimes, has fled the country, leaving gambling debts of more than $6 million.
An arrest warrant was issued for Sayegh, but his attorney is trying to negotiate a settlement with three Las Vegas resorts so he can return to the United States.
With fees and costs added, Sayegh owes a total of $7.2 million, said Daniel Ahlstrom, head of the district attorney's Bad Check Division.
Sayegh wrote a series of six worthless checks in May 1997. The Las Vegas Hilton lost nearly $2.4 million when the checks bounced; Caesars Palace and the Desert Inn accepted $2 million each in bad checks.
Those dealing with the bad check case see this as another chapter of a family tragedy, one that began more than 20 years ago with the kidnapping of Sayegh's son, Cary, who has never been found and is believed dead.
For most Las Vegans living here on Oct. 25, 1978, Cary Sayegh remains captured in time, a brown-haired, brown-eyed gap-toothed boy, grinning happily from the pages of newspaper reports telling the horrifying tale of his abduction.
Cary was kidnapped from the playground of the Albert Einstein Hebrew School at 1600 E. Oakey Blvd. He was last seen climbing into a car.
The same afternoon, his parents, Sol and Marilyn Sayegh, received a call demanding $500,000. The caller said he would call back in a couple of days to give the details of how the money would be paid.
The family waited, but the call never came.
The kidnapping resulted in the most extensive manhunt in Southern Nevada up to that time, but the boy was never found.
Law enforcement authorities said no member of the Sayegh family was ever a suspect.
Authorities suspected but never proved that the kidnapper was Henderson resident Jerald Burgess, a man with a criminal record who led them to one of the boy's shoes in the desert.
Instead, Burgess was prosecuted by federal officials on fraud charges unrelated to the kidnapping. He was sentenced to 15 years for the fraud and served a concurrent 15-year term on a state charge of raping a woman.
At the time of his son's kidnapping, Sol Sayegh was 33 and owned the Carpet Barn, a successful business he had started in 1971.
The family tragedy touched the lives of many Las Vegas notables, from the late Las Vegas Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun, who reportedly was bilked out of $154,000 when he dealt with a con man and tried to buy information in the case, to Oscar Goodman, Sayegh's attorney in a criminal case, who today is running for mayor.
Greenspun contended he and his reporters could do a better job of finding Cary Sayegh than the FBI, and he accused the bureau of bungling the investigation.
Sayegh sold his business in 1996. He and Marilyn Sayegh divorced Oct. 12, 1997, after he was alleged to have written the bad checks, but before the criminal complaint was filed Dec. 18, 1997.
Sayegh's attorney, Rex Bell, said he doesn't know where Sayegh lives today, but that he's not in the United States. He said his client calls him periodically.
Ahlstrom said he has heard Sayegh could be living in London or possibly Israel.
"I'd like to settle it," Bell said. "If Sol could get himself in the shape to do it, I believe the hotels would be willing to settle, but at this time, it doesn't appear we could settle."
About a year ago, Bell negotiated with the hotels for a partial settlement, but that never occurred.
"He feels bad about it, but it's one of those situations," Bell said. "If I can end up resolving it, I'm going to do everything I can."
One of the problems facing Sayegh is that he has to come up with the cash to settle -- a payment agreement isn't good enough.
"That takes away the criminal liability, makes it civil and then he could take out a bankruptcy," said Bell, who at the time of the kidnapping was the assistant district attorney under then-District Attorney Bob Miller.
Ahlstrom said he doesn't get involved in negotiating settlements between hotels and customers, and that there's no rule of thumb about how much resorts might accept as partial payment.
As of now, the six felony counts against Sayegh each carry a penalty of one to four years in prison.
Even if officials knew where he was, Ahlstrom said bad check violations, even if the sums are in the millions of dollars, are not covered by extradition treaties.
He, too, remembers the tragedy the Sayegh family went through.
"My heart goes out to him," the prosecutor said.
At the time of the kidnapping, Sayegh had been indicted along with two other men for trying to bribe then-Gaming Commission Chairman Harry Reid, who immediately reported the July 1978 bribe attempt and cooperated with authorities.
Because of the kidnapping nearly three months later, Sayegh's case was severed from the other two defendants -- Jack Gordon, who later married and divorced LaToya Jackson, and cemetery salesman Joe Daly.
Gordon and Daly were both convicted of conspiracy. Then-U.S. Attorney Mahlon Brown dropped the charges against Sayegh, saying his role in the conspiracy was "considerably less."
Prosecutors said that Sayegh's personal tragedy was "punishment enough."
Sayegh and Goodman always contended he was innocent and never intended to offer any bribe.