Vegas casino raided as part of investigation into former Fry's exec

Feb. 2--The Internal Revenue Service has expanded its investigation into a former Fry's executive, with agents seizing financial records and interviewing employees from at least one Las Vegas casino last week.

Federal agents on Thursday visited the Venetian, a casino and hotel along the Vegas Strip where Ausaf "Omar" Siddiqui, 43, had frequented, IRS spokeswoman Arlette Lee confirmed Monday.

She declined further comment, saying the search warrants have been sealed.

Siddiqui was charged in mid-December on allegations that he was part of a $65 million kickback scheme, where he supposedly charged vendors exorbitant fees to place their products on Fry's shelves, and pocketed the money to pay off huge gambling debts. He was formally charged in January on nine counts of wire fraud and money laundering. The Palo Alto resident is on house arrest and is scheduled to reappear in San Jose's federal court Wednesday morning.

John Beckmann, 47, of Las Vegas and Siddiqui's "casino host" at the Palms Casino, told the Mercury News Monday in an exclusive interview that he was questioned for "a couple of hours" by two IRS agents Wednesday afternoon. Beckmann essentially catered to Siddiqui's every need when he gambled at the Palms for three years.

"What did they ask me?" Beckmann said. "They wanted to know, 'How did Omar pay you?'" Beckmann said he told the agents that on a "couple of occasions," Siddiqui would call him up and say, "meet me at the Venetian." Then, Siddiqui would hand Beckmann a check from the Venetian for anywhere from $1.5 million to $2 million written out in Siddiqui's name. Siddiqui would sign the check over to the Palms, and Beckmann would run the check up to the administrative offices. The Palms is suing Siddiqui for $2.35 million stemming from an August gambling spree.

"That's not common at all," Beckmann said. "Why would the Venetian do that? That's the million dollar question." Venetian spokesman Ron Reese declined comment.

But David Schwartz, director of the Gaming Studies Research Center at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said sometimes a high-roller will have credit at a particular casino. So, instead of writing a winner a check for $2 million, the gambler may just keep the winnings at the casino for future use.

Beckmann said the Palms was served with a subpoena for all the gaming records involving Siddiqui. He also said IRS agents had subpoenas for several other casinos. Beckmann said he saw the name "Planet Hollywood" on a subpoena.

Other than the Venetian, IRS spokeswoman Lee would not confirm whether agents visited the Palms or any other casino.

Beckmann said the IRS also wanted to know more about Siddiqui, where he played golf and how often he traveled to San Jose SaberCats games, an Arena Football League team that Fry's owns. Beckmann traveled with Siddiqui to some of these games in San Jose and Utah.

"I think they just wanted to get the whole picture," Beckmann said.

In a story published Monday, the Las Vegas Sun reported Siddiqui also owes Caesars Palace $5.7 million -- down from about $10 million that he originally owed in 2003 -- and missed a $150,000 quarterly payment toward that, which is now being pursued criminally by the Clark County District Attorney. The Sun also reported that the Hard Rock Hotel alleges Siddiqui failed to pay a $1 million gambling marker in September. That's not to mention casinos from Connecticut to New Jersey that have sued him or are suing him, for millions they say he owes them.

Siddiqui's civil attorney, Eric Sidebotham, did not return phone calls Monday.