Harrah's casinos sort out phony distress calls

ATLANTIC CITY - A local woman allegedly placed annoying phone calls to Harrah's Entertainment properties all over the country, sometimes resulting in massive law-enforcement efforts before it was learned the threats were unfounded, authorities said Friday.

At about 2 p.m. Tuesday, Pacific time, Harrah's Rincon Casino in Valley Center, Calif., received a call from a woman saying she had shot her husband in a hotel room and was going to kill herself because he had lost several thousand dollars in the casino, Lt. Phil Brust of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said Friday. Police cordoned off a hotel tower and did a room-by-room search but failed to find a victim or a suspect.

At about the same time, an operator at Caesars Atlantic City received a similar call, Brust said. Atlantic City police tracked the call to a pay phone and identified a local woman who reportedly had a history of psychiatric problems. The woman allegedly made as many as 15 phone calls to Harrah's properties around the country.

Caesars filed charges against the woman on Tuesday alleging defiant trespass, a petty disorderly persons offense not punishable by jail time, Atlantic City police spokeswoman Sgt. Monica McMenamin said Friday night. Patrol officers referred the woman to seek help and released her.

There was no report of anyone being in danger in the Caesars incident, and a large police presence was not needed on the property, McMenamin said.

The woman's name was not released.

Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman Alyce Parker confirmed Friday night there has been a woman calling the company's casinos around the country. There have been a few such incidents at the Atlantic City properties.

Police departments in the affected towns are working together to track down the calls, Parker said.

Brust said his department is working with Atlantic City police and Harrah's security to find the woman. The San Diego Sheriff's Department intends to press charges in the Harrah's Rincon incident. Under California law, penalties for making illicit phone calls range from fines to jail time.

Because of the unique aspect of the case, the Sheriff's Department can use civil statutes to recover its costs in investigating the incident, Brust said.

The North County (Calif.) Times reported on its Web site Friday that dozens of law-enforcement officers from at least three different departments spent 10 hours on the property searching the hotel tower.