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Mike Blasky

Man arrested in casino chip heist at Bellagio

22 May 2012

The latest plot to rob the Bellagio of high-value gaming chips was foiled by quick-thinking casino employees Saturday night.

Michael Quinn Belton, 24, was arrested Sunday morning on three felony charges of robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary, according to his Las Vegas police arrest report.

Police said Belton and a second man, identified in the report only as "Carlos," were wearing black wigs and sunglasses and wielding a can of pepper spray when they entered a high-stakes blackjack area about 10:45 p.m. Saturday.

"Carlos" sprayed the table as Belton snatched 23 chips worth $5,000 each, for a total of $115,000, according to the report.

Richard Hauck, visiting from Cleveland, was gambling at the table with his wife when the robbery occurred.

"I saw an arm out of the side of my eye reach out and squirt something," said Hauck, 59. "At first I thought it was a joke, like some old high school friend. But then my wife screamed, and a guy reached into the plastic that holds down the chips and started grabbing, and I said, 'It's a freakin' robbery.'"

Brad Jackson, 51, said he was standing at an adjacent table when the two men approached. He didn't realize anything was wrong until he saw a casino employee in a suit holding a man in a headlock, he said.

"I looked over and the pit boss guy had this guy by the neck," said Jackson, from Dallas.

Jackson said the suspect ran about 10 yards with the casino employee chasing. The employee screamed, "I'll gouge your [expletive] eyes out," before jumping on his back, Jackson said.

Eventually, three people tackled the man to the ground and Jackson snapped a photo with his iPhone.

The chips fell to the floor and were later recovered, the police report stated.

After Belton was in custody, Jackson saw another employee carrying the suspect's wig and broken sunglasses, he said.

"It was pretty wild," Jackson said. "I've been out to Vegas about 30 times, and that was the most exciting thing I've seen."

Michael Gifford, the supervisor who first grabbed Belton, said he couldn't speak to the Review-Journal about the incident because of his employer's policy.

Belton was arrested by casino officials and held until police arrived. "Carlos" escaped, according to the report.

In his interview with police, Belton admitted to planning the crime with two co-conspirators: "Carlos" and a third man, Carlos Rodriguez.

Belton told detectives that he is from Nuevo, Calif., and is unemployed. He met Rodriguez through Craigslist and was offered a chance to repossess cars in Las Vegas, according to the report.

When Belton got to town, Rodriguez told him about a scheme to rob the Bellagio and offered a chance to help in the heist, Belton told police. He agreed because he was broke and both his grandparents were sick, the report said.

The plan called for Belton and the other "Carlos" to pepper spray a dealer and steal as many chips as they could. Once they left the casino, they would discard their disguises and hand off the chips to Rodriguez, the report said, with all three rendezvousing at Rodriguez's Mandalay Bay hotel room.

Belton said Rodriguez claimed to be a high-roller who could exchange the stolen chips for cash, which would then be split three ways.

Police later went to Mandalay Bay with Belton's room key. The keycard was registered to Carlos Rodriguez of North Hollywood, Calif. The casino had comped Rodriguez the room, according to the report.

Neither Rodriguez nor "Carlos" had been located or arrested as of Monday afternoon, police said.

Belton's crew was not the first to target the Bellagio for high-value chips.

In December 2010, Anthony Carleo walked into the Bellagio wearing a motorcycle helmet and carrying a handgun and made off with $1.5 million in chips.

Carleo fled on a motorcycle. The media nicknamed the suspect "Bellagio Bandit" for the brazen robbery, which was caught by security cameras and made national headlines.

He was caught in February 2011 after he sold 14 of the $25,000 chips to an undercover Las Vegas police officer. Carleo had been living the high-life after the robbery, staying in a complimentary suite and gambling with stolen chips at the Bellagio.

Carleo, whose father was then a Las Vegas judge, lost $300,000 of the stolen chips at the tables before being caught.

Nicknamed "cranberries" by gamblers because of their color, $25,000 chips are rarely distributed and easily traced.

The $5,000 chips - known as "flags" because of their red, white and blue color - are harder for casino officials and police to track.

Hauck, who was pepper-sprayed in the face, was still staying at the Bellagio on Monday. He and his wife lost $1,000 during the chaos at the table Saturday, he said, but the Bellagio was making up for it.

"It's not their fault what happened, obviously," he said. "But they're taking real good care of us."