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Bellagio bandit gets 3-11 years for chip heist

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Anthony M. Carleo waits for court to begin Monday

LAS VEGAS >> The son of a former Las Vegas judge who wore a motorcycle helmet and brandished a gun as he carried out a Hollywood movie-style holdup of the posh Bellagio casino was sentenced Tuesday to at least three years in prison.

Anthony Michael Carleo apologized at his sentencing for "all the chaos I’ve caused."

"I know my actions were reckless," Carleo said. "… I’m extremely sorry for everything I’ve done. I owe my mother and father an apology. I’m sorry, your honor."

Carleo’s spree was captured by security cameras, which showed him wearing a helmet and carrying a handgun as he dashed out of the Bellagio resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Carrying $1.5 million in chips, Carleo pointed his gun at a valet before jumping on a motorcycle and speeding away before dawn on Dec. 14. No shots were fired.

The eye-popping denominations of the of Bellagio chips — many ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 each — drew intense media interest and comparisons to Hollywood movies like "Ocean’s Eleven," even though Carleo’s holdup was nowhere near as elaborate.

"To him, it was just a big joke," said prosecutor Chris Owens, who argued for a stiffer sentence.

Owens said that when Carleo was arrested, authorities discovered written plans by him to rob Caesars Palace, the iconic Sin City casino that sits just north of the Bellagio.

Judge Michelle Leavitt sentenced Carleo to at least 3 years in prison but no more than 11 years, unless he’s paroled when he’s first eligible in 2014. Leavitt also gave him credit for the nearly seven months he has served in jail.

The judge agreed to hold off deciding whether Carleo has to repay the chips, which have been largely recovered.

Carleo’s attorney, William Terry, said ordering $1.5 million in restitution isn’t appropriate because the chips are largely worthless since they weren’t redeemed.

"The great majority of the chips have already been recovered and/or they are worthless," Terry said after the hearing. "Certainly the Bellagio will never utilize or accept those chips again."

After the robbery, MGM Resorts International decided to remove the type of $25,000 chips stolen from circulation and replace them with another design. That forced Carleo to try to redeem them or pawn them off before they were truly worthless.

Carleo will be sentenced Thursday in another case — a Dec. 9 robbery at the Suncoast Hotel & Casino in northwest Las Vegas. That robbery netted nearly $19,000 in cash, and authorities have said it played out like a dress rehearsal for the Bellagio theft.

Carleo is the son of former Las Vegas Municipal Court Judge George Assad. Assad was ousted by voters in June from the bench seat he had held since 2002.

He hasn’t commented about the case since issuing a public statement following Carleo’s arrest Feb. 2 at the Bellagio. Police said Carleo was trying to sell several $25,000 chips to an undercover police officer.

Assad described himself and his family at the time as being "devastated and heartbroken." He added that as a prosecutor and a judge, "I have always felt people who break the law need to be held accountable."

Carleo’s arrest report described a monthlong binge after the robbery of gambling and drugs, in which Carleo lost $105,000 gambling at the scene of the crime, including $72,000 on New Year’s Eve. He spent a week in January living at the Bellagio for free as a high roller, but eventually became desperate for cash and began telling more players in the casino’s poker room that he committed the robbery and had uncashed chips. He also solicited potential customers on a popular Web forum for poker players, sending one recreational player a picture of two $25,000 chips dated and signed "Biker Bandit."

"Cranberries are good for the liver!" reads the postscript in the note on one of the pictures. "Cranberries" is a nickname given to the $25,000 chips by gamblers because of their color.

On Tuesday, Terry said Carleo became addicted to painkillers while recovering from a knee injury, then spiraled downward.

"He described it as almost being in a daze," Carleo said.

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