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Looters strike after MGM fire; extortion threats on other casinos

By CHRIS CHRYSTAL

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Looters stole fire-blackened money from the burned out casino at the MGM Grand Hotel and burglarized the vacated guest rooms just after the tragedy, police disclosed Saturday.

There also was a telephoned warning to police that several other hotels along the Las Vegas Strip would meet the same fate as the MGM if their demands were not met.

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In addition, thieves entered a deserted fire station near the MGM and stole the firefighters' money with which they buy their food, Fire Capt. Ralph Dinsman said.

A uniformed MGM Grand Hotel guard wearing soot-blackened shoes was arrested at a nearby casino carrying a roll of sooty cash and pumping burned coins into a slot machine.

Police Sgt. Paul Conner said another looting suspect was chased and captured by a police officer while fleeing from the burning hotel with a bag of cash and jewelry.

The MGM guard charged with looting, John R. McManus, 47, identified as a retired New York Police Department sergeant, was booked on suspicion of grand larceny and carrying a concealed weapon.

Guards at the Barbary Coast casino arrested him because he was spotted dropping blackened coins into a slot machine. Investigators found $625 in soiled, smokey cash and a concealed .38-caliber revolver on him, police said.

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Keith McClenahan, 32, was arrested on a charge of grand larceny Friday by a police officer who caught him running from the hotel to a nearby apartment complex with a bag containing $6,600 in currency as well as jewelry, allegedly stolen somewhere in the hotel.

Citizens told police they heard breaking glass in the luxury shops on the hotel's ground floor, but Conner said the shop windows apparently had been broken by surging tides of water.

Looting occurred, he said, for about 30 minutes after the casino went up in flames at 7:15 a.m. It stopped when police set up a cordon around the massive gambling palace.

Six bystanders who were hampering firefighters at the stricken hotel were bitten by police dogs and had to be treated at a hospital, Conner said. The dogs attacked after one man allegedly swung at a police officer.

While rescuers comforted the survivors at a refuge shelter in the Las Vegas Convention Center, police received a call from a man who said 'You had a fire today. What would you do if you had a bomb tomorrow?'

An hour later, at 11:50 p.m. Friday, police communications got an extortion call.

Connor said, 'The voice said, 'The Scorpion organization has a bank account in Zurich, Switzerland. We want $25 million deposited there by Tuesday or the Dunes, Caesars Palace, the Desert Inn and Sahara will go the same way as the MGM.''

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FBI spokesman Bill Jansen said the hotels named in the call were alerted.

Guests returned to the hotel to reclaim their property from their rooms and many told reporters they had been burglarized.

'There's a lot of cash missing,' said a Philadelphia man who refused to give his name. 'My wallet was lying on the floor and the cash was gone. It was neatly done.' He lost several hundred dollars from his eighth-floor room, he said.

A man from Woodland Hills, Nev., who also declined to identify himself said he had left $80 lying on the dresser. To display his loss, he opened the palm of his hand and showed a single silver dollar, all he had left. His sixth-floor room 'looked good except for a little smoke,' he said.

A woman from Atlanta who likewise would not give her name said her lynx fur jacket, diamond ring and bracelets were gone along with her husband's gold watch.

'There were no lights where we were,' she said, describing the condition of the room. 'Fire hoses were strewn out in hall. It was still very smoky. Trays of food were lying around out in the hall.'

When the couple fled they had closed the door to their room, they said. On their way out they had noticed people 'running in and out of the rooms.'

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'When we returned to our room, there were cigarette ashes in the ash tray and we don't smoke,' the woman said in disgust.

Another man smilingly said he had 'found everything but a bottle of Amaretto.'

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