RENO, NV - It reads like the script for a TV mini-series.
A legal battle between former partners, one of them a highly visible political power broker, the other a family accused of unsavory connections.
Accusations of death threats and embezzlement. Characters like an "ominous, burly" guy named Ray demanding someone open a safe and taking the contents with him.
It's just a lawsuit, but the paper work, with over-the-top quotes and charges, reads like fiction.
The lawsuit pits Harvey Whittemore, long considered one of the state's more powerful lobbyists, against northern California businessman Albert Seeno Jr., his brother Tom and son, Albert III, partial owners of Nevada gaming interests including the Peppermill Hotel Casino and the Western Village.
They all became partners in 2004 when Whittemore sold the Seenos half interest in several companies which were combined under the Wingfield Nevada Holding Group, developers of Wingfield Springs and the Red Hawk Resort in Spanish Springs as well as a huge planned community, Coyote Springs in southern Nevada.
Fast forward a few years, the economy has gone south and so has the partnership.
According to the Seeno's lawsuit, Whittemore had been using the company for his own benefit, in their words "taking care of his friends before his partners"
The suit includes a long list of allegations that Whittemore entertained friends and clients on the company dime, charged the company for family homes, cars, withdrew cash from the company safe and even charged his daughter's $200-thousand dollar wedding at the Red Hawk Resort to the company without the knowledge of the Seenos.
The Seenos say Whittemore also hosted fundraisers, even paid salaries to benefit the Whittemore Peterson Institute at the University of Nevada Reno's Medical School which specializes in research and treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Things came to a head at a meeting in September of 2010 at the Peppermill at which, the Seenos say, Whittemore admitted misusing company funds and agreed to return property to pay the debt which they say totaled tens of millions.
Since then, they say, he's been stalling. Thus, the lawsuit.
Whittemore answered with a lawsuit of his own, saying he and his family were threatened at that meeting at the Peppermill and afterward.
Whittemore says Seeno told him when he was through Whittemore would be "disbarred and behind bars," that he would bring down anyone associated with Whittemore and at his funeral there would be no one in attendance.
Seeno's son is quoted as saying he would "personally fly to Reno and break Whittemore's @&%!ing legs" if the family didn't get their money back.
Whittemore says he did surrender some property and other items were simply seized including his mother's Steinway piano and his wife's jewelry taken one night when "an ominous, burly man named Ray" showed up at his home, demanded he open his wife's safe and left with the contents.
Living under the Seeno’s threats, Whittemore says has left he and his wife distraught and unable to sleep.
His suit also takes some unrelated swipes at his former partners noting they were fined more than $750,000 by Nevada gaming officials for associating with convicted felons and that their company headquarters in Concord, California was the target of an FBI and IRS raid.
Both sides allege the other owes them millions.
And there the dispute stands, but many in the Nevada political and legal worlds, along with gaming and law enforcement and other fascinated bystanders will no doubt be waiting for the next installment..
In the meantime, we've posted both lawsuits here on our website.
I judge them the most interesting legal documents since the Governor Jim Gibbons vs. First Lady Dawn Gibbons divorce case.