Attorney seeks O.J.'s release in Las Vegas theft case

LAS VEGAS &

A sports collector who said he was confronted by a gun-wielding "thug" with O.J. Simpson said today he initially thought the group of men might be police officers and he believes the audio tapes of the incident were altered.




Simpson, who says he was trying to retrieve memorabilia that was stolen from him, was to be arraigned today on several charges that could land him in prison for years if convicted.




Security was tight. People entering the courtroom were screened by security officers and Las Vegas police with bomb-sniffing dogs.




The case has attracted a swarm of media coverage. Among the reporters Wednesday was Marcia Clark, who unsuccessfully prosecuted Simpson for the 1994 murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman and became a correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight."




Simpson has been held since Sunday in protective custody in a 7-foot-by-14-foot cell. His lawyer, Yale Galanter, planned to seek the former football star's release today and request no bail.




"These are very serious charges. He is taking it very seriously," Galanter told NBC.




Simpson, 60, was arrested Sunday after a collector reported a group of armed men charged into his hotel room at the Palace Station casino and took several items that Simpson claimed belonged to him.




Authorities allege the men went to the room on the pretext of brokering a deal with two longtime collectors, Alfred Beardsley and Bruce Fromong. Fromong was later hospitalized in critical condition Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack.




According to police reports, the collectors were ordered at gunpoint to hand over several items valued at as much as $100,000. Beardsley told police that one of the men with Simpson brandished a pistol, frisked him and impersonated a police officer, and that another man pointed a gun at Fromong.




"I'm a cop and you're lucky this ain't LA or you'd be dead," the man said, according to the report.




"One of the thugs &

that's the best thing I can call them &

somebody blurted out 'police!' and they came in military style," Beardsley said today on NBC's "Today" show. "I thought it might have been law enforcement or the FBI or something because I was ordered to stand up, and I was frisked for weapons."




"At no time did Mr. Simpson hold any type of firearm at all," he said.




Beardsley also cast doubt on the authenticity of a recording of the confrontation made by Tom Riccio, the man who arranged the meeting between Simpson and the two collectors. Riccio reportedly sold that tape to celebrity gossip Web site TMZ.com.




"I do not believe that these tapes are accurate," Beardsley said. He said information was missing and the recordings should be professionally analyzed.




"Simpson confronted me, saying 'Man what's wrong with you, you have a turn-over order, you have a turn-over order for this stuff, man,'" Beardsley said, but he said that part wasn't on the tapes.




The Los Angeles Times reported that court records show Riccio has an extensive criminal history from the 1980s and '90s, including grand larceny in Florida, possession of stolen goods in Connecticut and receiving stolen property in California. According to the newspaper, Riccio acknowledged his past in a telephone interview late Tuesday.




Riccio said he was not concerned with how his past might affect his credibility "because everything's on tape. That's why it's on tape."




He also said he had been promised some form of immunity by prosecutors.




The memorabilia taken from the hotel room included football game balls signed by Simpson, Joe Montana lithographs, baseballs autographed by Pete Rose and Duke Snider and framed awards and plaques, together valued at as much as $100,000.




Although Simpson was acquitted of murder charges in the deaths of his ex-wife and Goldman, a jury later held him liable for the killings in a wrongful death lawsuit and ordered him to pay a $33.5 million judgment. On Tuesday, a California judge gave a lawyer for Goldman's father a week to deliver a list of items Simpson was accused of taking from the hotel room, raising the possibility that they could be sold to pay off the judgment.




"He's ordered to pay us millions of dollars," Goldman's sister, Kim Goldman, said Wednesday on NBC. "If he went to Vegas to go collect on those things so we wouldn't, there's some irony in that."




She also said she felt some satisfaction with Simpson's arrest.




"I'm not going to lie to you, I do feel a little bit of elation to see him in handcuffs," she said. "I hope that in some way the pressure that we put on him for the last 13 years drove him to this."




Two other defendants, Walter Alexander, 46, and Clarence Stewart, 53, were arrested and released pending court appearances. Stewart turned in some of the missing goods and Alexander agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, authorities said. A fourth suspect, Michael McClinton, 49, of Las Vegas, surrendered to police Tuesday.




Simpson and the other three men are charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping; two counts of robbery with use of a deadly weapon; burglary while in possession of a deadly weapon; two counts of assault with a deadly weapon; conspiracy to commit kidnapping; conspiracy to commit robbery; and a misdemeanor, conspiracy to commit a crime. Simpson also faces one charge of coercion with use of a deadly weapon, a felony.




Police were seeking two other suspects, whom they had not identified.

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