Vegas man arrested in Rio heist pleads not guilty

AP News
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Posted: Mar 01, 2011 3:58 PM
Vegas man arrested in Rio heist pleads not guilty

A man accused of driving an armed bandit to a casino that was robbed of $33,000 in chips pleaded not guilty Tuesday as police kept searching for the gunman.

Police said Edward Land was an accomplice to the Feb. 24 heist at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino _ the second casino holdup in Las Vegas since December.

Police have said Land acknowledged driving a buddy to the Rio and watching him don a wig and fake mustache before leaving his car.

But a lawyer for Land said he had no knowledge a robbery was in the works.

"He had a robbery dumped in his lap," attorney Louis Schneider said after a hearing in Las Vegas Justice Court.

Land, 41, and taxi driver Hiroyuki Yamaguchi, 61, were arrested on suspicion of aiding the bandit, identified by police as 45-year-old Steven Gao.

Yamaguchi did not enter a plea at Tuesday's arraignment.

Judge Deborah Lippis increased bail for each man to $125,000 and set another hearing for March 15. Both defendants have been charged with burglary, robbery and conspiracy.

Yamaguchi is suspected of driving a cab used by the bandit to flee the casino. In court, he said through a translator that he wasn't sure he could afford a lawyer.

Lippis said she was alarmed by the use of a weapon in the robbery at the crowded casino.

"I find it extraordinarily dangerous," she said.

Schneider entered the not guilty plea on behalf of Land, whom the lawyer described as a longtime Las Vegas resident who had graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with a business degree and was a U.S. citizen.

Schneider had asked that cash bail be set at $10,000, with supervision.

Schneider said Land and Gao were close friends, but Land never agreed to help Gao get away with the robbery and didn't know his whereabouts after taking him to catch a bus to California.

"He knew something looked funny and he walked away," Schneider said.

Deputy District Attorney Alicia Albritton countered that Land knew Gao "was about to do something."

Yamaguchi was arrested within hours of the heist, after Gao was dropped off at another casino, where police said he met Land and gave him $17,000 in stolen chips to repay a debt. Land later told police Gao robbed the casino as a way to pay back the money, according to an arrest report.

Authorities recovered nearly $17,000 in chips and a wig from Land's home, and $1,000 in chips and a silver revolver from Yamaguchi's cab, according to the report.

Yamaguchi and Gao worked together at the same taxi company.

The stickup was the second grab-and-run heist in Sin City in two months. A bandit snatched $1.5 million in chips from a craps table at the Bellagio casino in December then sped away on a motorcycle.

Police do not believe the holdups were connected or were linked to organized crime.