Monday, August 27, 2018

Slow Saturday Special: Springfield All In

MGM rolls into Springfield with plenty of showmanship

The place is out of this world, or so I'm told.

"MGM Springfield opens with fanfare" by Andy Rosen and Sophia Eppolito Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent   August 24, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — The MGM Springfield resort casino opened its doors Friday with a flourish that would befit the return of a conquering war hero. An army of uniformed workers at the downtown complex paraded past blocks-long lines of people who had arrived at dawn to be the first gamblers inside.

A marching band played as the procession made its way toward the city’s old armory, now part of the casino. Eight Budweiser Clydesdales pranced down Main Street, following a 1923 Rolls Royce — made in Springfield — carrying Mayor Domenic Sarno and MGM’s top local executive, Michael Mathis.

As the crowd began to file toward the doors, Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady” blasted from loudspeakers. “You can’t beat Springfield!” one man yelled.

The fanfare celebrated the completion of a years-long, $960 million project that the city believes will spur economic development, drawing thousands of first-time visitors to Springfield’s South End.

The complex has a 250-room hotel along with a suite of dining and entertainment options connected to its 125,000 square feet of gambling space, making it the state’s first casino to offer table games and lodging onsite. Rooms start at $219.

The throngs that arrived early Friday morning for the official opening of the doors had been enthusiastically awaiting the start of gambling. Eager to be hospitable to those standing in the long lines, some local businesspeople came out and offered to hold people’s places so they could take bathroom breaks.

Cathy Forrrette, who works in sales at a nearby La Quinta Inns & Suites, was holding a sign that said “Gotta Go? Let us know.” She said it was the least she could do amid a bare-knuckle battle for spots in the queue.

“They’ve been waiting in the line since 6 this morning, and you’ve got people over here who are cutting in,” she said.

Kevin Tanguay, 52, and Gary Gosselin, 58, were among the first to arrive — at 5 a.m. Gosselin said he had been “waiting for seven years for this.”

“Why spend all our money in Connecticut when we can keep that revenue in Massachusetts?” said Tanguay.

Tanguay gambled for the first time earlier this year when the two Easthampton friends spent two days at a Connecticut casino. He lost some money in his debut outing, he said.

“I’m really hoping to have a better day today,” he said.

Inside, Anita Bird scrambled to prepare coffee drinks for hotel guests who were waiting for the casino floor to open. The Springfield resident was the first person hired to work on the project in 2012. “Everyone’s really excited to be here,” she said.

When they finally did, the line dissolved quickly as the crowd rushed into a forest of flashing slot machines, where many of the first wave of gamblers quickly settled in.

“When they first open, we hear from other people that basically they up the odds,” said Bobby D’Arezzo, of Smithfield, R.I., who was with his wife, Donna, playing a slots game called “Buffalo,” in which they were trying to win money by matching the animals on the screen.

The two live close to other casinos, but wanted to test their luck at the new spot.

As soon as Danny Migliore, 44, and his friend Jim Clark, 49, made it onto the casino floor, they sat down at one of the blackjack tables.

“Look at that, 21!” Migliore cried moments later as his friend got a blackjack, slapping the table with excitement.

Migliore said the two traveled to Springfield from Connecticut with the sole intention of playing blackjack.

“I won’t play nothing else,” Migliore said. “I’m a gambler. I love gambling. It’s as simple as that.”

Outside the casino, Springfield residents and business owners said they were hopeful that the scene would bring the prosperity.

Though few patrons had made their way to shops in the surrounding neighborhood by midday, Terri Skinner, the owner of nearby Nosh Restaurant and Cafe, said the presence of the casino’s 3,000 workers has already helped her trade. The restaurant was mobbed at lunchtime.

“There’s been a lot of good business around town lately,” she said. “We’re in a great spot being so close.”

People, she said, are “starting to feel good about coming here.”

Bob Dearing, who has lived in Springfield’s South End all of his 74 years, walked over to watch the festivities. The idea that his neighborhood would be a destination again had him feeling nostalgic.

There used to be lots to do in the area, he said, but in recent years, it has been dead at night. Now, he said, that’s about to change.

Even some who sought to stop the MGM Springfield said they see nothing left to do now but hope the community’s chosen economic development strategy works out.

“The city has risked a lot on this casino. The growth of the downtown area depends on it.” said Mark Mullan, a vocal foe of the referendum in which city voters approved the site in 2013.


Even the streets are safe now.

Related: Last Call at the Casino

Well, maybe not.


"Hotel security in Vegas, elsewhere hasn’t earned US backing" by Regina Garcia Cano Associated Press  August 27, 2018

LAS VEGAS — Stadiums, corporate buildings, and other facilities that draw crowds have strengthened their security since 9/11, and in return, they have earned US protections in the event their efforts fail to prevent a terrorist attack and they are sued, but hotels have not received the same safeguards.

This doesn't have anything to do with Jacksonville, does it? 

Sure doesn't make one feel safe about Springfield.

Las Vegas’s world-famous casino-resorts have long been known to be of interest to terrorists, but the constant flow of people may pose a challenge to earning liability protections under a little-known federal law, an expert said. For the first time, the law is at the center of a legal battle after MGM Resorts International invoked it to sue hundreds of victims of the deadliest shooting in modern US history to avoid paying out for lawsuits.

The law was enacted in 2002 to urge development and use of antiterrorism technologies by providing companies a way to limit liability if their federally vetted and approved products or services don’t prevent an attack. The US Department of Homeland Security has certified hundreds of security systems, software, and equipment, ranging from unarmed guards at shopping malls to flight deck doors.

A publicly available database of all federally approved security technologies does not list hospitality companies. Homeland Security does not disclose what companies have sought approvals and were denied.

The Associated Press asked four of the largest casino operators — MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Wynn Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands — whether they have applied for certifications. Only MGM offered a general comment.

‘‘MGM Resorts’ security teams work closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement and we follow FBI and DHS standards and training for a variety of situations, including terrorism,’’ spokeswoman Debra DeShong said in a statement. ‘‘When necessary to engage contract security vendors, we seek out the best security services available for the given event and location.’’

A high-stakes gambler opened fire from the windows of a room at MGM’s Mandalay Bay casino-resort last year, killing 58 people at a concert whose contractor-provided security was federally certified.

In which dozens of questions were raised, videos called into question, and then it was quickly forgotten so you can get back the the gaming. By feeling on the matter is it was a combination of scripted drills that were also piggybacked with false flag hit teams.

Casino operators interested in earning federal approvals would have to show the government that security at their properties not only seeks out gambling cheaters but also signs of terrorism, said attorney Brian Finch, who has helped dozens of clients get their systems certified. He said companies can delineate what part of their property they want to get certified, whether it is only the casino floor, hotel tower, or convention center.

‘‘A lot of those cameras are antitheft and anticheating,’’ Finch said. ‘‘What they would have to show is that those cameras are equally useful for terrorist threats, such as identifying knife fights or someone trying to put something on their ventilation system.’’

Not every hotel may qualify for federal approvals, Finch said, but high-profile properties may be eligible given the efforts companies make to protect their assets and guests. The challenge faced by the hospitality industry is that unlike at a concert venue, people are constantly coming and going, he said.

Casino security experts told the AP that security personnel at Las Vegas casino-resorts already look for signs of terrorism, not just gambling-related issues, and work closely with authorities to identify best practices. The security chiefs of virtually all the large casino operators also meet regularly.

‘‘It really doesn’t matter what the crime is, whether it is terrorism or somebody who is looking to rob a guest or burglarize a hotel room, that’s what they are looking for,’’ said Robert Gardner, a security and crime prevention adviser. ‘‘And there are common indicators to all of those. What it boils down to is things and activities that look out of place.’’

Getting security systems federally approved is free, but the process is stringent. Finch said he often tells prospective applicants that their technologies are not ready.

Companies are able to seek the approval for only some of their properties.

For example, Brookfield Office Properties Inc., a commercial real estate company with properties across North America, has held a certification since 2013 for a set of policies and procedures to deter, delay, and mitigate terrorist activity at the World Financial Center shopping and office building complex in New York.

Stadiums nationwide have been seeking US sign-off. Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and Citi Field in New York are among the most recent approvals.

Contemporary Services Corp., which provides security services across the United States, including at Super Bowls, was responsible for MGM’s outdoor concert venue on the Las Vegas Strip where the victims were shot Oct. 1.

Less than six months before, a set of CSC’s ‘‘enhanced, customer-driven activities, including physical security, access control, and crowd management’’ were certified by Homeland Security. Now, MGM is using that certification to argue that it has no liability to survivors or families of slain victims.

Oh, this is all about money, what a $urpri$e. The cost of keeping people quiet. 

What's Ken Feinberg doing right now?

Some experts on the federal law disagree with MGM’s interpretation of it. And the company’s lawsuits led Homeland Security to say its secretary ‘‘possesses the authority to determine whether an act was an ‘act of terrorism’’’ under the law, and it ‘‘has not made any such determination regarding’’ the shooting.

Finch said the Las Vegas mass shooting and similar incidents may lead hotel operators and other companies to consider looking into the protections offered under the Support Antiterrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002.

‘‘The incentive is the liability protection if something terrible happens,’’ he said.


"No bail for Springfield murder suspect" by J.D. Capelouto Globe Correspondent  August 27, 2018

SPRINGFIELD — Stewart Weldon, the man whose home turned into a dramatic crime scene in May after three women’s bodies were found there, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he killed the three women and raped or kidnapped eight other people.

Weldon, 41, was ordered held without bail at his Hampden Superior Court arraignment.

About 20 of the victims’ family members attended the arraignment. After Weldon entered the courtroom — wearing a blue and white striped shirt, handcuffs, and ankle cuffs — some family members could be heard crying as a clerk read the charges.

Several embraced one another during the proceedings, and some wore T-shirts with a picture of one of the women.

Weldon was indicted earlier this month on 52 charges, which prosecutors said stemmed from alleged offenses against 11 victims, from last April until he was arrested in May. He had been held on $2 million bail in two kidnapping cases, pleading not guilty in both.

Police found the bodies of America Lyden, 34, and Ernestine Ryans, 47, both of Springfield, and Kayla Escalante, 27, of Ludlow, on Weldon’s property in Springfield three days after he was pulled over on May 27 and arrested on charges of kidnapping and beating a woman in the car with him.

The indictments allege the three women were killed between Aug. 1, 2017, and May 2018.

Brian Murphy, Weldon’s defense attorney, declined to comment after the brief arraignment.

The victims’ family members also did not speak to reporters.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, whose office is prosecuting Weldon, said the court appearance Monday is only the start of the legal process.

“We hope that through this process there’s some sense of justice for them,” he said. “There’s really never closure when you lose a loved one.”

Prosecutors confirmed that the three women mentioned in the indictment are the same women whose bodies were found on Weldon’s property, but did not say how they died.

Gulluni said those details would likely come out leading up to a trial.

He said his office would push for Weldon to serve life in prison without parole, the mandatory sentence for someone convicted of first-degree murder.

The case, Gulluni said, is “sprawling in a way, and we’re very pleased with this first step being over.”

The indictment alleges that Weldon killed the three women; raped and strangled seven other people; and kidnapped and assaulted an 11th person.

Gulluni said after Weldon was arrested and the search at his home began, the additional victims came forward or were located by investigators.

“The discovery of the crime scene and going forward was an immense task, really. It was very complicated; lots of evidence found on scene and beyond,” Gulluni said. “As Mr. Weldon was held, we were able to really piece together a lengthy and complicated investigation.”

Three days after his May 27 arrest, officers were summoned to his green bungalow at 1333 Page Blvd., after another resident in the house complained about a rancid smell at the property.


Maybe you should go skiing this year.

"Man killed in hit-and-run crash was retired art teacher who taught at Stoneham High School" by Emily Sweeney and John R. Ellement Globe Staff  June 07, 2018

A South End man who spent 40 years as an arts teacher at Stoneham High School was identified as the person killed in a hit-and-run crash in Allston as the alleged driver was arraigned on a motor vehicle homicide charge Thursday.

Theodore J. Schwalb, 80, was listed in a Boston police report as the victim of the crash, which happened around 12:50 p.m. Wednesday on Commonwealth Avenue near the Griggs Street Station on the MBTA’s Green Line.

Schwalb, who lived on West Springfield Street for many years and who drove a convertible Mercedes Benz with a “TEDTED” vanity plate, was rushed to St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, where he was pronounced dead, according to the police report filed in Brighton Municipal Court.

The alleged driver, Phocian Fitts, pleaded not guilty in Brighton Municipal Court to leaving the scene of a fatal crash and motor vehicle homicide. Judge Myong Joun set bail at $10,000 cash. If the 23-year-old Fitts posts bail, he will have to wear a GPS-locating device.

He was also ordered not to drive without a valid license. His right to drive was suspended by the Registry of Motor Vehicles following the crash on the grounds that he is an “immediate threat” to public safety if he gets back behind the wheel.

Early Thursday afternoon, several of Schwalb’s relatives gathered at his brownstone apartment in the South End, still reeling from the news of his death.

“He was a very beloved person,” said Schwalb’s younger sister, Brenda Star. “He had so many friends.”

She declined to comment further, as did other family members.

Donna Cargill, a former colleague and current principal of the school, recalled her former colleague with fondness in a telephone interview. “He was a funny guy who embraced life,’’ she said. “He was a character.”

Fitts told Boston 25 News that he was listening to music and “driving too quick” in the moments leading up to the accident. Fitts said he had a green light and beeped his horn at the man crossing the street.

“As the guy was walking, the light is green, I’m driving and pressing the horn, pressing the horn, ‘beep beep beep beep’ — it was either I was going to die and crash into a pole when it came down to it. People hit and run people all the time. It just happened to be an unfortunate situation where I was driving. I don’t take drugs. I wasn’t intoxicated. So when it came down to it, man, accidents happen, man,” Fitts said.....

Video evidence showed him to be the driver.



Alleged hit-and-run driver gave voice to attitude many adopt behind the wheel: Get out of my way

Also seeMGM Springfield gets the green light to serve alcohol until 4 a.m.