Mismanagement, shoddy security, racial inequity alleged at Boulevard Mall
The Boulevard Mall halls are decked for the holidays, but shoppers are sparse, some stores are shuttered, and some restaurants closed on a recent mid-November Friday afternoon.
"Business has completely slowed down for them. The reason why it slowed down is because the mall was raided," said Jen Huber, who recently lost her job driving the Jupiter Express, a trackless train ride at the mall.
She believes she was fired in retaliation for helping spark the law enforcement action on Nov. 1.
"I think I'm just one of their targets because they knew that I called Metro."
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers assisted dozens of federal and state law enforcement agents as they served search warrants at several stores in the mall owned by the same woman.
"It was easy in the moment to make assumptions and assume that it was very bad," said mall Vice President and General Manager Timo Kuusela. "But as it played out, the people involved were back at the mall in a couple of hours and in fact, they were told they could re-open their businesses."
To date, no charges have been filed, but investigations remain ongoing.
Agents from Homeland Security, the Nevada Attorney General's office, the Nevada Board of Pharmacy, U.S. Marshals, and more seized merchandise from Farmacia del Pueblo and La Caballota in a mall called El Mercado. Clark County is also investigating potentially unlicensed businesses there.
"There are some discrepancies on that," Kuusela admitted regarding the business licensing issues.
He says they're working with the county to bring everyone into compliance.
"How much oversight and assurance can you provide your customers regarding the legitimacy of your tenants in the wake of the search warrant activity?" Darcy Spears asked.
"I would just ask everybody to reserve judgment on that until the conclusion comes out," Kuusela said. "We don't know. You don't know. I don't know. We would certainly love to know."
The woman who owns the stores in question wouldn't talk to us as she remains under investigation for alleged illegal sales of prescription drugs and counterfeit goods.
"I've seen her having the sign for Chanel up there," Huber said.
"That's pretty high-end designer stuff," Spears noted to Kuusela. "Is that a typical product for that kind of store?"
"Well," he answered, "certainly not the brand-name product. It's not typical at all. At this moment, that store doesn't sell any of that type of product."
"I knew about the knock-off clothing and purses and stuff," says Matthew Wolberd, who operated gourmet popcorn kiosk Pop-A-Licious with his partner in the main part of the mall.
"It was a struggle. Mall traffic is extremely slow."
Wolberd was a business owner and also a patron of various stores, including Farmacia del Pueblo.
"Is that an active, licensed pharmacy with a doctor on premises?" Spears asked Kuusela.
"No, that's not a pharmacy," he said. "It's a pharmacy only in the sense that you can get over-the-counter-type heartburn relief, cold relief. I think there was an accusation that there were some antibiotics there but they turned out to be garlic."
Wolberd claims he did get antibiotics at Farmacia del Pueblo when seeking a homeopathic remedy for a urinary tract infection.
"And she pointed to a woman working at her Farmacia, and said 'She's a doctor,' and then they gave me, in a little cardboard box, some pills."
Pills he says he later learned were amoxicillin.
"It was in Spanish, so I couldn't really tell what it was at the time," Wolberd said.
His complaint to the Nevada Board of Pharmacy set the wheels in motion for the multi-agency raid.
But that's just part of what Wolberd and other tenants we spoke to describe as a host of problems at the mall.
"I am a squeaky wheel," Wolberd said. "When I see something that's wrong, I'm going to point it out."
Kuusela sees it differently, saying, "I think that he has worked very, very hard to destroy the reputation of the mall."
Wolberd says becoming a whistleblower cost him his spot at the Boulevard Mall.
Management kicked him and his business out at the end of October.
On Oct. 11, Wolberd and his partner secretly recorded a meeting they had with Kuusela and Leasing Director Cristina Blasquez.
They made the recording to document their complaints.
On the recording, Kuusela tells them, "I'll be honest with you. I understand the problems are there but some of it's just not gonna change."
They also discussed claims that tenants were not being treated equally.
"The people out there feel like they have been abandoned by the mall because everything is (focused on the) Mercado," Wolberd said in the meeting.
"Answer me this, then. If that's the case, why don't they just leave?" Kuusela responds.
They talk about their target market, with Kuusela saying, "We want the Hispanic customer. That's who we're after. So, we make no secrets about that."
Wolberd: And I understand that. Money is green no matter where it comes from.
Kuusela: Right. And there's a lot of it in the Hispanic community, and a lot of it is cash.
Then, Kuusela says something that catches Wolberd off guard: "Trust me. You don't want the non-Hispanic customers."
"When he said that, he looked directly at my partner, who is African American," Wolberd later told Darcy Spears. "We both took that to mean that 'you don't want the Black business here'."
"What did you mean by that?" Spears later asked Kuusela.
Kuusela: Um, I don't think I said that, to be honest with you.
Spears: He recorded the meeting.
Kuusela: Did he?
We showed him a transcript and asked again, "When you said, 'Trust me, you don't want the non-Hispanic customers,' what did you mean by that?"
"Well, I meant that, you know, our large marketing strategy is toward the Hispanic customers and so I was advising him—and I had advised him in the past—to, you know, uh, make it appealing for Hispanic customers."
Wolberd's last day as a tenant at the mall was Oct. 31.
"On our last month, I will admit we withheld rent," said Wolberd. "There was a rat problem, there was a roach problem, there were issues with housekeeping and trash and bathrooms."
He documented those conditions in photos shared with 13 Investigates and the Southern Nevada Health District.
The pictures show roaches, damaged bathroom stalls with discarded clothing, doors smeared with feces, and sexually graphic graffiti.
"Right during and after COVID, we had an influx of homeless people," Kuusela explained. "And that has subsided now."
The mall is also battling rats.
Wolberd says, "You could hear the rats running through the ceilings over the food court."
We asked Kuusela what they're doing about the rat problem, and he said, "All around the hallways and everything you'll find that we have a lot of rat gear, rat traps and stuff. So we do take a proactive approach to it."
They did not take a proactive approach when putting a playground into the food court.
Clark County recently closed it down, deeming it dangerous and unsafe after discovering it was installed without permits, construction documents, or inspections.
"It was our misunderstanding about the permit process," said Kuusela, adding that they're in the process of remedying that.
Tenants we spoke to are also concerned about crime inside the mall.
13 Investigates obtained Metro police records showing 85 calls for service--about two per week--from January through early November.
"As far as an industry standard, that's a pretty low number, I will tell you, but zero is what we'd strive for, of course," said Kuusela, who emphasized that they're cracking down on retail theft and prosecuting whenever possible.
As for mall security, he said, "I believe they do a very good job."
But when Wolberd questioned it in the meeting, he admitted, "Security could be better."
Mall security did help foil a theft attempt in July that resulted in charges of grand larceny. It involved two men who tried to steal three couches from mall tenant Furniture Fashions. They'd reportedly tied the stolen couches down in the back of a truck they allegedly stole from mall property a few days prior.
That case is still pending.
Other calls for service to Metro include: person with a gun, juvenile disturbance, fight, petit larceny, malicious destruction of property, fraud, car break-ins and thefts, burglary, suspicious persons (one arrested at Old Navy on 6/9), missing and stolen property, robbery, disturbances involving homeless persons, missing persons, grand larceny (arrest made on 7/25), assault and battery.
One of the fraud calls resulted from what mall management calls "grifters."
"They usually come in with three or four, sometimes five other people who are kind of running this shell game where you find the marble underneath the bottle cap, or whatever," Wolberd described.
Video obtained by 13 Investigates shows the sleight-of-hand game in progress where customers bet cash on where the object under the bottle cap will appear.
"And I've also seen them do flipping cards," Huber said.
The games constitute illegal gambling and are currently being investigated by the Nevada Gaming Control board.
"There's no good excuse for what they're doing so, that's why they try to stay one step ahead of security, and they're all over town. Not just here," says Kuusela, admitting that mall security kicks them out on average a couple times a week.
"It's pretty brazen that they keep coming back, knowing they're not welcome," Spears noted. "They must be making some money off your customers."
"Well, I hope not," Kuusela said, "but this is the game that they play, and they're probably very good at it. So, to anybody out there, just don't give money to these guys!"
A woman who reportedly lost $700 filed a police report in April.
According to the report, a "group of men approached her at the Boulevard Mall stating they wanted to play a game."
She says she played and won money from one guy who convinced her to keep playing. She gave him "$700 with the understanding she would be getting it back plus some but quickly changed her mind and asked for her money back."
She told police, "He refused, stating 'a bet is a bet...' but then told her he'd give her money back if she had sex with him. And if she had sex with each of the guys in the group, she would get $1,000 each."
She kept asking for her money back but reported that he refused, telling her 'He does this scam game for a living.'
"We are in an area that has a lot of challenges," Kuusela said, "and we deal with those challenges daily."
Amid all the challenges and the ongoing state and federal investigations, the hope is that the holidays will help the remaining Boulevard businesses survive.