Monday 23 September 2019

Gambling and property speculation paid gunman's bills

Sniper's nest: Some of the guns used by Paddock
Sniper's nest: Some of the guns used by Paddock

Jonathan Allen in Las Vegas

To the Texas brokers who met him in 2004, Stephen Paddock was an unremarkable man looking to buy an unremarkable property near Dallas, hardly distinguishable from other casually dressed Californians who flocked to the area to make investments.

After touring the 111-unit apartment complex in Mesquite, Texas, with the brokers, Paddock bought it for $8.4m, partly with the proceeds from selling some smaller properties in Los Angeles. When he sold Central Park Apartments a decade later, he had likely made $5m to $6m in profits, according to financial records reviewed by Reuters.

Paddock's lucrative real estate ventures, which helped underwrite his high-stakes gambling, may have also allowed him to buy tens of thousands of dollars' worth of rifles and bullets in advance of his attack in Las Vegas last Sunday.

A complete picture of his finances is still being assembled by investigators who are trying to fathom what drove an apparently wealthy retiree to haul 23 guns up to a hotel suite before commencing one of the deadliest shootings in US history.

"He was kind of a scruffy dude," said Jim Hearn, a broker who recalled showing Paddock around the complex of small, middle-class apartments in early 2004. "Didn't look like he had two nickels to rub together, but he had a few million bucks in an exchange account, which was clearly real, and he did his due diligence and closed the deal."

That purchase appeared to be among Paddock's most profitable investments, which included numerous smaller real estate deals in the Los Angeles area.

The rent from the 111 apartments in the complex gave him more than $500,000 in net income after expenses in 2011, for example, a sales brochure prepared for potential buyers showed.

He would feed some of that money into video poker machines, which are programmed to favour the house. The extent to which Paddock may have profited from his casino gambling was not clear. Still, Paddock was considered a high-value player, and casinos rewarded his gambling with perks that included free trips, rooms, meals and other luxuries, his brother Eric said.

He worked his way up to the Mesquite deal starting with an initial investment with Eric in a duplex rental unit in North Hollywood, Los Angeles, some 20 years earlier.

They saved up at their day jobs for the initial downpayment, Eric Paddock told journalists, dismissing online speculation that their father, a convicted violent bank robber with whom they had little contact, stashed loot away for his family.

Los Angeles county records show Eric Paddock bought a North Hollywood building in 1986 for $407,500.

In the years that followed, Stephen Paddock bought at least five other properties in LA. In early 2004, he sold or transferred at least three rental units in Hawthorne, near Los Angeles International Airport, according to county records. At least one of those properties had more than doubled in value since he bought it in 1992, selling for $3.2m.

Those sales lead to what seems his biggest deal - his purchase of the Central Park Apartments in Mesquite, paid for with a mortgage of $3.5m and $4.9m largely in proceeds from the California property.

Thomas Warren, another broker in the 2004 sale, recalled Paddock as unkempt. "But again, that's not all that dissimilar from the bunches and bunches of folks coming from California with money," Warren said, adding that he grew used to wealthy West Coast buyers showing up in shorts and flip-flops.

Not only did Paddock buy the complex, he ran it as the manager and lived on-site as a way of holding expenses down, apparently keeping his own books on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet rather than pay an accountant.

His brother said the pair had been thrifty from the start. Caring little about appearances, they bought cheap clothes from Walmart.

Stephen Paddock sold the complex in November 2012, for $9.45m : $1m more than he paid. His former wife, Peggy Paddock, and his brother Eric were partners in the venture, although the brother declined to say what share of the proceeds they took.

"We made enough money to do what we wanted to do in the rest of our lives," Eric Paddock said. "We all retired."

A few years later, per the police account, Stephen Paddock began amassing much of the arsenal he would need for Mandalay Bay. His spend on guns and ammunition would have been in the region of $50,000 - and for that he amassed more firepower than a infantry squad.

Paddock had 23 firearms in the hotel suite, ranging from .223 to .308 calibre - 17 were rifles and 12 of those carried bump stocks to simulate full-automatic fire. Photos from the hotel room show some of his weapons fitted with optical sights, which would enhance accuracy.

Paddock purchased 33 firearms in the year before the attack. While gun-sellers must send notice of multiple handgun purchases to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, there's no such requirement for long guns.

His arsenal included tracer rounds that can improve a shooter's accuracy in the dark. It wasn't clear whether Paddock fired any of this ammunition during the massacre.

Paddock bought 1,000 rounds of .308-calibre and .223-calibre tracer ammunition from a private buyer he met at a Phoenix gun show, a law enforcement official said.

Tracer rounds illuminate their path so a gunman can home in on targets at night. But they can also give away the shooter's position.

The bloodshed might have lasted longer, with greater loss of life, but for a hotel security officer who was sent to check an open-door alarm on the 32nd floor, and discovered the gunman's whereabouts after the shooting started.

The security officer, Jesus Campos, was struck in the leg as the gunman strafed the hallway with gunfire from behind his door, apparently having detected Campos via surveillance cameras Paddock set up outside his hotel suite.

Campos, though wounded, alerted the hotel's dispatch.

In a new disclosure, authorities said two rounds fired by Paddock hit a large jet fuel storage tank at the edge of Las Vegas airport, about a block from the concert grounds.

Airport authorities declined to speculate on whether the gunman was aiming to hit the cylindrical 43,000-barrel fuel tank or whether the vessel was struck by two stray rounds in the midst of the shooting spree.

There was no explosion or fire, as jet fuel in storage is almost impossible to ignite with gunshots.

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