Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Gambling link eyed in Triano murder

Police are studying that possibility. But friends say they can’t imagine who would kill the well-known investor, or why.

STEPHANIE INNES Citizen Staff Writer

Investigators are looking into any possible link between Friday’s fatal car bombing of Gary Lee Triano at La Paloma Country Club and his failed casino deals.

”He had huge gambling debts, he made deals between people who financed and built casinos, and some of those projects were unsuccessful,” Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said last night of Triano.

”At the time of his death, he was still very heavily in debt with little or no income.”

Dupnik has said the bombing appears to have been ”a professional hit.”

But a retired Tucson businessman who had worked on Indian gaming projects with Triano for the past 20 years adamantly rebuts any suggestion that the casinos Triano worked with had ties to mobsters who might order him killed.

”There was no organized-crime aspect in any Arizona casino or any casino we’ve been involved with,” Frank Buscemi said yesterday.

”It’s frustrating to hear that. . . . Nobody knew (Triano) had an enemy.”

The car bombing was eerily similar to the opening scene of the hit movie ”Casino” – except actor Robert DeNiro’s character miraculously lived.

Triano, 52, was killed instantly.

An autopsy by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office listed the official cause of death as a ”blast-related concussion and fragmentation.”

Dupnik noted that it takes ”skill and knowledge” to successfully carry out a car bombing – believed to be the first in Tucson’s history.

There are no suspects in the case, Dupnik said.

”When you don’t know the who and why, you can speculate to your heart’s content,” he said of a possible motive and suspect.

”Obviously, somebody was out to get him,” said Triano’s attorney, Ronald Lehman. ”But it came as a shock to me, I’ll tell you that. . . . As much of a high roller Gary was, he was also a normal guy.”

Buscemi is incensed that some people against Proposition 201, a ballot measure that would enable the five Arizona Indian tribes that lack gaming compacts to open casinos, are using the car bombing to support their argument.

The logic being used is that more tribal gaming compacts would increase organized crime in the state.

”It is unconscionable,” Buscemi said of such claims.

Triano was extravagant, confident and flamboyant. He knew Atlantic City casino owner Donald Trump, who attended a 1990 University of Arizona basketball game with him. Triano once had his own chauffeur, jet and a multimillion-dollar home at Skyline Country Club.

But Triano had more recently fallen on hard times. In 1994, he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization for his Frontier investments, citing $40 million in debts.

Buscemi emphasized that many others beside Triano lost a great deal of money in the real estate bust of the 1980s. It happened to people with real estate interests across the state, including Gov. Fife Symington, a Phoenix developer who has filed for bankruptcy.

Attorney Ralph Seefeldt, who represented Triano in his bankruptcy case, said last night he does not know of any creditors who were angry with his client.

Buscemi called Triano an ”aggressive and very demanding” co-worker who had a knack for making deals.

”You were on your toes with him. He was well-educated and intelligent, but he was also a gentleman to work with,” he said. ”He worked with very high expectations and he worked hard to get them.”

Buscemi said Triano was most recently involved in finding investors for a hotel and casino project in China. Though the first two investment deals didn’t work out, a third group got the project off the ground.

A 10-story hotel and casino that came about from the investments Triano found is being built in the Chinese city of Syna, he said.

”He loved dealing with people, that was his forte.”

But Triano was also the target of lawsuits. A casino owner in the United States reportedly filed suit against Triano for losing his money in the original China deal.

Triano was also sued by the Tohono O’odham Tribe in 1993 over business he was doing with Bingo Partnership Inc., an investment group he was in along with Richard Hickey and Ronald Cohn.

The Triano-Hickey-Cohn partnership then filed a countersuit.

Buscemi said Cohn and Hickey received settlements in the case, but Triano refused a settlement because he wanted to do future business with the tribe.

Friends and fellow business partners say his entrepreneurial interests have included a pharmaceutical project, a dinner theater, and casinos in the Caribbean, China, the Middle East and Arizona.

Last night, wreckage of the 1989 Lincoln Town Car was towed away from a La Paloma Country Club parking lot to a Sheriff’s Department impound lot.

Officials from the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Department finished their work at the bombing site at about 4:30 p.m. yesterday – an hour before it was towed.

Authorities are not saying whether the bomb was planted in the developer’s car at the golf club, or before he drove there.

The investigation will include a reconstruction of the blast, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Michael J. O’Connor.

Officials have not determined how the bomb was detonated.

”At this point, we’re interviewing family, friends, anyone who might have information. We have not identified any suspects,” O’Connor said.

The FBI is assisting local authorities in witness interviews.

At the time of his death, Triano was sharing a Sabino Canyon home with Hickey.

Triano’s friends and family members gathered in mourning this weekend at the home of his first wife, Mary Cram.

The victim, who would have turned 53 Wednesday, has two children – Heather, 26, and Brian, 25, both of Tucson – by his first wife, and two – Lois, 6, and Trevor, 8, of Aspen, Colo. – by his second wife, Pamela.

Divorced from both wives, Triano had a girlfriend at the time of his death. She had organized his surprise birthday party at his Sabino Canyon-area home Friday evening.

Triano’s brother was on his way to Tucson from Wyoming yesterday.

His mother had just visited Triano six weeks ago from California.

Triano was a longtime resident of Tucson. He graduated from Rincon High School and earned a degree in accounting from the University of Arizona, plus 60 credits from UA’s College of Law, his friend Rich Moret said.

Triano enjoyed sports, particularly tennis and golf. He had just finished playing a round of golf before he was killed Friday, and was supposed to play a weekly tennis game with friends Saturday morning.

”Gary was very generous to his friends and family. He loved to entertain,” said his friend Shannon Travis, a former Tucson Citizen reporter who now works in public relations. ”He would have different people over to dinner, he was a gourmet cook.”

And he was far from a loner. In fact, he thrived on having others around him, friends say. He loved parties, intimate dinner gatherings, and sports outings with friends.

”He was very social, loved to tell jokes, and was very outgoing,” Travis said.

She added that he was an extremely devoted father who had last seen his two youngest children in September and was looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with them.

Buscemi said one of Triano’s proudest accomplishments was earning the Silver Beaver Award from Boy Scouts of America during the 1980s.

”His family is very distraught,” Travis said. ”Despite the divorces and everything, his family was a tremendous part of his life. He was such a very affectionate man. He was very close to his niece and she, too, is absolutely distraught.”

Triano’s niece, Melissa Triano, is a real estate agent in Tucson.

”Gary did not let life go by him,”Lehman said. ”He wanted to grab onto every bit of it that he could. He lived the lifestyles of the rich and famous and was an extremely kind person – very charitable, very generous, would always try to have a kind word for somebody regardless of who the person was.”

Lehman, who lives near La Paloma, was taking his children home Friday night when traffic was diverted from Sunrise near the country club.

”They said it was a bomb, and I didn’t think too much of it. The next morning my wife brought me the paper and my eyes were just fixated on the name. I was just shocked. I would never have anticipated anything like this would happen to Gary,” Lehman said.

PHOTO CAPTION: VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen – Investigators, including federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, gather evidence yesterday from the ripped remains of Gary Triano’s car at The Westin La Paloma Country Club. The car was still parked yesterday afternoon in a lot at the resort where a bomb exploded Friday, killing Triano. The car later was towed to a Pima County Sheriff’s Department storage lot.

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