McFeely: ND crypto businessman once involved in 'Trial of the Century' in Las Vegas
Gov. Burgum aware that businessman bringing crypto-mining to North Dakota has a checkered background
FARGO — There's enough in Rick Tabish's story to make Martin Scorsese drool. Alleged murder, sex, drugs, money, a casino boss, the mob, Las Vegas, a stripper. There's even buried treasure and bricks of cash. It's all there. All that's missing is Joe Pesci playing Tabish.
It was juicy enough that the plot in which Tabish was involved two decades ago was the subject of at least six books and one movie — which involved neither Scorsese nor Pesci. Tabish's mess was highlighted in a "48 Hours" segment. There were at least a couple of documentaries and scores of tabloid TV shows about it.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal called the trial at which Tabish and his lover Sandy Murphy were convicted of murdering Murphy's boyfriend, the drug-addicted and disgraced casino manager Ted Binion, the "Trial of the Century."
Who is Rick Tabish and why should anybody in North Dakota care?
If you saw the photo distributed to media statewide this week, the one showing Gov. Doug Burgum talking to a pair of cryptocurrency executives who are planning to build a massive data center near Williston, you would have seen Rick Tabish. He is president of Montana-based FX Solutions and one of the principals of the $1.9 billion project Burgum says is going to help diversify western North Dakota's economy.
In 2000, Tabish and Murphy were convicted of murder in Binion's 1998 death and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The conviction was overturned in 2004 after an appeal to Nevada's Supreme Court, but Tabish's convictions on burglary, conspiracy, extortion and other charges stuck. He spent 10 years in prison before being paroled in 2010.
Prior to meeting Murphy in Vegas and getting hired by Binion to do odd jobs, Tabish was a down-on-his-luck businessman from Montana with a checkered past. A lengthy 1999 profile story about Tabish in his hometown newspaper, the Missoulian , painted a picture of a young man from a well-to-do family who was often in trouble with the law.
Tabish was a suspect in a string of burglaries and a rape case in the 1980s.
"We investigated a number of cases at that time, but they just had a way of disappearing," a sheriff's detective told the newspaper.
In 1987, Tabish was arrested for stealing an expensive painting from his lawyer and trafficking cocaine. While the drug case was pending, Tabish was charged with beating up a restaurant patron and fracturing the man's eye socket.
A judge sentenced Tabish to 10 years in the Montana State Prison in the cocaine case, with seven years suspended. Tabish served only nine months.
In 2019, Tabish operated a bitcoin mining operation in Butte that was owned by a man charged in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $722 million . Tabish sued the Colorado man, Matthew Goettsche, to recover millions of his own money.
He is now a major player in Burgum's vision of turning North Dakota into a tech powerhouse . The governor was aware of Tabish's past problems, according to an aide.
"Yes, we were familiar with Rick’s background, including his parole in 2010," Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said in a statement. "He has done business in North Dakota for over a decade, to our knowledge without incident, including with a number of companies in the oil and gas sector."
Indeed, it appears most of Tabish's indiscretions happened many years ago.
But the Las Vegas murder case is one that might never be forgotten in Sin City. It's been chronicled many times, including in newspaper and magazine articles available online .
Ted Binion was the son of an early Las Vegas casino owner but lost his gaming license because of connections to organized crime. Binion was addicted to hard drugs and made no attempt to get clean, regularly using black tar heroin.
"He dealt in bricks of cold cash and stored buried treasure," wrote the Review-Journal, referring to the millions in silver Binion had buried beneath the desert in Pahrump, Nev, near Las Vegas.
Binion's girlfriend was Murphy, a young California woman who went to Vegas on a whim to gamble and didn't leave. She eventually became a stripper, dancing at a club frequented by Binion. They became a couple, although Binion was said to be abusive.
Tabish landed in Vegas needing money for various business ventures. The Missoulian said Tabish was millions in debt, even though he described his businesses as "successful." Tabish and Murphy met and became lovers. Tabish would say at the murder trial he was in love with her.
Binion was found dead in his home at age 55 on Sept. 17, 1998. His death was originally ruled a drug overdose from heroin and Xanax. But one medical examiner believed Binion had been murdered by suffocation, and a prosecutor believed "a mountain of circumstantial evidence" pointed to Tabish and Murphy.
Key evidence that led to the pair's conviction included the strained relationship between Murphy and Binion, Binion telling his lawyer to cut Murphy out of his will and Tabish rushing to Binion's property to try to unearth an estimated $6 million in silver at 2 o'clock in the morning.
Tabish and Murphy were convicted after eight days of deliberation by the jury. The trial was broadcast live by Court TV and attracted national media attention.
The Nevada Supreme Court granted a new trial on appeal, saying there were flaws in the first one. Murphy's and Tabish's new lawyers prompted enough doubt in the idea Binion was suffocated to gain an acquittal.
Murphy went free almost immediately in 2004 while Tabish served time for conspiring to commit burglary and/or larceny, as well as grand larceny.
"I knew it was a circumstantial case. That’s what our judicial system’s all about. I just abide by what the Supreme Court says," the district judge who oversaw the first trial, Joseph Bonaventure, told the Review-Journal for a 2018 story "I’ve been reversed before that, I’ve been reversed after that, and I’m sure I’ll be reversed again. I don’t really have regrets about it. I just look at it and say, ‘Well, OK. The system’s working. Let’s do it again.’ We did it again. It was a different outcome."
According to the Missoulian article, Tabish was also charged with kidnapping, assault and extortion for allegedly torturing the owner of a sand pit south of Vegas. Tabish and an aquaintance beat the man with a phone book, shoved a knife under his fingernails and threatened to bury him alive in a shallow grave if he didn't turn over his interest in the property to Tabish.
That has Scorsese and Pesci written all over it.