Strip Poker 

Who's shaking down Cleveland's card games?

The seven men who convened in West Park June 1 were there to play high stakes Texas Hold 'Em. They got held up instead.

Just before 2 a.m., three men busted through a side door of the home. One had a shotgun. Another put a pistol to the head of the dealer. The third scooped up the money on the table. And if that weren't enough, the men had to give the robbers their pants. With that, the thieves vanished into the night.

Cleveland Police have yet to make any arrests, but they haven't exactly been aided by the reluctant gamblers, who claimed they only had $1,000 between them and provided bogus phone numbers in case the cops had to verify their tales.

Within the gambling community, however, there is growing suspicion that the heist was masterminded by one of their own -- possibly the same person who has been leaving extortion notes at the homes of those who throw the area's best poker games.

The extortionist told one game operator to leave an empty Snapple bottle crammed with $1,000 in cash at a mileage marker along I-480. Refuse to comply, the man was told, and the extortionist would tip off police to the illegal poker game.

In several cases where operators failed to pay off, their games have been broken up by police. But the West Park game was the only one to be robbed. Since it's still under investigation, police refused to discuss the case.

Petro's motives
It was a tragedy when Army Staff Sergeant Sean Landrus was killed by a roadside bomb east of Baghdad in January. So you might forgive Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro for swiping money from the state's crime-victims compensation fund to fly members of Landrus's family to a memorial service in Kansas, where his unit is based. The total bill: $4,575. "It's all for funeral expenses," says Petro spokesman Bob Beasley.

But there are problems with that. It's illegal. Under the section called "Unallowable services, activities and costs" in the victim fund's application guide, "Examples of ineligible activities include . . . funeral expenses."

There's also the question of Petro's motives. Surely he's aware of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. He was asked to use his state's victim fund to compensate Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly, a reservist who lost part of his left leg last July. Abbott refused to pay, noting that a guy who signs up for war isn't exactly a crime victim -- especially when you're part of an invading army. Now Kelly's family is suing Abbott and the state of Texas for $150,000.

Be assured that Petro, preparing to run for governor, isn't looking forward to lawsuits from soldiers' families as he hits the campaign trail. But Beasley doth protest that politics weren't behind his boss's decision. "This decision was made on the merits of the claim, and that's it."

Art imitates bankruptcy
When the Madstone theater chain pulled out of Coventry last fall, the implicit message was that Cleveland is a land of artless heathens. Madstone ran plenty of really deep movies, the thinking went, but Cleveland wasn't cool enough to get it.

Our fair burg was the company's lone black hole, spokeswoman Eda Kapsis said at the time. Its theaters in eight other cities were thriving. "There were lots of things that we learned in Cleveland that proved to be difficult," she said.

Yet it may have been Madstone's lack of business acumen, not Cleveland's lack of intellectual savvy, that did the Coventry site in. Madstone announced last week that it was ceasing operations at all its theaters, from North Carolina to California.

Very strange bedfellows
Former Cleveland numbers-boss-turned-boxing-promoter-turned-life-size-cartoon-character Don King has always been able to spot a mark. The latest stiff in Big Don's sights: Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie.

He's touring the country with King in what appears to be a very weird attempt to bring street cred to the GOP. "Where have you seen a Republican chairman standing up with us in the heart of the ghetto?" King asked during a recent stop in Philly, apparently mistaking the downtown jazz club, where he was addressing black businesspeople, for a poor, blighted neighborhood.

Gillespie told reporters he knows people might look askance at his consorting with an ex-con who's on a first-name basis with the FBI and IRS. But he doesn't care, damn it. "I said to [King], 'You know they are going to come after us, they are going to attack us, and they are going to try to smear us,'" said Gillespie. "But the fact is, I know the man, he is a friend of mine, and I'm proud to stand with him today."

Okay, Scooter. Just watch your wallet.

Out to Lunch
Rover's Morning Glory on 92.3 Xtreme will be losing a familiar voice soon.

Lunchbox, who handles sports and sidekick duties, and serves as a ready punchline for all jokes involving fat people, will be departing the show June 22. He's off to a station in Syracuse.

Xtreme is posting "Help Wanted" ads in trade publications and casting a wide net for Lunchbox's replacement. "We got résumés from Brownbag, Thermos . . .," deadpans marketing director Marshall Goudy. But he's still holding out for a hot newcomer who calls himself Fruit Roll-Up.

Confused yet?
Last month, The Plain Dealer reported that its statewide poll showed George Bush leading John Kerry in Ohio by 6 percent.

Two weeks ago, Salon reported that "recent Ohio polling shows the race has gone from a dead heat to a healthy seven- to-nine-point margin for Kerry."

Then last week, the Los Angeles Times released a poll reporting that the candidates were in a dead heat in Ohio.

Not to be outdone, Punch's own very scientific poll now reveals that The Media Don't Know Shit holds a commanding 17-point lead over Would You Please Shut The Fuck Up, with a margin of error of 100 percent.

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