O. J. Simpson's 'Sting'

O. J. Simpson told a reporter he was on a "sting operation" to take back sports memorabilia stolen from him. But the Las Vegas police say Simpson is a suspect in an armed-robbery investigation—and they expect late Friday or Saturday to question the former Hall of Famer and acquitted murderer of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ron Goldman.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Capt. James Dillon told reporters Friday afternoon that the police received a call shortly before 8 p.m. Thursday from a man saying he was "the victim of an armed robbery at the Palace Station Hotel" during which someone took an undisclosed number of "sports-related" items. Simpson was one of the men present, according to the alleged victim, whom police declined to identify. Early reports said that the alleged robbers had at least one gun between them, though it wasn't clear who held it. Police would only say that the alleged victim reported "there were weapons involved." Police say they have recovered some, but not all, of the "sports-related" material taken. They are still looking for other people they believe were with Simpson, Dillon said.

spacerThe man who complained to police was reportedly a California collector named Alfred Beardsley. Reached by cell phone in Las Vegas, Beardsley nervously declined to comment. "It's an ongoing criminal investigation," he told NEWSWEEK. He declined to confirm that he had reported the alleged robbery to police—or that he had told authorities that at least some of the men had guns.

But Beardsley told TMZ.com in a videotaped interview that he was in a hotel when Simpson and several men, some of them armed, came in and removed the items. Beardsley gave a similar report to Goldman family attorney David J. Cook in a phone call Friday morning, Cook told NEWSWEEK.

In Simpson's telling, there were no weapons and "nobody was roughed up," as he told The Associated Press on Friday. The former NFL running back's story was that he'd received word weeks ago from California collectibles auctioneer Thomas Riccio that a batch of Simpson memorabilia would be auctioned without the star's knowledge in Las Vegas. Thursday evening, Simpson and other men met Riccio in the lobby of the Palace Station, walked to the room where the items were on display and entered. "Everybody knows this is stolen stuff," Simpson told the AP.

Beardsley has a long and complicated relationship with Simpson memorabilia. He reportedly began collecting Simpson gear in 1982. In 1999, Beardsley may have bought items at an auction during which Simpson's Heisman trophy and other items belonging to the retired superstar were being sold off to help satisfy the 1997 wrongful-death judgment in which a California jury found Simpson liable for the deaths of his wife and Goldman on June 12, 1994. (An earlier jury had acquitted him of their murders in 1995.) At the time, Beardsley told reporters that he didn't think Simpson killed the pair, and "it bothers me that I'm putting money in the Goldman and Brown pockets," according to a Feb. 12, 1999, AP report.

In 2004, Beardsley reportedly arranged an autograph-signing session for Simpson, but canceled it under pressure. He also came into possession of items including a set of press credentials issued to Simpson by ABC for covering the 1984 Olympics. The civil court ordered Beardsley to turn over the press credential; he refused, telling reporters he would return the items to Simpson.

Early reports in TMZ.com claimed that one of contested items in the Vegas hotel was the suit that Simpson was wearing the day he was acquitted of murder in 1995. "There was no suit involved" in the Las Vegas altercation, Beardsley told NEWSWEEK. But NEWSWEEK has learned that Beardsley has been in contact in recent months with attorneys for Fred Goldman (father of slain waiter Ron Goldman) in order to arrange to share the proceeds of the sale of the suit with the Goldmans, according to Cook, the Goldman attorney.

The news of Simpson's Las Vegas sting dominated cable-news coverage Friday, only fueling publicity for the publication of "If I Did It: The Confessions of the Killer," the hypothetical "confession" whose publication was dropped by HarperCollins's parent company News Corp. last fall by in the face of public outrage. Now the book has just been published by Simpson nemesis Fred Goldman. Goldman wants to use the proceeds to pay down at least a part of the wrongful-death judgment, now at $38 million, the Goldman and Brown families won in 1997. The Goldman family is presenting the new version, published by Beaufort Books, as a confession rather than a hypothetical. The "If" in the title is tiny, making it appear that the title is "I Did It." And the new publishers added the "Confessions of the Killer" subtitle as well as an introduction called "He Did It," a prologue by ghostwriter Pablo Fenjes and an afterword by Dominick Dunne. Thanks in part to the Simpson publicity, the book jumped to No. 1 on Amazon.com by Friday afternoon. "It had been No. 43 yesterday," says Amazon spokeswoman Tammy Hovey.

A lawyer for Fred Goldman believes Simpson may have timed his self-proclaimed "sting" to disrupt publicity for the book (although if that was his intention, it clearly failed). "In my opinion, it's no coincidence that this is occurring at the time our victory is becoming complete," Peter Haven told NEWSWEEK. "I think he has a sense of frustration" that the Goldmans have put out the book with their spin, and that Simpson himself won't benefit financially—beyond the $800,000 HarperCollins paid him last year. The sister of the murdered man was more blunt. "What he demonstrated in Las Vegas is consistent with his personality," Kim Goldman told NEWSWEEK. Both Kim Goldman and her father declined further comment until more details emerged from Las Vegas.

But one member of the Goldman team said the alleged Vegas robbery showed that if Simpson does own valuable sport memorabilia, it should be taken from him and sold. Cook, Goldman's attorney, was delighted that Simpson is claiming ownership of the so-far-unspecified items. NEWSWEEK has learned that Cook plans to file a motion in Santa Monica on Tuesday requiring that any memorabilia among the disputed items found to be Simpson's should be seized to help pay down the wrongful-death judgment.