October 01, 2007 12:00 PM

The plan, apparently, was this: O.J. Simpson walks into the hotel room and confronts a couple of sports memorabilia dealers about some items allegedly stolen from him. “And if they didn’t turn the stuff over, O.J. was supposed to call the police,” claims Thomas Riccio, the memorabilia dealer who set up the Sept. 13 meeting in his room at Las Vegas’s Palace Station hotel.

What happened, according to Las Vegas police, was this: Simpson walked in with as many as seven other men, at least one of whom pulled out a gun. “Don’t let nobody out of this room!” an angry Simpson is heard shouting in an audiotape of the encounter made by Riccio. “You think you can steal my s— and sell it?” The two memorabilia dealers, says Riccio, “were cowering in fear.” (One, Bruce Fromong, 53, had a massive heart attack five days later.)

The upshot, bizarrely, is this: Simpson, 60, was arrested, charged with 10 felonies including kidnapping, conspiracy and assault, and burglary with a deadly weapon and—12 years after he was acquitted of double murder charges—locked up without bail. Police, who so far have arrested three of the other men (whom Simpson described as golf buddies), don’t believe Simpson himself was carrying a gun. Even so, if he is found guilty of the charges, “he could get 40 to 50 years in prison,” says Las Vegas defense attorney Robert Massi. “At his murder trial, O.J. never put himself at the crime scene, but here he’s in that hotel room. There may be no Dream Team for him in this case.”

Simpson’s lawyer Yale Galanter called the case “extremely defensible” because of “flip-flopping by witnesses.” Certainly Riccio, who has booked Simpson to sign memorabilia in the past and was not charged by police, is no stranger to controversy. He’s an ex-con who sold Anna Nicole Smith‘s diaries for $500,000 and tried to peddle a video of her breast-enhancement surgery. He says he agreed to help Simpson set up what they called a sting but had no idea Simpson and his accomplices would seize memorabilia, as well as a cellphone belonging to one dealer.

Riccio also claims Simpson later called him and tried to get him to deny anyone was armed. “He said, ‘I didn’t see no gun; there was no gun,'” remembers Riccio, who says he did in fact see “a very scary-looking gun.” Riccio later sold his audiotape of the encounter to the TMZ Website. “This is by no means an open-and-shut case,” says defense attorney Mark Geragos. “You could cast Riccio as someone who set this all up.”

The arrest comes just three days after the release of If I Did It, Simpson’s hypothetical account of the murders of his wife, Nicole, and Ron Goldman. Simpson had hoped to publish the book (see page 59), but after bad publicity doomed his deal, Goldman’s family decided to publish it and apply their profits—the book is atop several best-seller lists—toward the $33.5 million they were awarded when they won a wrongful-death civil suit against Simpson in 1997. Even the gold Rolex watch confiscated from Simpson after his arrest could, a judge ruled, be claimed by the Goldmans.

Simpson attended a friend’s wedding in Las Vegas before being arrested Sept. 16 and locked in an 7×14-ft. isolation cell. His arrest “is bittersweet because of [his children] Sydney and Justin,” says Nicole’s sister Tanya Brown. “But this man needs to go away. Justice, after 13 years, must prevail.” Ron Goldman’s sister Kim feels the same way, though she fears that Simpson might somehow escape jail time again. “He’s gotten away with so much before, so if he is guilty, we’d like to see him punished,” she says. “This is the true definition of karma.”

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