Thursday, March 04, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors: The Truth About Las Vegas

Watching Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman’s indignation over recent advice by President Barack Obama to a New Hampshire audience to not waste cash in Las Vegas was reminiscent of a similarly indignant Goodman a decade earlier.

Goodman, a former criminal defense attorney and self-described “mouthpiece for the mob,” spent 35 years defending the nation’s most notorious underworld figures. His clients included mobsters Meyer Lansky, Anthony "Tony The Ant" Spilotro and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, the latter two portrayed in the film Casino by actors Joe Pesci and Robert DeNiro. Goodman, also in the film, played himself -- a lawyer for the mob.

So it came as a surprise in 1999 when Goodman tried to deny the mob’s existence in Las Vegas. It was during Goodman’s mayoral run, when he issued a statement in the midst of a colorful Las Vegas trial of two reputed Mafiosi charged in connection with the 1997 execution-style murder of another gangster, Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein. The trial spotlighted the very kind of mob activity that officials, other than Goodman, had insisted, year after year, no longer existed in Las Vegas. 

It started in the early 1990s, when the Nevada Gaming Commission released the first of several statements assuring the public that the FBI had forced the last of the mob out of Las Vegas in the 1980s. That was not true, of course. Goodman himself had represented Spilotro in a mob trial in the mid-1980s, shortly before Spilotro was buried alive and left for dead in an Indiana cornfield. Blitzstein was a co-defendant with Spilotro in that trial. After Spilotro’s murder, Blitzstein pleaded guilty and went to prison. He was released in the early 1990s and returned to Las Vegas, picking up where he had left off.

The 62-year-old Blitzstein ran a downtown auto-repair shop that fronted for his rackets. Authorities said he ran loan-shark and insurance-fraud racketeering operations out of the shop.

In January 1997, Blitzstein was gunned down in his town house. Federal prosecutors later contended that mob families in Los Angeles and Buffalo, N.Y., had ordered Blitzstein’s hit so they could take control of his business.

Then, in May 1999, Goodman, as a mayoral candidate, issued a press release declaring the streets of the city free of traditional organized crime.

"For the last 15 years," Goodman said, "there hasn't been a mob presence here."

Coincidentally or not, Goodman issued that statement from his law office, which was around the corner from the U.S. District courthouse where the Blitzstein murder-related trial was well underway. Testimony in that case, which was heavily covered by the media, related to the life-and-death saga of Herbert Blitzstein–who had been Spilotro's right-hand man–provided new details about Las Vegas street rackets. For example, the 12-count racketeering indictment handed down in the case named 10 defendants charged with offenses ranging from Mafia-related murder-for-hire to racketeering.

The trial surrounding Blitzstein’s murder, which ended with most of the defendants pleading out to lesser crimes, was the last Mafia-related trial in Las Vegas.

Blitzstein’s murder also marked the last mob hit in Sin City. But don't tell Oscar Goodman. We'll just keep it between us.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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