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Apr. 30, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal


WISE GUIDE: Vegas mob map

History of Las Vegas boasts large cast of colorful and dangerous mobsters

By COREY LEVITAN/REVIEW-JOURNAL

Both the beginning and end of the mob's famed influence in Las Vegas are marked by anniversaries this year. It has been 60 years since Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel opened the Flamingo, and 25 since Tony Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang was busted during a burglary, the domino that would eventually topple the last organized-crime regime to rule the Strip.

"The mob days are an integral part of Las Vegas history," says "Policing Las Vegas" author Dennis Griffin. "Vegas was built on Teamster money when no legitimate financial institution was willing to invest in casinos, shopping centers and golf courses. Mobsters also brought the celebrities. They could get top-notch entertainment to the desert with one phone call."

In a recent poll conducted for the city, more than 70 percent of tourists said they'd visit the former downtown post office and courthouse if it were converted to a Mafia museum. Griffin and former FBI special agent Dennis Arnoldy are even planning a mob bus tour of various sites in town.

Based on accounts published through the years in the Review-Journal; the books "Green Felt Jungle" by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris, and "Casino" by Nicholas Pileggi and Larry Shandling; the expertise of Griffin; and the firsthand knowledge of Arnoldy, we've compiled a map of some of the stops that tour should make.


Benny Binion

1. Former Binion home

2040 W. Bonanza Road

The site of a thwarted 1951 hit that, if executed, would have been the most public and dramatic in organized-crime history. Dallas gangster Herbert Noble hated Benny Binion, who he blamed for his wife's death. The former pilot was arrested while attaching bombs to a surplus Navy fighter plane with which he planned to bomb this still-standing house. (Later the same year, Noble was killed by a bomb planted in his own mailbox.)

2. Car bomb site

Bank of Nevada building (former site), 300 S. Third St.

A car bomb exploded on the third floor of the parking garage here on July 25, 1972, killing prominent attorney and former FBI agent Bill Coulthard. The crime remains unsolved.

3. El Cortez

600 Fremont St.


Bugsy Siegel
 
 

Benjamin Siegel, who first came to town to establish the Al Capone-backed Trans-America race wire service in 1941, had much bigger plans in mind. "Bugsy," so-nicknamed for his short temper, was one of a group of bookmakers and ex-bootleggers who took over the El Cortez in 1943. The profits from the casino's sale helped finance the Flamingo.

 

4. Meadows Casino (former site)

25th Street and Boulder Highway

Bootlegger Tony "Mr. Lucky" Cornero, the first known mobster in Las Vegas, built this hotel and casino in 1931, the year gambling was legalized in Nevada.


Tony Spilotro

5. Spilotro headquarters

Gold Rush Jewelers (former site), 228 W. Sahara Ave.

Headquarters for the empire run by Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, a suspect in about 20 murder cases nationwide, in the late '70s and early '80s. (Joe Pesci played a thinly veiled Spilotro in the 1995 movie "Casino.") This store, used to fence stolen jewelry, wasn't listed in the Yellow Pages.

6. Car bomb site

Tony Roma's, 620 E. Sahara Ave.

At 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1982, Spilotro associate Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal turned his ignition key and started more than his '81 Cadillac Eldorado. Miraculously, Rosenthal escaped the blast with minor injuries, thanks to a steel plate under the driver's seat (standard on that model). Spilotro, his relationship with Rosenthal on the decline, was the prime suspect.

7. Hole in the Wall Gang arrest site

Bertha's Gifts & Home Furnishings (former site), 896 E. Sahara Ave.

Hole in the Wall Gang, from left: Lawrence Neumann, Frank Cullotta,

Joe Blasko, Leo Guardino, Ernie Davino and Wayne Matecki.

Gold Rush's jewelry was mostly stolen by Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang, named for how they broke into buildings. On July 4, 1981, that party ended when Spilotro henchman Frank Cullotta and five others were arrested after breaking into this store (now Tower of Jewels). "This was really important," says Dennis Arnoldy, lead agent on the bust. "For the first time, we were able to build a case where we could bring in Tony and other participants." (Before that case could go to trial, Spilotro was killed by his own bosses in 1986.)

8. Stardust

3000 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Financed by Tony Cornero — who didn't live to see its 1958 opening — this was the largest of the mob-influenced Argent Corp. casinos involved in skimming during the '70s. The FBI alleged Frank Rosenthal was an executive here to oversee the mob's interests.

9. Desert Inn (former site)

3145 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Run by Cleveland racketeer, reputed mob leader and local philanthropist Moe Dalitz, this property (razed to build Wynn Las Vegas) served as home for dozens of his associates, who held regular meetings in the houses surrounding its country club. Mobsters didn't only live there, they died there. On July 31, 1955, Tony Cornero suffered a reported heart attack at the craps table.

10. Former Rosenthal home

972 Vegas Valley Drive


Frank Rosenthal

The site of an argument during which Frank Rosenthal claimed his wife, Geri (who was suspected of having an affair with Tony Spilotro), tried to shoot him on Sept. 8, 1980. Shortly afterward, Frank Rosenthal said, police accompanied Geri to the First National Bank (formerly at 2780 Las Vegas Blvd. South), where she emptied three safety deposit boxes of documents, $150,000 in cash and $1 million in jewelry and left town. (If these events ring familiar, you saw them re-created by Sharon Stone and Robert De Niro in "Casino.")

11. Flamingo

3555 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Las Vegas' first luxury hotel and casino (now completely rebuilt on its original site) was financed and opened by Bugsy Siegel in December 1946 for $6 million. Unfortunately for Siegel, this was $4.5 million more than budgeted by his bosses, Meyer Lansky and Charles "Lucky" Luciano. The initial opening, although the hotel was not ready, was a costly disaster, causing Siegel to quickly close it and reopen when the hotel was completed, in March 1947. But the Flamingo fell so far in the red, Siegel was suspected of skimming. On June 20, 1947, the one-time hit man got hit himself, in California.

12. Spilotro hangout

My Place bar (former site), 4110 S. Maryland Parkway

This was Tony Spilotro's Bada Bing club. According to Frank Cullotta, who turned state's evidence and entered the federal witness protection program, Spilotro ordered executions while sitting at the bar. Next door was the Upper Crust, a pizza parlor owned by Cullotta.

13. Police shooting

Sunrise Villas VI, 2800 Emerson Ave.

On June 9, 1980, Hacienda maitre d' Frank Bluestein was shot and killed by police, who pulled him over as he drove to his home inside this complex. Detectives Gene Smith and David Groover reported Bluestein — tailed after associating with Tony Spilotro outside the Upper Crust — pulled a gun on them. Oscar Goodman, then attorney for the Bluestein family, claimed the gun found by police was planted. (That argument lost its weight when the gun was discovered to be purchased in Chicago and loaned to Bluestein by his brother.)

14. Murder site

Heritage Square Townhouses, 3655 Mount Vernon Ave.

Nobody gets killed in Vegas, the old saying goes. They get driven out to the desert, where fresh kills can be quickly buried in pre-dug holes. On Jan. 6, 1997, an exception to the rule occurred when Herbert "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein — one-time Spilotro right arm and the last vestige of his Vegas reign — was shot and killed at his home here. Seven men were charged in the crime. Four entered guilty pleas, two were acquitted and one died before trial.

15. Tropicana

3801 Las Vegas Blvd. South

New York godfather Frank Costello was shot and wounded shortly after the 1957 opening of this casino. In his coat pocket, police found evidence suggesting he was one of its secret owners: a tally of the Tropicana's revenues for a 24-day period. In the '70s, entertainment director Joe Agosto (who also represented the Kansas City mob's interests) turned government witness but died of a heart attack in 1983, before some of the people he named were tried.


Herbie Blitzstein

16. Murder site

2302 Rawhide St.

The house where Frank Cullotta admitted murdering government informant Jerry Lisner in October 1979, following orders issued by Tony Spilotro at My Place.

17. Former Spilotro home

4675 Balfour Drive

Tony Spilotro purchased this modest house in 1974, three years after arriving from Chicago.

 

Click here to visit Corey Levitan's home page, FearandLoafing.com.

 

 
 



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