Does The Mob Still Exist in Las Vegas? Good Question
When it comes to talk about the Mafia, 'what happens here stays here' applies.
Posted Dec 31, 2014 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
Las Vegas celebrates its gangster reputation each year by acknowledging its past and designating January as Mob Month.
I will be returning to Nevada from California (I no longer live in the desert) for Mob Month 2015 to speak at the main public library on a panel of crime writers and former law enforcement folks debating “Is The Mob Still In Las Vegas?”
The last mob-related murder in Las Vegas went down in 1997 with the gangland murder of Herbert “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein.
Back in 1950, U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver headed a committee investigating organized crime. The seventh in a series of nationwide hearings was held in the federal courthouse in Vegas, in what is now a historic building – and a Mob Museum – that once served as both a courthouse and U.S. Post Office.
It is the same courtroom where, in 1986, Blitzstein and “Tony the Ant“ Spilotro were tried together until it was declared a mistrial because of jury tampering. Before the second trial could begin, Spilotro was buried alive and left to die in an Indiana cornfield. Blitzstein, Spilotro’s right-hand man in Vegas, pleaded guilty, went to prison for a few years, then returned to Vegas in the early 1990s, picking up where he’d left off. In January 1997, Blitzstein was murdered, shot once in the back of the head in a contract hit and attempt to take over his racketeering business.
I was at the crime scene after Blitzstein’s body was discovered and law enforcement began their investigation into his killing. His killers were caught and brought to trial.
So, it came as a surprise in 1999 when mob attorney turned Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former criminal defense attorney and self-described “mouthpiece for the mob” who spent 35 years defending the nation’s most notorious underworld figures, denied the mob’s existence in Las Vegas. Besides Spilotro, Goodman’s clients included mobsters Meyer Lansky and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.
Goodman’s denial occurred in ’99 during his first mayoral run, when he issued a statement in the midst of the colorful Las Vegas trial of the two reputed Mafiosi charged in connection with the execution-style hit of Blitzstein, who ran rackets in Las Vegas.
Goodman wasn’t the only one putting a spin on the mob’s Vegas existence. The first denial of the mob began in the early 1990s as part of a public relations move touting Vegas as a family friendly destination 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 Vegas in the 1980s. That wasn’t true, of course. Goodman himself had represented Anthony Spilotro in a mob trial in the mid-‘80s, shortly before Spilotro was killed.
After prison, the 62-year-old Blitzstein set up a downtown auto-repair shop, from where he ran loan shark and insurance-fraud racketeering operations. Federal prosecutors contended during the trial that mob families in Los Angeles and Buffalo, N.Y., had ordered Blitzstein’s hit so they could take control of his rackets.
Then, in May 1999, Goodman issued his press release declaring the streets of the city long free of traditional organized crime. "For the last 15 years," Goodman said in the release, "there hasn't been a mob presence here."
Goodman had issued that statement from his law office, which was around the corner from the U.S. District courthouse where, at the time, the Herbert Blitzstein murder-related trial was well underway with media heavily covering it.
The 1999 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. Fat Herbie's death also marked the last mob hit in Sin City.
But is the mob no longer in Vegas? The answer depends on who you ask. A couple of businesses are reportedly mobbed up. But the jury is still out.