Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas

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Cleanface | S1E6

by Las Vegas Review-Journal | The Mob Museum
June 23rd 2020
00:32:36
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"Now I’m getting this directly from, you know, Cleanface. You follow me?"

In 1977, future Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was appointed chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. Before l... More

a heads up before we get started. Mobbed up contains explicit content such as adult language and depictions of violence, including murder. Please be advised that this podcast might not be suitable for all audiences. Mhm. Mhm. Yeah, yeah, Uh, about a week ago, You know, there are two guys here running for governor, one of the guy named Populist, which is here to the channel. The other one is Pat Rose. One is probably the other one is a Democrat. The conversation you're hearing is actual audio of a phone call between two associates of the Kansas City crime family. One of the men is on a pay phone at a hotel in Kansas City. The Breckenridge in and the other is on the ground in Las Vegas. The call is taking place on Friday, November 3rd, 1978 4 days before statewide elections in Nevada and in the governor's race.

The state's lieutenant governor, Bob Rose, is up against the state's attorney general, Bob List, whom you heard from on the previous episode on this call. Kansas City mob associates Joe Augusto and Carl or Tuffy DeLuna are talking about this election how it might impact the mobs casino operations in Vegas, specifically at the Stardust Hotel, which Kansas City has a stake in alongside a handful of other syndicates, most notably the Chicago outfit. The focus of their conversation is Chicago mob associate Lefty Rosenthal, the outfits overseer inside the Stardust. Lefty has been drawing a lot of unwanted attention at his licensing hearings, and apparently, Kansas City isn't happy about it. On the call, Augusta and Elena referred to lefty as Pot, so Italian for crazy. With the governor's election just around the corner, Lefty is apparently attempting to blackmail one of the candidates in the race, Bob List, who has been working to ban him from the casino industry as the state's current attorney general.

Trump Augusto, the guy on the Las Vegas end of this call, claims that he's been getting information from a gaming official. He refers to using the code names Mr Clean or Clean Face Queen. Basically faith. It's difficult to make out, but in the clip you're about to hear with his thick Sicilian accent, the gusto states. Now I'm getting this directly from, you know, clean face. The FBI would eventually identify clean face as the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. And just over four decades later, I sat down with clean Face himself, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Their wiretaps included lot of well known Nevada Oscar Goodman, May Bob Rose. They called him little had names for everybody. Bob Rose is the flower. I told her. I can't remember what Goodman's name was. I was Mr Clean. Mhm.

Mm. Okay. Mhm. Once you got power, a lot of power. You don't care about the money in your mind For the Las Vegas Review Journal in partnership with the Mob Museum, I'm read Redmond. He's one of you. You kill him. You're listening to mobbed up a true story about money. You're not supposed to have a profile like that, especially in Vegas crime. You want to be very quiet so you can steal the money. You always said if you pull a gun on somebody, you finish it. Because if you don't, it's going to come back to haunt you. And I have ever seen what's going on here. And he's saying they're trying to kill me, and I said, Who's trying to kill your name? Shut up. And the fight for control of Las Vegas, The FBI will continue to look to the future to use the latest and most sophisticated techniques to fight organized crime. The mom would have destroyed Las Vegas. The only question is not if, but when it would be destroyed. I was there every day with these fellas.

I had no idea that there was a mob and he once told somebody, There's bodies out there in the desert and there's more every day. But if there is one area where the word war is appropriate, it is in the fight against crime. When you grab them, you'll bring them to the desert. You're gonna know where the hole has been dug, Dr. Part six, Clean face. All right, So most of my questions are going to be about your time with it. Doesn't matter whatever you want. This is Harry Reid, whom you might know as a longtime U. S. Senator from Nevada. What you may not know about the former senator is that he was a top gaming official at a pivotal moment in the history of gaming regulation in Nevada, a time when the mob was pulling the strings at casinos up and down Las Vegas Boulevard. The mob would have destroyed Las Vegas.

The only question is not if, but when it would be destroyed. So we stepped in, and even though I'm sure the mistakes we made, things we didn't catch, but I think overall we were able to bring modern gamey into Nevada 1977 a decade before he would begin his career in the United States Senate, Read was appointed by the Nevada governor, Michael Callahan, to be chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, one of the bodies responsible for regulating the state's casinos. By this point in his career, Rita been a criminal lawyer, city attorney, state assemblyman and lieutenant governor. So he thought he understood the state of Nevada. Well, I thought I knew everything. I had been in the state Legislature. I was born here, raised here, and so I thought I knew everything about gaming, but I didn't realize I didn't. I didn't realize until later that I knew very little about gaming. What's going on in Nevada to get a better idea of what he was walking into?

Harry Reid met with the previous chairman of the Gaming commission, Pete Echavarria. Pete was a very prominent Reno based attorney. But he was extremely articulate. Funny was he was everyone's choice to be master of ceremonies of any event in Nevada because it was just such same articulate, persuasive, funny good guy. They met at Pete's home in Reno, Nevada, but during the meeting, Pete seemed distracted. He kept staring out the window, apparently convinced that he was being watched, and he started telling me, If you look out that window, their cars out there, they watch everything I do. They follow me Everywhere I go, I thought he was loony. I thought he was. Something was wrong with the man. How silly is stuff? Is telling me all that Boogie Man stuff Read would recall in his memoir, The Good Fight, that he thought Pete was paranoid. But he wasn't paranoid. He was frightened. I was the one that was foolish and should listen more closely Town, because that's really what we're up against Here is Harry Reid, sharing more information about the meeting.

In a 2016 interview for a documentary produced by the Mob Museum, he said, Be careful. This job is tough, he said. There are people outside my house watching me day and night. They follow me around. They're waiting for me to make a mistake. They are bad people. I thought he was being P Dash for Rio being very dramatic. Little did I know, you know, a lot more than I knew, and he had been involved in things I didn't know anything about. It was immediately clear to read that he had a lot to learn. When I sat down with him at his office in late 2019, he told me one of the most surprising revelations during his time on the gaming commission involved Allen Glick, the chief executive of the Argent Corporation, which, as you heard in the previous episode, was the holding company that owned the Stardust Hotel and a handful of other casinos. Of course, we know now that all of the Argent casinos were mobbed up. But in the mid to late seventies, gaming officials and investigators were just starting to put this puzzle together. So I'm just being made chairman of the Gaming Commission, and I'm going to lunch.

One of my friends calls me and he said, What are you gonna do today? What are you doing for lunch? I said, I'm gonna go the country club, have lunch, said Who you going with? I said somebody named Tony Spilotro. He said, What he said, you just made Chairman the game where you can't go to lunch with this guy is a lot of connections. I never heard the name, so I canceled the lunch. That would have been a while. That would have been bad for me. Read would recall in his memoir, The Good Fight. Quote that exchange set the tone for the next four years of my life, an intense, surreal time when it sometimes felt as if I'd wandered into some kind of terrible funhouse. As it turns out, Tony Spilotro wasn't the only guy in Vegas who wanted a seat at the table with the new Gaming commission chairman. I was at my home, a guy named Daily called me. He was kind of a political hanger on her, a political junkie. We've got all the state party functions, local county functions, Democratic Party. The guy's name was Joe Daily, and he was calling on behalf of a couple associates, Saul Sag and Jack Gordon.

They were having some licensing trouble and wanted read to use his position on the Gaming commission to help them out. He called me at home and I just didn't feel right about the call. It just didn't seem good to me. So I called the chairman of Control Board, Jeff Silver. I said, Yeah, this guy called me and I think there's something wrong here. I don't know what to do about it. I've known Harry for a while as an attorney in Las Vegas, and he and I were friends. He came to me one day and he said that he had an approach from this guy named Jack Gordon, and it had to do with these machines that were, you see in in, uh, Chuck E cheese. Essentially, they were pusher machines. And so you put a a quarter in a slot in there, there would be a belt that would be rotating around and when flip the corner quarter into the pile, and then they had these pushing devices that would push the quarters slightly. And so the object was that it was It seemed like you had a chance to win a lot of money because whatever got pushed off the ledge got, uh, you know, in the in the payout box, And they were making, uh, an ordinance sum of money on these things, and and they were deemed to be amusement devices.

And so Jack Gordon wanted to bring these devices in and make them gaming devices. And the deal was that we're going to give me some money to turn around a decision that Control Board made. The Gaming Commission consists of five members. We set the policy for Damien State Nevada. The control board consists of three men are women, and there job is to to the day to day activities of gaming. Anything that control war does, though the commission has the power to reverse that. And that's what they wanted me to do. They, Jack Gordon and those folks again. Here's Jeff Silver, the gaming control board member Harry Reid reached out to for advice. He said he was offered a bribe and that the guy wanted to meet with him, and I said, Okay, let me set you up with some of my friends in the FBI. The FBI set up a sting operation and read, agreed to meet with these guys to catch them in the act handing over the bribe money. He conducted a series of phone calls with Jack Gordon and his associates, eventually agreeing or, in his case, pretending to agree to help them out.

In exchange for around $12,000 Cash Read set a meeting with Jack Gordon and one of his associates, Salsa AG, for August 1st 1978 at 5:30 p.m. Yeah, they brought in from Detroit. Strike Force Brought in to Vegas like Attache Case now have much more sophisticated devices now than they had then. But they put this this up attache case at a place where pictures the room were taken and all the sound in the room was picked up by this machine. Former Review Journal reporter and columnist Jane Anne Morrison covered this case for the RJ. They came to Harry Reid. They offered him money so that he was still on the commission at the time, and they offered him money so that he would approve their little table games that gambling games, and he went to the FBI and reported it.

He said he'd been offered a bribe. The F B. I, of course, had taped it video of the meeting, according to an article by Jane Anne, would pick up the following exchange Read States. Well, I guess we're all set to go. As I understand, there are two things that are important. One is to get back on the agenda, and second is to try to pick up another vote. Fair exchange salsa. OG asks. Okay, Now what do you think our chances are for this Harry Reed's response? Well, I think they've improved a lot in the last few days. Jack Gordon briefly leaves the room while waiting for him to return. Read inside, chat about the carpet business of all things. Then Gordon comes back in, pulls $12,000 cash from his pocket and hands it over to read side than states. All right, this is for the advice that you're giving us and that you know, the decision was made. They were gonna give me the money to bribe in my office. And when they gave me the money, I was to say, Is this the money?

And I said, Is this the money? Then the FBI would come into the office and arrest them. But when we gave the signal, nothing happened. nobody came in. I was in the next room there, the adjoining room with a couple of the FBI agents when Gordon came in and then the bride was made and Harry was ready for the FBI to come in. But somebody had locked the door to the adjoining room, and so he actually had to walk over and unlocked the door because he heard some banging on the door. It was the FBI agents started to get in. So I said, Is this the money? And these guys had locked the door behind them when they came in so I could hear the FBI trying to get in. But I was in there with those guys, so I unlock the door. And then he came in and arrested them. Of course, Gordon was arrested. And Harry, you know, he was an old pugilistic, uh, fighter. So he he was He jumped on Gordon. He was so mad that the guy tried to actually, uh, think that he was going to be subject to being, uh, bribed by anyone.

Harry Reid would later testify Quote. I couldn't believe this was all taking place, that they thought they could do this I went tearing outside to the first person I could see. Jack Gordon. FBI Special Agent John Bailey would testify. Quote Mr. Reid seemed to lose his composure. He put his hands around Gordon's neck and said, You son of a bitch, You tried to bribe me. We had to pull him off, Gordon. As soon as the FBI came in to arrest them, Harry Reid was most unlike Harry Reid. He said, you sons of bitches, You tried to bribe me. It was kind of a scene there. I was pretty upset. So I grabbed Jack Gordon and put him in a chokehold. And so they were charged with federal crime, and they were convicted. That was the beginning of a lot of problems I had, as Harry Reid would tell me, that wasn't the end of the story. So they obviously were upset What I'd done That's our her way to get even. Was to try to kill me. Yeah, Yeah.

Mm, yeah. Mhm. Yeah, Yeah, yeah. Mm hmm. Before the break, Nevada Gaming Commission chairman and future U. S. Senator Harry Reid participated in an FBI sting operation to expose a bribery attempt. Well, that bribery attempt wasn't the only time reads integrity would be challenged during his time on the gaming commission. At the top of this episode, you heard wiretap audio of reputed mobsters from Kansas City talking about an attempt by Lefty Rosenthal to extort Nevada gubernatorial candidate Bob List. This was about a week before the election, just before the election, and he was going to run this big headline that I It was crooked doing all this stuff and you know, that's terrifying.

It's a pretty complicated story, and we won't get into all of it. But the gist is that lefties attempt at blackmail didn't work, and Bob List was elected governor of Nevada in 1978. I got through that just right. That's the only time anybody ever tried to get me to do something wrong. Shortly after List became governor, the FBI turned over a slew of wiretap transcripts, including transcripts of the clips you heard at the top of this episode. So one of those transcripts and they were having thousands of pages. The wiretap information stopped, and one of those transcripts was a conversation with Joe Augusto, who was the entertainment director at the Tropicana Hotel talking to his Mafia bosses on the telephone in which he said, Don't worry, I got clean face in my pocket. Yeah, shut out of this. Uh, yeah, he was saying that Don't worry about read.

We're giving them. I don't want so much money a month or a week or something, a lot, lots of money. And that was a kind of a difficult time, because how do you disprove something like that? Immediately? There was a hue and cry. Okay, Indict Harry Reid. Throw him out of office to all of this stuff. And Harry called me and he said, We need to talk. So we came up to Carson City, sat down the governor's mansion upstairs in a little private office I had there and he said, I think I need to offer my resignation because this is horrible publicity. It makes it look like I'm guilty of working with the mob. I said, Well, let's talk it through. Tell me what what's going on with you and the mob, he said. It's all a pack of lies. He said. Gusto was lying to make himself look good. Harry Reid assured the governor that there was nothing to the claims on the wiretaps, but he told the governor he thought resigning would be in the best interest of the state. I said, I'm not gonna let you resign because then it's going to look like you are corrupt and that's even worse.

I said, We'll stand behind you According to list, the clean face saga ended with the FBI writing a letter to Harry Reid stating that he was exonerated. He was also cleared of any wrongdoing by a five month investigation conducted by the Gaming Control Board. They hired up to retired Texas Rangers, Elmer Fox, National Accounting Firm and I. They looked everything any client I had, where I was paid more than $250 I had to show the work that I did had to show how I paid for my furniture anyway, that we had to go over all that. That took some time, clear all that. But it was very awkward time in my life. Mm hmm. While all of this was going on, Harry Reid in the Gaming Commission were also squaring off with Chicago mob associate Lefty Rosenthal, who, as you heard on the previous episode, was waging a tense, drawn out war with gaming authorities over a key employee license. In late 1978 during a gaming commission hearing, the tension between lefty and gaming authorities reached a breaking point left.

He appeared before the commission wearing sunglasses of flashy yellow suit and a matching fedora with a feather tucked in the side. Then he comes in, had a hat on kind of like mine today. But he had had a hair transplant, what they call plugs in his hair. So he was wearing that to cover up plugs in his hair until they got well. The commission, chaired by Harry Reid, once again found Lefty unsuitable to be licensed as a key employee in a casino, meaning he would have to give up his post at the Stardust. Oh, he was so mad. According to a report from the Review journal at the time, Rosenthal's face turned red and his hands began noticeably shaking. He became enraged and started shouting at Harry Reid, lobbying allegations of corruption, calling the hearing a kangaroo court and stating quote, This was predictable. They would not even allow me a hearing, no inconsistency when the chairman had told us that he would give us 10 days whatever time we needed. And today he pounded his gavel in accordance with his commissioners. I call him a hypocrite and the fellow members of this commission to deny me a fair hearing.

Sitting just a few feet away, Harry Reid did his best to swat down the accusations. You know, I felt comfortable because it wasn't true and I wasn't going to get excited about it. And so I was pretty cool, to be honest with you. I didn't like it, but Fender show that I wasn't rattled. Rosenthal went on and on, shouting at TV cameras about how Harry Reid had sat down for lunch with him at the Stardust, the implication being that he was in bed with the mob. He said, I I bought you lunch one day, buy me lunch and what it was, is I went to have lunch with Brian Greenspun, the Stardust, and I guess the lunch was purchased by you know. It used to be a lot of Combs in those days, but I didn't know anything about that. Eventually left, he turned to leave and he could be heard muttering to himself this is bullshit as he walked away. So anyway, that was so my dealings with Roosevelt.

He's the only person I've been kind of fearful on another occasion, because people wanted to hurt me. But he's one that really, really scared me because I knew he didn't do anything himself. He only had other people do his dirty work. One of my friends, who was a professional prizefighter dealer in town, car dealer and Gary Bass, he lived with a man by the name of Johnny Hicks has it, Hicks sounded. Thunderbird and Hicks have been going out with one of his girlfriends, and so he comes out of his apartment one morning and he's killed right there. So that's I was I knew what Roosevelt was capable of. Harry Reid served as the chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981 seemingly just a blip on the radar leading up to his 30 year career in the Senate. But it was an eventful blip, to say the least, and enough time to make plenty of enemies once again.

Here's former RJ reporter Jane Anne Morrison. Harry Reid, uh, told me once that the worst part of his life was when he was not working for the game when he was gaming commission chairman. He got death threats toward the end of reads time on the gaming commission. Those threats became very, very real. On the afternoon of July 28th, 1981 Harry Reid received an unexpected phone call from his wife, Landra. My wife, who's knows nothing about mechanics and cars or anything, but thank goodness he just had a feeling The car was the station, waiting for only five. Kids need a big equal to carry him all around, and she lifted up the hood and she could see some wires down there that she knew didn't weren't supposed to be there. When she opened the hood, Lander had discovered an electrical device hooked up to the car's engine. A police report filed that day. Notes quote. Harry Reid became a victim of an attempted homicide when an electrical device was found linked from the engine to the fuel tank in an apparent attempt to ignite the fuel a bomb was placed under.

That didn't go off, but under his wife's car. Now, if there's anything you can say about Harry Reid is that he loves his wife. And, uh so she she noticed it. She called him. So she called man. We had the police common or at my home on Lacey Lane. And I can still remember coming there fire trucks out there and police cars and my little five year old boy looking out the window. Afraid, of course, who wouldn't be? Thankfully, the device never ignited the car's fuel tank, and nobody was physically harmed. Read Still doesn't know for sure who wired up his vehicle, but he suspects it had something to do with Jack Gordon, the man who attempted to bribe him. And from that day on, Reid and his wife took precautions. Every time they started a car, we had a little thing like a garage door opener. We have pressed that button to start a car. It was searched for a bomb first, never know bomb there and start the engine. Had that until he went to Washington to Congress.

Yeah. Read also carried a 32 special in his back pocket until he went to Washington. D. C. Yeah. You know, car bombs in this town are not things that don't happen they happen? Uh, you know, there was an FBI agent William co authored. His car was bombed. He was killed, John. Mom had an attorney for the mob. He ended up in the back seat of his own car unconscious. Doesn't know how he got there. It was a smoke bomb type thing and he never spoke the same way again. I got into his throat and his voice changed completely. He wasn't killed. He was injured a little bit, but he wasn't killed. So, you know, car bombs here. I wouldn't say they're routine, but they're not rare. While it was still present, this type of public mob connected violence was less common in Las Vegas than in cities like Kansas City, Chicago, New York or Cleveland, which earned the undesirable moniker bomb City USA during this era. The simple explanation being that mob families relied on tourist feeling safe enough in Las Vegas to come and stay at the hotels gamble at their casinos.

Obviously, car explosions in public hits are bad for business. So although public displays of violence weren't altogether uncommon, the mob was said to take care of many of its problems away from the City. My favorite quote came from Benny Binion, who on the Horseshoe, and he once told somebody, There's bodies out there in the desert and there's more every day. Mhm on part seven of Mobbed up. We'll be hearing from a familiar voice that of Frank Kalata. You didn't think we were done with him, did you? He reaches only says, Congratulations. You're moving to Vegas. I looked at him as I guess I'm moving The Vegas. This has been Part six of Mobbed Up, a production of the Las Vegas Review Journal in partnership with the Mob Museum. Mobbed up is reported and produced by me. Read Redmond. If you have a mob story to share, or if you just want to let me know what you think of the series so far, find me on Twitter at Red Redmond, or send an email to our Redmond at review journal dot com.

Our sound designer and audio editor for this series is Jonathan McMichael, who also composed the theme song You're hearing behind these credits right now, thanks to Senator Harry Reid for taking time out of his busy schedule to help us tell the story, thanks also to Jeff Silver and Jane and Morrison for Sitting Down With Me for this episode, and to Gary Jenkins, host of the organized crime podcast Gangland Wire, for sharing the wiretap audio you've heard throughout the episode. Additional audio clips used in this episode come from the Good Folks at the Mob Museum and from the Oral History Research Center in the UNLV Library, Special collections and archives. Sound effects and music used in this episode are from Motion Array and Stephen Arnold music. To learn more about the Mob museum, make sure you head over to the mob museum dot org to learn more about mobbed up and to check out some of the review journals. Other podcasts Visit Review journal dot com. Backslash podcasts Thanks for tuning in, and we'll be back with more mob for you next week.

Cleanface | S1E6
Cleanface | S1E6
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