Saturday, January 20, 2007

JIM POWERS (1928-2007)

When Jim Powers took over the Las Vegas FBI office in 1977, he inherited a department in disarray and a town of well-entrenched mobsters. He vowed to address both problems.

One of his primary targets was Gold Rush Ltd., a jewelry store/fencing operation near the Strip. The FBI's raid of the place set the table for the demise of its owner, mobster Tony Spilotro, and his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

James M. Powers, who later served as security chief for Steve Wynn's Golden Nugget and helped bring to justice the kidnappers of Wynn's daughter Kevyn in 1993, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 78.

"Jim was the best of what you would call Old Bureau FBI agents, those who had worked under J. Edgar Hoover," said former federal prosecutor Stan Hunterton, who is a local defense attorney. "He was disciplined and hardworking. Jim treated everyone with decency, and his integrity was above reproach."

Although Powers served just two years as special agent-in-charge of the Las Vegas FBI office, it was a pivotal time in Southern Nevada history - the beginning of the end of the mob's great influence on the region.

A year before Powers took the job, Spilotro had formed the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang with younger brother Michael Spilotro, boyhood chum Frank Culotta, Joey Cusumano, "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein, former Metro Police Detective Joe Blasko and others. The gang got its nickname by drilling through the walls of the buildings that it burglarized. Its headquarters was the Gold Rush - a block from the Strip - which also had opened in 1976.

Powers targeted the Gold Rush for a massive raid in which a large amount of evidence was gathered that helped lead to Spilotro's 1981 indictment on federal racketeering charges that eventually were dismissed. Spilotro was killed, presumably by mob associates, in 1986.

Born Oct. 4, 1928, in Springfield, Mass., Powers joined the Marine Corps in 1946 and served for two years. In 1953, he earned a bachelor of laws degree from Boston University School of Law. Powers joined the FBI in 1954, working in New York and Chicago before retiring in Las Vegas in 1979 and becoming vice president of corporate security for the Golden Nugget. He worked for Wynn until his retirement in the late 1990s.

Thanks to Ed Koch

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